Monday, October 6, 2014

Roast Duck 300 or 400 degrees?

I'm a big fan of roasting meats. What's easier than sliding a nice piece of meat in the oven and taking out a delicious and elegant main course? Roasting almost always results in something as delicious as it is lovely to look at. The only real downsides are roasting at the wrong temperature for a particular cut or roasting too long. Everyone remembers the turkey in Christmas Vacation, right?

One day when company was coming and I was juggling a number of things, I planned to roast a duck for dinner. I knew my company particularly liked duck. It was ready for the oven when the phone call came. "I'm not coming today." Given that this particular person lives quite a few hours from me and should have arrived in about an hour, this was somewhat disheartening. Sigh.

So, I shoved that duck, roasting pan and all, into the refrigerator and rushed off to take care of some other pressing matter. As these things usually go, my company called the next day to say he was on his way.

I opened the refrigerator and stared at the duck with more than a little dismay. In my haste, I hadn't bothered to wrap it. Now it was a dried out pathetic looking thing. It was ruined. When I was through kicking myself, I debated making something else for dinner. But as I thought about it, I considered the fact that Peking duck is hung to dry. Maybe all wasn't lost. I went ahead and roasted it. Best duck ever!

No kidding. And that was how I learned to leave a bird uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to get lovely, crispy skin. It works just the same way for turkey. Happily, it doesn't take a lot of extra effort.

If your roasting pan is large and will crowd your refrigerator, just put together a rack and a shallow bowl or pan. The idea is to expose it to air all the way around the bird. I stuck a little rack on a glass baking dish, which saved a lot of room in the fridge.

Just like turkey, you can season it with any kinds of herbs and spices that appeal to you. Wash the duck, rub on salt, pepper, and any spices and herbs. With duck, you want to take one extra step because it has a lot of fat. To release the fat, prick little holes into the skin, but not so deep that you cut the meat. I should mention here that you can tie the legs together if you like. I don't usually bother.

Years ago, there was a cookbook that recommended roasting everything at 500 degrees. Then there was a time when the recommendation was to start meat at a high temperature but turn it down after a half hour or so. The theory being that the high heat sealed in the juices. I find that roasting generally works best for me at 400. 450 gets a little too high and can easily burn the surface, especially if there's anything sugary on it. 375 isn't quite high enough. So, in the past, I just popped my duck in the oven at 400.

Why then do I see so many recipes for duck that say to roast them at 300? That's the degree for cooking low and slow. I dismissed one recommendation for roasting a duck for four and a half hours. Maybe that person has bigger ducks? So today I experimented. Instead of my usual 400 degrees, I followed the technique of a fancy chef who roasts at 300 for one hour and then turns up the heat to 425 to crisp the skin.

And the results are mixed! While my 400 degree oven gives a much browner, crisper skin, the 300 and 425 method undoubtedly yields better breast meat. It's not as dry as my method. So I guess you get your choice. Crisp skin or tender breast meat?

Basic Roast Duck
feeds 2-3

1 duck
salt and pepper
spices and herbs of your choice

1. The day before, wash duck and remove giblets. Pat dry. Salt and pepper inside and out. Prick the skin so fat will be released when it cooks. Do not cut into the meat. Lay on a rack and refrigerate overnight uncovered.

2. Preheat oven to 300. Roast duck for 1 hour. Turn heat up to 425 and roast for another 25 minutes. The USDA recommends cooking to a temperature of 165.

No room in the fridge? Use a small rack and a baking dish.

Salt and pepper and prick all over with a fork.

It will look a little bit dry after one night in the refrigerator.


  1. Now that you mention it, I remember reading a recommendation about leaving poultry in the fridge overnight uncovered. Glad it worked out. You are such a flexible hostess! xo

    1. LOL! It was dumb luck that it worked out. It could have been a dried out lump!

  2. What an interesting idea! I'll try it--if I can find a duck at all around here. Maybe individual pieces would be a good test run (those I can find frozen).

    1. It's hard for me to find duck, too, Sheila. Fresh Market sells lovely individual duck breasts. Don't try with those! They barely need any time to cook. Legs might be a good test, though.

  3. Well done--Adapting to chaos and coming out with a winner!
    I know there are people who think duck and goose are yucky ("too gamey"), but they are two of my favorites.

    1. They're my favorites, too Libby. We don't eat them often, which is probably the reason I keep experimenting!

  4. I haven't had duck in ages--my mouth is watering! I can sometimes find them frozen so I will try to plan ahead for a nice Sunday dinner!

    1. It's so good! We really enjoyed it. Plus it's the time of year when we want something like duck, with mashed potatoes. Yum!

  5. I love your tale of the *not*-ruined duck, Krista, it speaks straight to that familiar notion in the culinary community that happy accidents in the kitchen are what lead to better methods and uniquely delicious recipes! Marc and I remember the tip you gave years ago about keeping the turkey in the fridge uncovered overnight. We did it and had the best, crispiest skin ever on our bird. These tips are great for duck. Thanks for sharing your happy accidents with all of us!

    Have a delicious week,
    ~ Cleo

    1. Believe me, Cleo, not all my kitchen accidents are happy ones. But that one turned out great. Who'd have thought it?

  6. I did not know this, Krista! What a great tip. I love duck and now I won't be able to stop thinking about it.

    Loved the post!