Our First Duck

Week of March 5 – March 11, 2018


Andrew came from Brooklyn to watch Rusty while we traveled

pea soup

Monday:                      Zucchini Toast, Parker’s Split Pea Soup (The BC cookbook, p. 73)

Cobb Salad

Tuesday:                      Hummus with Belgian Endive, Cobb Salad


Wednesday:                Kansas City – The Oliver Restaurant – Nice Bar


                 Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Shuttlecock,’ blessedly not indicative of the fine art                 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

Thursday:                    Kansas City – Gram and Dun – Great food, great drinks, cozy atmosphere, in spite of large space.

Wrapped Duck

Thawing Duck

Friday:             Kansas City – Q 39 – Modern take on Barbecue.  Lively restaurant, good but not great brisket and ribs.  Superb Pork and Sausage Corn Dogs.

Duck Platter

Saturday:                     Fettes Manse – Israeli Hummus

Duck Breasts with Cracklings on Arugula

Confit of Duck Legs with Mashed Potatoes

Kitchen Sink

Sunday:       Brunch in KC:  BLTs with avocado on Fettes’s home-made bread

Dinner in Pittsburgh:                  Tagliatelle with Kitchen Sink Sauce – tomatoes, onions                                                          Zucchini, and Olives

Hanging Duck

Bill, the butcher, and Bill the supplier with duck

The duck sat there on a plate, headless and mute, wrapped in its plucked light skin.  It came with no instructions.  We were staying with friend and brother-in-law Bill Fettes in Overland Park (Kansas City) for the weekend and Bill had suggested we tackle the duck for dinner on Saturday to fortify ourselves for a night of watching NCAA Conference finals.

I had two easy recipes for duck, which can present problems because of its fatty skin.  The first recipe, from the genius Jacques Pépin, for Sautéed Duck Breast with Arugula and Cracklings, eliminated the worry about the fat by a quick sauté of skinless breasts.  Simple and Quick.  Not wanting to discard the duck legs (thigh and drumstick), I found a recipe on the blog ‘Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.’  But this meant that I would have to butcher the duck and skin the breasts.

I approached the duck cautiously, armed with a knife, made slightly uneasy by the skeptical observations of Bill and Beez.  I need not have worried – nor should you, if you have to cut up a duck.  Think of a duck as a chicken with shorter legs placed at a different angle and you’ll do fine.  Removing the breast from the duck is actually easier than removing the breast meat from a chicken.  (You’ll find instructions, based on our anatine (look it up) adventure, along with the recipes below.)

We were in Kansas City, originally, on business for Beez and the Association of American Cancer Institutes.  While Beez worked – on Thursday – I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art which is something you should do, if you get out that way.  It has a superb collection of pre-impressionists and impressionists collected by Marian and Henry Bloch (of H & R Bloch) and enough money to have ordered a recasting of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” Baptistry Door from Florence.  There was a stunner of a still life from Odillon Redon – “The Green Vase,” Monet’s superb “Boulevard des Capucines,” and, in the modern art wing a terrifying sculpture, “Museum Guard” – you’ll understand when you see it.  I was not allowed to take pictures of these (you can find them on-line), but above I have shared the disheartening ‘Shuttlecock’ by Claes Oldenburg, which sits outside the museum in a gravity defying stance.

Country Club Plaza, on the Missouri side, contains good restaurants and interesting shops, some uniquely local architecture and is a nice place for a stroll, especially if you are staying at The Raphael Hotel.  On Wednesday night, Beez’s group had a dinner hosted by the University of Kansas Cancer Center at The Oliver, a good restaurant with a fine bar.  On Thursday we dined by ourselves at Gram and Dun, a huge restaurant that somehow manages to feel cozy and offers really wonderful food.  And back at the Raphael, Richard, the bartender, makes superb Rob Roys.

On Friday, Bill picked us up and, after a long walk in the Kansas sunshine – it was in the 60s – we had dinner at Q39.  This is a lively place (make a reservation) with a modern take on barbecue, serving very good (not great) brisket and ribs.  The best thing on the menu, we’re guessing, are the pork and sausage corn dogs – no, really.

Look, if you don’t try the corn dogs, its okay.  But if you don’t cook a duck according to the recipes below, you’ll be missing something special.


(adapted from Jacques Pépin, Heart and Soul in the Kitchen)


(If you have frozen duck, thaw it in a pot of tap water set in the refrigerator, overnight)

10 minutes for the breast and salad, but you’ll need to allow about an hour for the cracklings (they make the dish, in my opinion), and about 2 hours if you’re doing the roasted duck legs (see the recipe below this one)

Ingredients:                                         Serves 4

For the duck and cracklings:

4 boneless duck breasts (we used two – we had one duck – but we were also roasting the legs)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon of salt, plus another ¼ teaspoon for the cracklings
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons of water

For the arugula salad:

8 cups arugula (loosely packed)
½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic (we grated half of a small clove)
¼ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons sesame or hazelnut oil
¼  cup toasted hazelnuts (we used almonds)


You can buy duck breasts, instead of a whole duck, in which case you won’t have to butcher, just skin.

Slicing Duck Breast

Butcher a Duck:  As I mentioned above, if you’ve butchered a chicken, you can handle a duck.  Slit the skin between the thigh and the breast so that you can pop the thigh bone away from the carcass and cut through and remove the legs (thighs and drumsticks) on either side.  The duck breast is easier to remove than a chicken breast – just began with small slicing strokes down one side of the breast bone and, when you can, grab the breast with one hand and continuing careful slicing strokes (you want to remove as much meat as possible).  Keep going until the breast is removed.  Repeat on the other side.

Skinning the breasts is relatively easy (see above), but keep a sharp knife handy as there are some membranes that you’ll need to scrape at so that the skin doesn’t come away with any of the meat.  You’ll end up with two beautiful, dark red, pieces of meat and two substantial pieces of duck skin.  We removed some more skin from the carcass, then discarded the carcass and the wings.

Refrigerate the breasts and slice the duck skin into ¾ inch pieces.

Cook the Duck:

Make the cracklings:


Put the pieces of skin in a saucepan with ¼ teaspoon of salt and 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until the water evaporates and the skin is sizzling in the rendered fat.  You will need to turn the heat down to a gentle boil after the first 20 minutes or so and may need to regulate it further to keep from burning the cracklings.  After evaporation continue frying until the cracklings are brown and crispy – maybe another 10 minutes – turning the less crispy side down in the pan.

Make the Dressing:

Mix the garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and both oils in a large bowl and set aside.

Cook the Duck:

Heat the butter in a skillet until foaming.

Sprinkle the breasts with the salt and pepper, then add to the pan and sauté over medium-high for 2 ½ minutes per side for rare.

Transfer the duck to a plate and cover or let sit in the oven to rest for 5 or so minutes.

Finish the Dish:

While the duck is resting, deglaze the pan with the wine and water and mix for a few minutes to melt and incorporate the solidified juices, then remove from the heat.

Reheat the cracklings in the microwave for 45 seconds.

Toss the arugula with the salad dressing in the bowl and divide among four plates.

Place a duck breast (we sliced ours to stop it cooking – but you need not) on top of the salad and pour the deglazed pan juices on top.  Sprinkle with the toasted nuts and cracklings and serve.

Duck leg

Roast Duck Legs (Quick Confit)

(adapted from the blog, ‘hunter-angler-gardener-cook’)

This is a really neat recipe and gives you duck legs that resemble confit with very little effort.  Beez and Bill made some creamy mashed potatoes which complimented the rich confit, just as Jacques’s tart salad complimented the breasts.

Timing:            About 2 1/2 hours – 30 minutes of which is to bring duck to room temp

(We cooked these ahead of time and served them warm, but not hot)

Ingredients:     Serves 4 when coupled with recipe above, otherwise double the leg quantity

4 duck legs
Butter, olive oil, lard or duck fat (we used olive oil)


Pat the duck legs dry with paper towels and prick the skin all over with a needle or the point of sharp knife, trying not to pierce the meat itself.  You’re doing this to let the fat seep out and help cook the duck.

Salt the legs and set aside, skin side up.  Let come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Pour a bit of olive oil into in a small casserole – just big enough to hold them without overlapping.  Put the legs in and drizzle a little more oil on top.

Put the casserole in the oven and turn to 300 F.  (Do not turn the oven on before putting the duck legs in.)

After 90 minutes the duck should be partly submerged in melted fat and getting crispy.  Cook longer if needed.

When skin starts to look crispy, turn the heat up to 375 F and cook for about 15 minutes longer, or until the skin is a light, golden brown.

Remove from the oven and remove the legs from the casserole and let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

2 thoughts on “Our First Duck

  1. Bill, you are a brave man cooking the duck! I did roast one so many years ago, I’m afraid to do it again. I just remember pouring the fat out of the pan every 20 min.
    I’ll save this blog for the recipe…..just maybe I will surprise a lucky few.

  2. Bill, you are a brave man cooking the duck! I did roast one so many years ago, I’m afraid to do it again. I just remember pouring the fat out of the pan every 20 min.
    I’ll save this blog for the recipe…..just maybe I will surprise a lucky few.

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