Slow-cooked duck for a variety of dishes
Remove the giblets from inside the duck and trim off any large pieces of fat that may be around the cavity opening, but do not discard the fat—duck fat is delicious especially for sauteing potatoes. Put it to one side to add to the pot later. Wipe the bird with a paper towel, then generously salt and pepper the duck inside and out. Place the aromatics inside the duck cavity—a lemon, orange, or apple cut into quarters, a quartered small onion, and fresh rosemary and/or thyme. Heat a nonstick pan and place the duck breast-side down. Saute until the duck skin is lightly browned. This is an optional step that does not affect the flavor of the duck, but gives the bird a familiar roasted appearance. The bird also can be browned in the oven at the end of the cooking process. If you do not plan to serve the duck with skin, skip this step. Place the duck on a double-layered piece of cheesecloth, large enough to wrap loosely around the bird. This will serve to help lift the bird out of the cooker without it falling apart since slow-cooked duck tends to fall off the bone. Make a rack for the duck to rest on inside the cooker. Some slow cookers come with a rack, but if not, use a small wire baking rack. Balls of aluminum foil can also be used to lift the bird, but a practical solution that adds flavor is to lay large pieces of carrot, onion and celery at the bottom of the cooker, or large pieces of apple or potatoes. Tuck the trimmed fat in with the vegetables. Place the duck breast-side up in the cooker. Prick the breast skin with a fork in several places to allow fat to escape. Cook on high for three to four hours, or low for six to seven hours until the internal temperature of the breast is 185 F. Wild duck is less fatty and will not take as long to cook. Check the fat level halfway through cooking, and if the fat is above the bottom of the duck, ladle or siphon it off using a turkey baster. Store the fat in the refrigerator. Remove the duck when it is cooked, lifting it carefully. Remove the cheesecloth and set the duck on paper towels on a platter to drain, or place in 425 F oven for 15 minutes to crisp the skin, then drain on paper towels. Carve the duck into leg or breast portions and serve. Sliced duck meat can be added to salads made with pungent greens such as watercress, arugula and spinach. Shredded duck meat makes a delicious addition to pasta sauce or a spicy taco filling. Try duck fajitas in corn tortillas with a spicy chipotle-flavored salsa, and save the last duck pieces for stir-fried rice.
- Duck fat is considered pure gold by chefs. After the cooker has cooled but the fat has not set, pour it through a colander into a heatproof bowl and refrigerate. The fat will settle on the top and a rich jelly will be on the bottom. Separate the two, making sure the fat is free of any lingering bits of jelly. Freeze the jelly and use to flavor soups and sauces, and save the fat for frying potatoes or roasting vegetables.