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Duck: Which Type are You Buying?

When you purchase a duck at the grocery, rest assured it is safe to eat and will be delicious

Ducks have never attained even a portion of popularity that chickens hold on supermarket shelves. That is why you'll find most ducks in the frozen food section, with the exception of some places during the holidays.

Ducks generally have a generous layer of fat under the skin, although recent years have seen attempts to eliminate it some extent through breeding. Most duck species, however, bear the genetics of migratory birds, which means an ability to create fat stores in the liver and under the skin for long flights and cold climates.

You may wonder what type of duck you are buying. It is probably the white Pekin variety. (Pekin is a species while Peking duck is a delightful recipe.) These are also known as Long Island ducklings and in past years that was the place in the U.S. the majority were raised. Today's production is centered in the Midwest.

White Pekin ducks are generally heavy-boned and sell at supermarkets at between three and six pounds. Because they are farm-fed, their meat is whiter and milder than some other duck varieties.

Pekins still have a thick layer of fat underneath the breast skin, although less so than in earlier years. When the low-fat influence became prominent in the early 90s, producers began a campaign to lower the fat content. While ducks are still cooked with the skin on, the fat is easily removed before serving.

Muscovy ducks are native to South America. They bear less fat as they are not a migratory bird. They are more popular in restaurants. The meat is stronger in flavor than white Pekin, but the bird itself is somewhat smaller.

Moulards are a cross between female white Pekins and male Muscovy ducks. They are rarely found outside of specialty markets and are treasured for foie gras production. The legs are used to make confit. The breast meat, or magret, is dark and sweet by comparison to other species.

Mallard and some other wild duck species are now being farm-raised, but you probably won't have a taste of these unless you know a hunter. The meat is strong and tough and, when cooked, is a dark red. The taste of a wild duck will generally reflect what it has eaten.

Ducks are classified as white meat, although overall, the breast meat is still darker than other types of poultry (except for geese).

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