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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).