Duck: (Not) Just For Quacks

They say a duck’s quack doesn’t produce an echo. This may or may not be true, and until enough highly scientific research is done with ducks in tunnels, we won’t know the answer. It seems like one of those urban myths that could actually be true…but then again, how could it? Either way, as we all wait with baited breath to find out the answer once and for all, it is important to know that even if a duck’s quack does echo, it is still a unique and noble animal that shines in both a nutritional and culinary context. If you’re looking to add a little variety and excitement to your diet, look no further than the duck.

The duck offers many delicious and nutritious options. Duck meat, either the breast or the leg, offers good nutritional value. Duck meat is high in iron and good quality protein, which comprises about 80% of it by weight. The other 20% is fat, and there are no carbohydrates. The fat that duck does contain can be considered healthy fat, especially when compared to other land animal fats. Duck fat is high in unsaturated fatty acids (the healthy kind), and relatively low in heart-clogging saturated fat. It is a healthier alternative than beef or pork fat, and is more similar to olive oil than butter.

As good as duck meat is nutritionally, it is also loaded with flavor and lends itself well to a vast array of delicious culinary preparations and applications. Duck breast is very common, and is more like a steak than a chicken in that it can be prepared at different temperatures and is probably best when cooked medium rare. If you do order duck at a restaurant, don’t be surprised when the server asks, “How would you like your duck cooked?” Duck leg is also common, typically done in a confit style, which means it is cooked in its own fat. Cultural cuisines from all corners of the globe utilize duck, and it goes well with many ingredients and flavor profiles. It pairs great with red wine. It goes very well with citrus such as lemon and orange, and also pairs well with sweetness and savory fruits like plums, cranberries, grapes, and pomegranates. And because of its richness, it also pairs great with acidic elements like gastriques and balsamic reductions. It also goes great with bitter and tannic vegetables like spinach. Duck also tastes great smoked. Its flavor will obviously be richer and stronger than a chicken, and although a wild duck will taste fairly gamey, a farmed duck should taste much milder and more palatable. And, just like other fowl, the breast will be milder in flavor than the leg.

But it doesn’t end there, because the duck has so much more to offer than just its meat. An extremely versatile ingredient, many parts of the duck can be of use in diverse culinary preparations. Duck fat, which we’ve already seen is pretty nutritious, is also simply a great fat to cook with. Using it instead of cooking oils, other animal fats, or butter, can add a unique, distinct, but mild flavor to any dish. The combination of duck fat and potatoes is particularly sublime, and using duck fat to sauté ingredients like mushrooms, green beans, brussel sprouts, and spinach takes those ingredients to the next level of flavor as well. Duck liver can also be quite delicious and can be a suitable alternative and reasonable facsimile to foie gras (fatty goose liver). Even duck eggs can be used, and are similar to chicken eggs except a little larger and stronger in flavor.

So whether or not a duck’s quack will echo, it is still a nutritious and delicious ingredient that shouldn’t be overlooked. Its culinary uses and applications are vast and diverse. Duck meat is at home in many preparations, paired with many ingredients, and is at home in Asian, French, and contemporary American cuisine alike. High in protein and iron, duck is a good choice nutritionally. Even the fat of a duck is pretty healthy, high in unsaturated fats, and can be used in many diverse applications. Additionally, the liver and eggs of a duck can be used in cooking, and each has their own place in the culinary world as well. So if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, give duck a shot. Just for quacks. And go find your self a duck and a long tunnel and let’s solve this vexing urban myth once and for all.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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