Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Slow, honey-roast duck

Duck benefits from slow roasting. The more tender the leg meat, the better; and the breast meat can withstand longer cooking than can that of turkey or chicken thanks to lubrication from its surrounding fat. Another reason why I prefer to give a duck longer in the oven is that I have found that conventional timings -- usually those also recommended for chicken -- are rarely sufficient.

Gary Rhodes, in New British Classics, has a recipe for slowly roasted duck with honey. You smear your duck with 5 tbsp honey, and roast it at gas mark 3/160 C. That is too much honey, in my opinion; and an unnecessarily high oven temperature.

I had a 2.8 kg duck. I was not confident that I could cook it successfully if I used only the lowest oven setting; but my experience with chicken suggested that the setting would work provided that there was an initial blast of heat. I took the duck out of the fridge three hours early. I made little incisions in the skin with the sharp point of a knife (I wonder if this is necessary -- the fat would probably run freely anyway), rubbed in some salt (a daughter would have objected if I had used pepper as well), and stuffed the bird with a lemon and a star anise.

I put the duck into the middle of an oven pre-heated to gas mark 6/200 C, for half an hour. Then I took it out of the oven, and spread over it 1 tbsp honey -- which might have burned at the high temperature. I returned the duck to the oven, now at its lowest setting, marked with an "S".

This setting, in my oven, is not very low. My oven thermometer -- which I must assume is roughly accurate -- rose to 130 C, which is not far off the official temperature of gas mark 1.

I cooked the duck for a further three hours, basting it regularly. Half way through cooking, and again near the end, I drained the juices into a glass bowl, allowed them to settle, and spooned off the fat. You cannot perform this process with total accuracy; after I had reduced the fat to a thin layer on top of the juices, I blotted off as much of the rest as I could with pieces of paper towel.

I made a stock with the duck giblets; but the juices from the roasting tin provided enough sauce.

When I took the duck out of the oven, I moved the shelf on which it had been sitting to a higher position, turned up the dial to gas mark 8/230 C, and put in another roasting pan with a layer of duck fat. After five minutes, I tipped in some parboiled cubes of potato, which roasted -- with one turning -- in 30 minutes, while the duck was resting.

The skin of the duck was a lovely, golden brown -- although not, I must admit, crisp. The sauce, with its honey and lemon and star anise, had just the right sweetness and acidity and savouriness to offset the richness of the meat.


Richard said...

Nick, you write:

>>My oven thermometer -- which I must assume is roughly accurate -- rose to 130 C, which is not far off the official temperature of gas mark 1.<<

Why do you assume that your oven is accurate? A technician who checked my oven years ago said that the manufacturers regard them as accurate if they are within -/+ 20 degrees C of what it says on the dial.

When I finally bought an oven thermometer around a year ago, I discovered that the main oven [replacement for the one that the technician checked out] was 50 degrees C hotter than it said on the dial. [The thermometer in the smaller oven is precisely accurate, strangely.] It's a good thing I haven't written a recipe column since I bought the new oven! I'd have been under-timing everything.

Every serious cook should buy an oven thermometer. They're cheap and reliable.

I enjoy your blog every time I read it. Keep up the good work.


Richard Ehrlich

Nicholas Clee said...

Thanks, Richard. I wrote that I assumed the thermometer was accurate; the oven -- if the thermometer is giving me the right readings -- is hotter by 10 to 20 degrees than the dial says it should be.

Reader's Digest, wanting its staff to check the recipes in one of its books, got the participants to check their ovens first. There was a 50 C variation in temperatures.



Doug said...

I appreciate I am a few years late in joining this discussion but came on your recipe and am trying it today as it looked very yummy!. I have a bugbear with most cookery books and websites, namely that oven temperatures do not indicate fan or non-fan oven. Most fan ovens need their temperature setting reduced by at least 20C to give an equivalent result. So today I will set my oven to 130C, 10c lower for the oven error and 20C for the fan. Fingers crossed.
Your site looks intriguing and I will certainly be revisiting.

Nicholas Clee said...

Thanks, Doug. I hope this works! I'm afraid that I am as guilty as most other recipe writers, always stating the oven setting that I use in my (non-fan) oven. And, as we've noted, there are substantial variations between different ovens anyway.

It took me quite a while to realise that certain assumptions I had made about cooking in liquid and roasting or baking - in particular, that it was possible to cook ingredients more gently by baking them - did not apply in my oven, because its lowest temperature was signficantly higher than boiling point.

Doug said...

Hi Nick
Decided to use the non-fan oven and follow your recipe scrupulously. Result- the best duck I have ever cooked, moist , nice texture and lovely flavours from the lemon and star anise.
Thank you!

Nicholas Clee said...

Gosh, how pleasing. A relief, too: one can never be confident that a recipe that works in one's own kitchen will behave in the same way for others. Thanks for the comments, Doug.