It is probably true to say that many people choose a duck recipe from the menu when they go to their local Chinese restaurant, yet have not experimented with cooking this bird in their own kitchen.
This may be due to the fact that duck is not as widely available in the supermarkets, it is somewhat more expensive than other poultry meats and generally people are unsure of how to prepare it.
Duck meat is considered to be "white" meat, even though the meat on a duck is considerably darker than other poultry meats such as chicken or turkey.
The reason for this is that as ducks are more active in comparison to chickens for example, who spend most of the time sitting down or walking around, they need and use up more oxygen. The extra oxygen in the body of the duck or other types of game bird, gives their meat the darker red colour.
Due to the darker colour of the duck meat, this gives the meat a stronger and richer flavour.
The distinct flavour and taste of the duck meat means that it can be cooked with fruits or other sweet and spicy ingredients to give a delicious and exotic tasting meal, which can be an exciting alternative to traditional turkey or chicken dishes.
One disadvantage of buying a duck is that they are essentially smaller in size than a chicken or turkey and so you will end up with less meat. If you are cooking for a large number of people, it may be a better idea to buy two smaller ducks so that there is enough meat to go round.
For those who are watching their weight, take note because duck meat has a higher fat content, more calories and more saturated fat than chicken or turkey meat. Really, you shouldn't be eating duck meat every day and possibly not every week either.
To compare, 1 cup of roasted duck meat without the skin contains 281 calories, with 141 of those calories from fat. It also contains 5.8 g of saturated fat.
For lovers of the irresistible crispy duck skin, 1 cup of roasted duck meat with skin contains 472 calories, of which 357 come from the fat. It also contains 13.5 g of saturated fat.
On the other hand, the same amount of roasted chicken meat with skin contains 276 calories, of which only 98 pertain to the fat. This chicken meat also has a considerably less saturated fat content, of only 3.1 g.
Ducks and geese have a layer of fat just beneath their skin to keep them warm and to give them the ability to float whilst they are in water.
Before and during cooking this layer of fat must be removed or drained as it is not ideal to eat the meat with the fat.
A perfectly prepared and cooked duck will have very little if any fat remaining and a nice, thin and crispy skin.
Removing the layer of greasy fat is probably the most important part of cooking duck meat.
There are a number of ways in which the fat can be removed.
First of all, the duck can be steamed over boiling water for between 20 - 30 minutes, in order to melt the fat.
Another method, which is perhaps more practical and easy, is to prick the bird all over with a knife or a cocktail stick if you prefer, leaving a space of about 1 inch between holes. Care must be taken not to cut into the meat and to only pierce the skin and the layer of fat underneath. This is quite simple, as the fat is extremely soft, whilst the meat, which is below the fat, is slightly harder to the touch.
By piercing the skin of the duck, this will allow the fat to drain out during roasting.
The duck should be placed on a standing rack, which is then positioned in a roasting tray for cooking. This is so that the duck is not standing in it's own fat and so that the fat can be released more easily.
For an extra crispy skin, pour a kettle of boiling water over the duck before placing it in the oven, to melt a little of the fat beforehand.
Duck is generally roasted for several hours in the oven, which may seem a long time compared to roasting a chicken or turkey. This is so that the fat has time to melt away completely and for the skin to crisp.
A duck is properly cooked when the temperature of the meat at the thickest part of the thigh or breast has reached 165°F (75°C). This may be checked with a meat thermometer.
The duck should also have a nice crispy brown skin all over.