Roast duck with apples and sage

A roast duck on a serving plate, beside a bowl with the apple and sage stuffing

Photo by Ingvar Mattsson.

This is the bird for our slightly reworked Thanksgiving dinner. Between the chaos of cooking a festive dinner and dead batteries in my camera, I didn’t get process shots for any of these dishes.

With two humans eating the dinner this year, I decided not to go for a turkey. They’re not little birds, and the smallest RSPCA Freedom Food labelled one I could find (frozen) was £18. A duck looked like a pretty good alternative, and very seasonal even though we had to get a domesticated one.

Virginia is part of what they’re calling the Atlantic Flyway, with lots of migrating birds:

As autumn arrives, ducks and geese migrate into the refuges and surrounding areas of Virginia. Shoveler ducks, pintails, mallards, widgeons, teal, rudy ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, ring necked ducks, bluebills, and others fly in. Mergansers, buffleheads, goldeneyes and other diving ducks show up in the bay waters as cold weather sets in. Off the coast, rafts of sea ducks and small groups of oldsquaw ducks forage along the shoals over the winter.

This migration is impressive enough on the coast that people there ‘reckoned a “moon of stags,” a “corn moon,” and a first and second “moon of cohonks”—the Algonquian word sounds just like the call of the geese, the sound from which the word derives.’ The time that they started returning en masse was considered the beginning of winter, and of the new year. The migratory waterfowl  leave just as spectacularly at the end of the winter.

English draws the word “honk”  from the geese:

From honck or cohonk, Canadian goose. Also associated with the sound made by the bird. Also associated with winter and year. The Powhatans called the “Potomac” River “the River of the Cohonks” for the noise made by the yearly arrival of the geese there. To honk, honky, and honky tonk all come from cohonk.

The ducks are a little less spectacularly noisy. 🙂 Not surprisingly, the waterfowl used to be a winter staple, and people still hunt them a lot. There aren’t such huge flocks migrating inland in the mountains, without all the marshes as food sources, but there are enough waterways that many still show up yearly and people used to eat an awful lot of ducks and geese.

Since a goose is still too big, a duck seemed very suitable for this time of year and theme. Apples also seemed like a good seasonal addition. Western Virginia grows a lot of apples–the commercial growing really got started for colonial export to England–though most of them now go into things like apple sauce and cider. The fruity flavor did go very well with the duck, as I’d hoped. I used Braeburn because the flavor is reasonably complex, and we already had a bag of them. They stayed firmer when cooked than I was expecting.

Roast duck with apples and sage

I stayed pretty close to a fairly simple recipe I ran across here.

To stuff the duck, I mixed up in a bowl:

  • 3 chopped Braeburn apples (peeled and cored first)
  • A small chopped onion
  • About 8 crumbled leaves of dried sage from our garden
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

I just stuffed it in the cavity to add flavor to the bird and pan drippings. We didn’t eat more than a spoonful of it to try, but you can if you like. It did lend a nice, not too strong note.

Preheat the oven to 400F / 200C. (That sounded hot to me, but multiple sources said to use that temperature for the whole cooking time!) Peel 3 or 4 carrots to use as a roasting rack and add more flavor to the pan drippings, and stick them in a suitable sized pan. (I used a foil one.)

Rinse the duck off, remove the giblets if it has any, and stuff the cavity with the apple mixture. Close the flap up with toothpicks, and put it breast side up in the pan on top of the carrots. Slash the skin all over with a sharp knife, trying not to cut into the meat, and rub sea salt into it so it gets nice and crispy.

You can truss the bird with string if you really want to, but I didn’t do that; it was also in a pan of a size that the wings brushed the edges, so it couldn’t sprawl out as much.

The duck wrapper said to roast it at the temperature above for 20 minutes per 500g (1.1 lb.), plus 20 minutes. With the 2 kg (4.4 lb.) duck we had, that worked out close enough to the 2 hours called for in the recipe I was basing the dish on.  Baste it when there’s an hour left, then half an hour. I actually turned the oven down to 350F / 180C after about an hour, because it was browning quickly, and it still took about 2 hours. I double-checked it with a meat thermometer, because I’m paranoid that way. 😉

Going by helpwithcooking.com:

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.

A pot of gravy

Another photo by Ingvar Mattsson. And another thing just served out of the pot. 🙂

The gravy was also somewhat loosely based on the same Roast Duck with Apples recipe. The inclusion of (British hard) cider sounded intriguing, and it ended up working well.

  • Pan drippings from the duck
  • 1.25 cups (275 mL or 1/2 British pint) Tesco single varietal Redstreak cider, which is apparently made by Thatchers –what we had 🙂
  • About 1 c. (225 mL) mixed duck giblet and previously frozen chicken broth left from making the dressing
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
  • Salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp. or so, with the salt in the duck juices)
  • A little dried sage and mixed herbs (this blend was like poultry seasoning) — maybe 1/2 tsp. combined, for a hint of flavor
  • Diced cooked giblets, if you have them
  • Enough corn or potato starch to thicken — 1 tbsp. potato IIRC?–mixed into a little cold water

Put everything but the starch into a small pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, then thicken with the starch slurry (add it fairly gradually while stirring). If you’re using potato starch, take it off the heat first, and use about half the amount you would of corn starch.

The cornbread and sweet potato dressing post will have to wait for another day.

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