It was b'shert (Hebrew, meaning fate, destiny, the perfect match. Usually refers to a spouse or other love interest - close enough). I got into a conversation about how December strawberries make me love southern California even more, and next thing I knew I was buying a free-range duck from Healthy Family Farms, who had the stand next to the strawberry people at the Virginia Park market in Santa Monica. Lots of chickens in the coolers, but only one duck, a beautiful Pekin (not a typo - the breed is Pekin, the Chinese delicacy is Peking). I'd been craving duck for weeks, maybe months. It was a split-second decision. The Pekin duck was mine.
I'd never roasted a whole duck, so I asked for advice. "Here's what you do," said Juan-Luis. "Boil the duck in a big pot of water for half an hour. Then dry it, season it however you like, and roast it at 400 for an hour and a half. Best duck you'll ever eat."
I did exactly that. Boiled it up in enough water just to cover it, then used a wad of paper towels drying it off. Salted the parboiled bird, then dusted it with warm spices: cinnamon, cloves, ginger. I roasted it in my big cast-iron skillet. Half an hour before the end, I spread homemade quince jam all over it. Basted a few times and watched it get crispy and dark brown. When I took it out of the oven, the whole family crowded around for a sniff and a peek. I rarely see my men drool, but I swear I saw spittle. Even Hot Dog Boy got excited about this bird.
And with good reason. We ripped it apart like cavemen and devoured the whole thing in less than 10 minutes. It was one of the most satisfying meals we've had in a long time - and in my house, that's saying something.
Roast duck with quince glaze
- 1 Pekin duck, 5-6 lbs
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- salt and pepper
- 3 Tbsp quince jam or preserves (plum or apricot would work nicely, too)
After half an hour, remove the duck from the boiling water. SAVE THIS WATER; you'll see why in a minute. Drain the water from the duck's cavity back into the pot, put the bird on a plate or cutting board, and dry the duck well with paper towels. Turn the duck breast-side up. Sprinkle the cloves, cinnamon and ginger all over the breast side of the bird, then salt and pepper the bird generously.
Put the duck (breast side up) in the hot roasting pan or skillet. Roast the duck a total of 90 minutes. After about 60 minutes, pull the duck out of the oven briefly and spread the quince jam over the breast side of the duck. Baste it a bit with the fat in the pan, then slide it back into the oven to finish roasting. If you feel like basting once or twice more before it's done, fine. If not, it will be just as delicious.
Remove the duck from the oven when it's dark brown and the skin is crisped. Let it rest at least 5 minutes before carving (or tearing apart with your hands). Serve immediately.
NOTE: Do not let anyone throw away the duck bones or skin. After everyone is done eating, take all the scraps, plus whatever's left in the roasting pan, and put it all back in the pot of water in which the duck was boiled. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and let it go an hour or more. You will end up with a rich broth, which you'll strain and cool overnight uncovered. The duck fat will rise to the top. Use the broth for soup or cooking rice. Save the duck fat and use it for frying potatoes. You'll thank me.