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What's For Dinner? Pan-Fried Duck With Shallots

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 13, 2013 4:00PM

The duck has started to pan-fry, skin side down. Leave it alone!

Once in a while, every cook gets an urge to try something big and slightly risky. Be it stuffed breast of veal or chateaubriand or a turducken, the urge to push the envelope is always there. For us, that urge led us to The Butcher and Larder and an adventure in duck cookery.

For some fancy chefs, cooking a duck isn't an adventure. But when you've never done it before, venturing into a new species can be intimidating. We've roasted about a zillion chickens, but duck? We heard horror stories about fat fires, burnt breasts and underdone legs. We asked Twitter for help, but got conflicting responses. Always cook the duck whole! Never cook the duck whole!

As we often do in these situations, we turned to an old standby. If Jaques Pepin tells us to do something, we pretty trust his advice. On one of his TV shows, he suggested a method of pan-frying that seemed plausible, quick and easy. With a few minor tweaks, it worked out perfectly. The key to this recipe is to trust that it'll turn out. You will think it's burning. It isn't. Go with it. This isn't going to create restaurant-rare duck breast, but it'll all be done and infused with the flavor of a ton of shallots and garlic. Plus, it's something of a one-pot meal; your veggies will cook along with the duck. All you need is a small salad.

You might think that a 5-pound duck is a lot of food. Except, as it turns out, it's all fat. This dish comfortably serves four people, including all the veggies. On the other hand, the best part of duck cookery is that you end up with at least three meals in one. You get the duck itself, the carcass (for duck stock) and the fat (for duck-fried potatoes). You can have a whole week of duck!

The duck itself came from The Butcher and Larder. They don't usually have whole ducks in stock, but if you give them a little notice, they can order one for you.

Pan-Fried Duck with Shallots
Adopted from Jacques Pepin

1 whole duck
20 whole shallots, peeled and trimmed
2 whole heads of garlic, cloves peeled
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper

Have the butcher break down the duck, or, if you're feeling ambitious, do it yourself. Keep the breasts whole, but separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Keep the carcass for stock. Trim off the the excess skin and fat from the neck.

Get out a large, heavy skillet. Turn the heat up to high, then wait a minute or two. Without any oil or seasoning, put the trimmed up pieces of skin in the pan. Let them render down for a few minutes until there's a nice bit of duck fat in the pan. Then, place the big pieces of duck, skin-side down, into the pan. Season the exposed flesh with salt and pepper.

This is the part where you think it'll go badly. The key is to let the pieces alone long enough for the fat to render and the skin to start to get crispy - about 15 minutes. At that point, there should be quite a bit of fat in the pan. Leave it there.

The veggies are in. Cover it up.

Throw in the shallots, parsnips, garlic and herbs. Keep the duck skin side down, but move it around a little so everything fits in one layer. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low.

The whole mess should fry, braise and steam into a flavorful stew of ducky goodness. Check it after about 30 minutes. If it needs a little longer, give it another 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, take the whole mess out of the pan and put it onto a large serving platter. If you want to make it pretty, scatter a little fresh parsley or stick a sprig of rosemary on top.

After dinner, draw off the fat and store for later.

The finished product! It's not pretty, but it sure is tasty.