I don’t know about you, but some days I need to cook something well. I need it to come out exactly as planned, without much effort, and I need not to be harried, or hurried, but calm, confident, and cool as a cucumber. I need duck, that’s thrown in the oven and four hours later your fiance tells you it’s the best meal he’s ever had–period. Not my best meal, mind you, but the. Screw Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert. This duck. Jim’s best meal ever.
The effortless, perfect meal is something that I’m in search of. I’ve got my broiled fish and green beans, and red-cooked pork belly with rice, and tava, but I’m always on the lookout for more, especially (desperately) now that people actually pay me to cook for them. It was something I badly needed after a meal I made for clients that didn’t turn out as good as I had wanted. Cooking in someone else’s home is stressful enough, but the stress increases ten-fold when I come to realize, halfway through the cooking, that it might not come out perfectly. Even if it makes a nice dinner and my people are happy, I’m not; I hear dissatisfaction in the air, or maybe it’s just in my head, and I badly need to make something effortless and perfect, to build my repertoire and soothe my nerves, asap.
That’s how I felt the other night—plus I needed freshly rendered duck fat. It’s far and away better than any duck fat you can buy. And it makes potatoes crispier than any other fat can, and it smells delicious. And it’s not that bad for you, though the amount of potatoes cooked in duck fat that you’ll be eating once you have the stuff, well, that’s another story.
This duck and potatoes dish is as effortless and perfect meal can get. All you need is a roasting pan with a V-rack and some time to kill. Put the duck upside-down (breasts down) into the V-rack, and cook at 250F for three hours, while you go about your business. After three hours, take out the duck, spoon or pour the fat into a mason jar (this is easiest as a two-person job), turn the oven up to 350F, find an oven-proof skillet or pan and add to it a pound or two quartered potatoes and some of that glorious fat, and put both the duck and the potatoes back in the oven for 45 minutes or so.
The result will probably be the best meal you’ve ever had. Certainly the best duck. And while I’m sure our duck was the best duck, being from my favorite farm and all, this recipe is fool-proof, I promise. The flavor of the meat is intensified through the long cooking, a bit gamey, which I consider a good thing. But the texture is where it’s at: the meat is soft and tender, reminiscent of pate, and the skin is crackly crisp, with a layer of unctuous fat beneath the surface. When you add crisp potatoes with creamy insides, and maybe a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, there’s hardly words to describe this meal, though sublime comes close.
Four Hour Duck with Potatoes and Sage
- 1 whole duck (peking, muscovy, or other)
- salt, pepper
- 1-2 pounds red-skinned new potatoes (I use red-skinned because I think they look pretty against the reddish meat of the duck, but whatever’s available)
- sage, optional
If possible, salt your duck the night before and leave it, uncovered, in the fridge overnight.
Turn on your oven to 250F. In a roasting pan set with a V-rack, set your salted duck in, breasts side down (upside down) and cook in the oven for about 3 hours. Meanwhile, clean and quarter potatoes.
When the 3 hours are done, take out the duck and turn the oven up to 350F. Using caution, pour out the duck fat that has drained into the bottom on the roasting pan, reserving in a jar. Use a spoonful or two to baste the duck, and add a few spoonfuls into a heatproof skillet or smaller roasting pan. Then add the potatoes to the skillet and mix up so that they get coated in fat. Put potatoes into the oven and the duck back into the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, your duck will be done but your potatoes will still need time to crisp up, so remove the duck to a cutting board and let it rest. Check on your potatoes every few minutes and let them cook until they are crisp and golden to your liking, about 20 minutes more. Carve your duck and set the pieces in a serving dish (the duck should be tender enough that you can remove the legs by pulling on them). Once the potatoes are done, add them over the duck pieces to warm everything up. Fry a few sage leaves in the oil remaining in the bottom of the potato skillet, optional. Serve.