Jan 24 2010

Sous Vide Duck

January 24th, 2010 at 8:13 am (AST) by Jake Richter

While I love chicken, I absolutely adore duck in all its many forms, from duck confit and Peking duck to duck liver and duck a l’orange, and everything in between. Unlike a chicken, which at best struts about and thus only has dark meat around its legs and thighs, a duck is designed to walk and fly, thus using all of its muscles. That means that all of a duck’s meat is rich, dark meat, laden with delicious bits of fat.

My goal, therefore, was to cook a duck, sous vide style. I searched around for ideas on how to best prepare sous vide duck and found components in various places, including the Foodie at Fifteen (now 17) Blog, Thomas Keller’s “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide”, and my own father’s recipe for slow-roasted duck.

For our sous vide duck we started with a thawed frozen duck

For our sous vide duck we started with a thawed frozen duck

First step was procuring a duck. Being that other than goat and occasionally chicken, we have no access to fresh meat on Bonaire, I managed to procure a frozen whole duck from the aptly named “The Island Supplier”. After thawing it out over a couple of days in the refrigerator, I split the duck up into six parts (thanks to the directions of Nick of the Foodie at Fifteen blog) for easier cooking in my water bath later on.

The duck is sectioned to make it easier to cook in the water bath

The duck is sectioned to make it easier to cook in the water bath

Adapting part of a duck confit recipe from Thomas Keller’s book, I made a salt rub mixture containing garlic, thyme, salt, pepper corns, and bay leaves which I then applied to all of the pieces of duck liberally and then leaving in a refrigerator for several hours. The salt rub both draws out moisture from the duck while also seasoning it at the same time.

Our salt rub mixture - salt, peppercorn, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme

Our salt rub mixture - salt, peppercorn, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme

The duck after being thoroughly rubbed with the seasoned salt rub

The duck after being thoroughly rubbed with the seasoned salt rub

Next step was to rinse off all the salt from the meat. This went pretty well except for the wings, where I later discovered I had not rinsed quite as rigorously as I perhaps should have. I then vacuum sealed the duck parts, and set them to cooking in a water bath at 83°C for over five hours. Because duck is such a fatty meat, this resulted in rendering the fat to liquid form and then self-basting the duck in the meat juices and rendered duck fat, much like how one would prepare a confit.

After rinsing the salt rub off with water, we vacuum seal the duck parts

After rinsing the salt rub off with water, we vacuum seal the duck parts

We start the duck in the water bath

We start the duck in the water bath

Because of the high temperature of the water bath, we were generating a lot of steam, which was causing both water loss and forcing the immersion circulator to work a lot harder to keep the bath at the right temperature. We solve both problems by insulating the water bath with aluminum foil.

To avoid excess heat and water loss from steam we cover our water bath with aluminum foil while cooking the duck

To avoid excess heat and water loss from steam we cover our water bath with aluminum foil while cooking the duck

The final step was to crisp up the skin of the duck, as there’s nothing quite like crispy duck skin to make a meal of duck complete. But this is where we ran into some problems.

After over five hours at 83C, the duck is now perfectly cooked, with much of the fat rendered to liquid

After over five hours at 83C, the duck is now perfectly cooked, with much of the fat rendered to liquid

The first attempt at crisping the duck was to simply take all the rendered duck fat and juices and try to fry one of the pieces of duck in it. However we could simply not get this to brown the skin. We figure that’s because there was too much fat to get it up to the temperature we needed.

We tried using the duck juices and fat to fry the duck parts to crisp them, but that failed - too much liquid

We tried using the duck juices and fat to fry the duck parts to crisp them, but that failed - too much liquid

We solved our browning/crisping problem in two different ways. One was using a small broiler. This, by far, did the best job of giving us the uniform brown, crisp exterior we were looking for. The other was to use only a little bit of duck fat in a hot pan and sear the outside of the duck. This worked, but not as well, because duck is, well, lumpy, and we could not evenly heat all of the exterior of the pieces of duck we tried to finish off this way.

A sous vide duck leg section, fresh from being crisped in the broiler

A sous vide duck leg section, fresh from being crisped in the broiler

A sous vide duck breast part after being crisped in a pan with a very little bit of duck fat

A sous vide duck breast part after being crisped in a pan with a very little bit of duck fat

However the duck was browned, it turned out excellent. The meat was moist, tender, and flavorful, and the crispy skin was mouthwateringly delicious. Definitely a meal to repeat (with the caveats listed above).


6 Responses to “Sous Vide Duck”

  • Mercy Says:

    I too love duck. Love a crispy skin. What a gourmand you are Jake! One of my food fantasies for the last few years is to go to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, CA. It is considered one of the best restaurants in the country, and of course I have to meet him someday!

    • Jake Richter Says:

      The French Laundry is on our hit list, perhaps for this summer, as well. We’ve been to Keller’s Per Se in NYC, and it was a fabulous experience.

  • Claire Says:

    Oooh, new inspiration now. We’re working making a duck prosciutto today, but are now going to render the duck fat by using our sous vide instead of on the stovetop. Good advice here – thank you!

  • Paul Says:

    May I congratulate you on posting a correct temperature for cooking duck ‘sous vide’. Duck has been a problem for me, sous vide, as most references on the web for duck seem to treat it the same as beef which seems to be completely wrong. The fat on duck is more similar to the fat on pork or lamb and after ramping up the temperature (to 80 degrees celcius in my case based on your blog, for 5 hours), the fat rendered beautifully and the protein was tender.

    I recall that pork fat comprises two types of fat that need a temperature of between 77C and 82C to render well. This is way higher than the temperatures that are used for steak. As a result, I tried some duck legs this way with great results, and finished them under the grill – broiler in US terms.

    FWIW, I was cooking a Catalonian (West Spain) dish of duck with pear (and onion, garlic, tomato, pine nuts, raisins etc) based on a dish of goose with pear called ‘oca ambs peres’.

    It was great!

    • Jake Richter Says:

      Paul,

      Thank you for the feedback! The dish you describe sounds wonderful. I’m a big fan of Catalonian cuisine as well.

      Jake