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Duck: How to Buy and Prepare

Ready to put a duck on the table? Here are a few tips for buying and preparing duck.

You may have seen duck in the freezer case at your local grocery, but have been afraid to try it. It is not difficult to smoke, grill, or roast duck; just be prepared for a bit more fatty tissue on the breast. Once this is removed, however, your duck will be as tender and lean as chicken!

Unless you are visiting a specialty meat market, the duck you find will be frozen. Be sure to find the date as these birds can remain frozen before selling for up to six months. You can safely freeze most ducks up to three months and some packaging will have an expiration date for freezing.

To thaw, it is best to keep the duck in its original packaging unless giblets are included. In that case, remove them and wrap them separately for thawing. The duck can thaw in the refrigerator - just keep in the coldest part of the fridge. A five-pound bird can take up to 3 days to thaw.

Leaving the skin on while cooking is the preferred method. You may choose to prick the skin to allow the grease to cook out although some cooks say that it isn't necessary. You can also slice through the skin and remove some of the fat as it is layered on top of the meat rather than being marbled in. Be very careful not to prick the meat as this will cause the bird to dry out.

While cooking, continue to skim off the fat; there may be an abundance of it. The more you baste, the more fat will be removed. When the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees (medium rare is recommended; a well-done duck becomes tough), the duck is ready. Ducks can also be pan roasted or seared in a skillet like steak.

If cooking a whole duck, you will want to remove the rib cage before serving. This is easy: just slide one hand between the skin and the rib cage and pull. Support the breast with your other hand.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days; then it is time for the freezer. After cooking, you can leave duck in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Basic roasting method:

-Prepare duck as you would a turkey: rinse, dry, and season inside with salt and pepper. You do not want to stuff a duck as the inside will absorb much of the fat.
-Prick the skin, but do not pierce the meat.
-Place about a cup of chicken stock in roasting pan (this will help keep fat from smoking).
-Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
-Place duck in roaster and cover loosely with foil; shiny side out.
-Cook for 10 minutes and do not open the door.
-Reduce oven to 300 degrees and continue roasting for about 3 ½ hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees (about 20 minutes per pound).
-Baste every half hour.
-Let bird cool outside oven for about 15 minutes before carving. Remove skin before serving.

Safety notes:

Bacteria is killed at 160 degrees. Some duck recipes state that this is a perfect temperature for medium-rare duck. The U.S.D.A. recommends an internal temperature of 180 degrees in the leg and 170 degrees in the breast, although this may be too well-done for some tastes.

Do not partially cook any poultry and then refrigerate. This will not kill of existing bacteria and it will continue thriving in the refrigerator.

As with all meats - and especially poultry - thoroughly clean all surfaces where the bird has been handled. Do not use the same utensils on other foods.

-If reusing a marinade in which a raw bird has been basting, boil it before using again. (This rule applies to any product.)

-When purchasing your duck, place it in a second plastic bag to ensure that any leakage is contained and will not cross-contaminate other foods.

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