Though very popular in Chinese cuisine, duck hasn’t come close in popularity to chicken or turkey in the United States. Americans now eat an average of only about 3/4 pound of duck annually per capita, compared to an impressive 55 pounds per person for chicken.
Perhaps this is because duck is considered sophisticated fare—more difficult to prepare than chicken or turkey and with a more complicated flavor. Ducks also have a large chest cavity, so they contain a smaller proportion of meat to bone, and all of their meat is dark. Also, most people would hesitate to turn to duck, which has fatty skin, if they’re watching their fat intake.
Duck is hard to find in supermarkets; you usually have to special order it. And it is a high-maintenance bird to roast because the skin must be constantly pricked to release the fat. But there is one strike against it that is undeserved. Though most people think of duck as too fatty to eat, if you remove the skin, a half-cup of roasted duck meat has just 140 calories, about the same as roasted chicken without skin.
Types of duck
Ducks are available fresh on a limited basis from late spring through late winter, but 90 percent of the duck supply is sold frozen. Duck breasts (magrets) are sometimes available in specialty food markets. If available, they are generally fresh.
The most widely sold domestic duck is the white Pekin, which was brought to the United States from China in the 19th century. Young white Pekin ducks are often sold as Long Island ducklings, although only about a third of domestic ducks are raised on Long Island, New York. The majority comes from duck farms in the Midwest. Here are common types of duck.
Mallard ducks: Rarely available unless you or someone you know hunts or has access to a specialty store, these small ducks—close in size to a Cornish hen—are best eaten medium-rare.
Moulard ducks: Prized for their large, dark, sweet breast meat, these ducks are often twice as large as Pekin ducks and quite difficult to find. The breasts, or magrets, can be cooked like steak, though they’re much leaner. The breast meat is now more readily available in specialty and high-end butcher shops.
Muscovy ducks: This variety of duck is often used in restaurants. It is small and gamy with more pronounced flavor than the Pekin. Generally weighing between 3 and 4 pounds, a 3 1/4-pound bird will feed two to three. These ducks are best cooked to medium-rare or pink.
Pekin ducks: The Pekin is the most widely available duck. Fed on a diet of corn and soy, the Pekin is milder in flavor than other varieties. It is heavy-boned and yields proportionally less meat per pound than some other varieties. The ducklings are 8 weeks old or younger, and weigh from 3 to 6 pounds, a large percentage of that weight being fat. A 4 1/2-pound bird will feed two to three.
Duck Cooking Tips and Recipe Ideas
Duck is a flavorful poultry that few American home cooks appreciate. Try these tips and recipe ideas to add duck to your kitchen repertoire.
Published February 19, 2016