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Duck Meat: Tasting, Cooking, and Buying

Duck Meat: Tasting, Cooking, and Buying

Domestic ducks offer a trio of products that make them a sought-after animal on farms of all sizes. Thanks to their downy feathers, nutritious eggs, and richly flavorful meat, humans have seen fit to keep ducks for over 4000 years!

If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying duck meat in any of its many preparations from across the globe, you are in for a treat!

From China to France and the Americas, duck is renowned for its exquisite texture, deeply flavorful fat, and highly aromatic meat. And with specialized varieties developed in each major growing region, you’ll have access to a wider range of flavors than any other fowl meat.

With nearly 3 million ducks slaughtered worldwide each year for their meat, you’ll have no trouble locating sources of duck meat. But for the very best quality, you’ll also need to know what great duck meat tastes like, as well as how to cook it — which is why we’ve put together this handy guide.

In it, you’ll learn the culinary basics of duck meat, how to choose the right type of duck for your dish, get a few sources for our favorite duck meat purveyors, and be treated to the simplest and most delicious roast duck recipe you might ever find.

What Does Duck Meat Taste Like?

While visually similar to chickens, ducks have a meat that tastes much closer to red meat than the lean white meat of America’s most popular fowl. High in fats and proteins and rich in iron, duck meat has been a valuable source of nutrition for cuisines around the world.

Generally, only duck breasts and thighs are prepared for consumption — with duck stock being a rare and delicious preparation of the leftover bits. The meat of the legs is darker than that of the breast, but even duck breast is darker than any of the meat found on turkey or chicken. This has led some chefs to draw comparisons between duck and steak, as we’ll discuss in the following section.

Types of Duck Breeds for Meat

There are several main varieties of duck used for meat production (in addition to common game species). Meat ducks, or sometimes called “dish” ducks because their smaller size makes them suitable for preparation as a meal rather than an entire family meal, are typically bred to be larger than the average wild duck and will put on weight quickly.

Khaki Campbell, Ancona, Welsh Harlequin, Moulard, Pekin, and Muscovy are among the breeds used for meat production. Show ducks, or “fancy” ducks, are bred primarily for their ornamental value and because of this they do not reach a large size at maturity.

Khaki Campbells

Khaki Campbells are an extremely large breed of meat duck. They are characterized by their coloration, which includes a green head and feet along with white plumage spotted with black spots. Khaki Campbells have been bred to produce a high number of eggs and grow very quickly.

Anconas

A light colored domestic breed known for their egg-laying abilities. Females are an off-white color with black markings on their wings. Males are darker colored, with a black neck and back, white chest, belly, and neck stripe, and a green head.

Welsh Harlequins

Another breed in the light duck category. The Welsh Harlequin is prized for its ability to lay many large, white eggs. Body coloration can be either black or blue and is highly contrasted by a white neck ring. Ducks of both sexes have bright orange bills, pink feet, and yellow eyes.

Moulard

A cross between a female Pekin and a male Muscovy duck. The Moulard has pleasant plumage and makes an excellent meat bird when raised to full size. They are very hardy, especially in the cold, wet months of winter and they can be eaten at any type of processing (raw, whole, boneless, etc.).

Pekin

The Pekin is a very common breed of domestic duck. It is an excellent table bird and makes good use of the feed it eats. The meat from the Pekin has a somewhat more rich flavor than other breeds, often more pronounced in older birds. They are known for their slightly oily flesh, which can make for an interesting meal.

Muscovy

A domestic duck breed that is larger than other meat breeds, but smaller than wild species. They are known for their long necks and unique bill shape among ducks. Muscovies are very hardy birds that do well in the coldest of climates, including northern regions of Canada where other breeds will freeze to death.

General Duck Meat Attributes

Common amongst breeds of duck meat is a generally fatty, oily texture and distinctive taste that sets it apart from other types of poultry. Duck also has a larger amount of connective tissue which makes it more suited for slow cooking techniques such as braising or stewing. On the other hand, because of this it is also more likely to taste “gamey” which some people enjoy and others do not.

Let’s hear from the folks at D’Artagnan, one of our preferred online suppliers of duck meat, about what makes each type of duck meat special:

Pekin duck is known for its mild, satisfying flavor that adapts to a number of cuisines.”

Popularized via Chinese cuisine, Pekin duck is also sometimes called “Long Island Duck” since the majority of US-bred Pekin ducks are raised in Long Island. Its lighter flesh and agreeable flavor make it ideal for first-time duck eaters.

Muscovy duck is sometimes compared to roast beef for its flavor, and veal for its tenderness.”

The most popular European duck, Muscovy has a large breast and deep red, gamey meat. It’s a robust and flavorful experience that’s best served lightly seared, akin to a fine steak.

The Moulard offers dark red meat, a hefty breast and a good layer of fat… A great eating duck.”

Offering the best of both worlds, Moulard is a cross between the Pekin and Moulard duck — making it incredibly flavorful, and also richly textured.

Truly though, any duck you choose is likely to be delicious. They’re one of nature’s most flavorful fowl, and the only thing that can endanger their exceptional taste is overcooking. In the next section, we’ll provide recipes for both Pekin and Muscovy ducks, but you can certainly substitute a Moulard in either.

Duck Meat Nutrition

Duck meat is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and contains no carbohydrates. It also provides the body with several essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body on its own.

Because of its texture, duck meat can be substituted for chicken in most dishes. When cooked properly it is tender and juicy with a flavor that is distinct from that of chicken or any other type of poultry.

How to Cook Duck Meat

To get the best out of any cut of duck meat, it’s best to remember that fat is flavor. The more fat you can retain with your cooking methods, the better the final flavor of your dish. Overcook it, and you’ll lose all the fat; lose all the fat, and you’ll end up with a dry and unpleasant duck.

Because of this, the best preparations of duck are decidedly simple. Let’s take a look at two popular methods for cooking duck: One Chinese, and one European.

Roast Pekin Duck

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole duck, weighing 4 to 5 pounds
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup soy sauce

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Trim excess fat from cavity of duck.
  2. Place a rack in a deep roasting pan, and place your duck (wing side up) on the rack. Add 2 or more inches of water to the roasting pan, and brush the duck liberally with soy sauce before sprinkling with five spice mixture.
  3. Roast for 30 minutes, then remove duck from oven. Use the point of a sharp knife to prick the skin on the back of the duck, then flip over. Brush with soy sauce again, and return to the oven.
  4. Roast for 20 more minutes, then repeat the procedure from step 3.
  5. Roast 10 minutes to finish; the duck should be golden-brown all over, and a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh should read at least 155 degrees F.

An alternative use of the roasting pan, suggested by a commenter on Bittman’s original recipe, is to layer slices of potatoes and carrots on the bottom of your pan. That way while the fat cooks out of the duck, it will drip onto the potatoes and give them a rich flavor and crispy texture.

The darkly colored and full flavored meat of the Muscovy duck lends itself much better to preparing like beef, as in the following recipe:

Pan Seared Muscovy Duck Breast

All you’ll need for this is a duck breast of about 4 oz, as well as salt and pepper.

Directions

  1. Score the skin side of your duck breast with a sharp knife, and season generously with salt.
  2. Place the duck breast skin side down in a cold, non-stick pan. Turn the heat on to medium-high.
  3. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, tilting the pan towards you to spoon out fat as it is released.
  4. Turn over and cook for an additional 4 to 6 minutes.
  5. Remove the duck from your pan, and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

With both recipes, resist the temptation to overdo it. Duck is best when left to cook without much agitation, and seasoned generously with salt and spices.

Types of Meals to Make With Duck Meat

As mentioned before, duck meat is very versatile and can be used in many different types of dishes. Some examples are:

  • Duck Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta
  • Orange Duck Confit
  • Duck Rice with Cilantro and Lime
  • Slow Cooked Duck Chili
  • Duck Confit with French Green Beans

Duck Cooking Tips and Tricks

  • Choose cuts of meat that are well trimmed, such as boneless duck breasts and legs.
  • To remove excess fat, score the skin by gently drawing a sharp knife along the fat lines beneath the skin. The more often it’s done, the less likely there will be excessive amounts of fat left on the meat after cooking.
  • Season the duck with herbs, spices, or sauces before cooking to enhance flavor. Rubbing salt into the skin will promote crispness.
  • The amount of time required for cooking is roughly the same as that of other birds, but follow specific guidelines based on the method of preparation. For example, roasted duck may take an hour and a half, while barbecued duck will take closer to three hours.
  • Allow the duck meat to sit for about 10 minutes before carving or serving, which allows time for the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.

Where to Buy Duck Meat

Given the popularity of duck across most of the United States, chances are good that you’ll be able to find a local purveyor of either farmed or wild game meat. If that’s not the case, two online retailers offer duck meat of excellent quality at affordable prices.

D’Artagnan has been a long-time provider for restaurants, practicing green farming techniques long before it became en vogue to do so. They have a wide selection of duck products, including a proprietary variety of duck known as Rohan that is doubly tender and delicious.

Joyce Farms is a worthwhile alternative to D’Artagnan, and their whole natural ducks are well suited to the roast duck recipe above. Every duck sold through Joyce Farms is from a small family farm, raised without antibiotics, and fed an all-vegetable diet with no animal byproducts.

FAQs about Duck Meat

Here are a few common questions about Duck meat.

What is duck meat good for?

Duck meat is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and contains no carbs. It also provides the body with several essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body on its own. Additionally, because of their texture, duck meat can be substituted for chicken in most dishes. When cooked properly it is tender and juicy with a flavor that is distinct from that of chicken or any other type of poultry.

Does duck have a high or low carbon footprint?

Compared to other animal protein sources, duck has a very low carbon footprint. However, it has a high footprint compared to plant protein.

What is the carbon footprint of duck?

Duck has one of the lowest carbon footprints per gram of protein produced, close to rabbit protein. According to Gaillac and Marbach, duck produces 23g of CO2E per gram of protein. That compares favorably to beef’s 1600g of CO2E per gram of protein.

How much protein in duck?

A 100g serving contains 19g of protein.

Where does most duck come from?

The country with the highest duck production is China. In 2014 they produced about 2.89 million metric tons of duck meat. In second place for export production was France, followed by Hungary and Poland.