It was a big bird. No, not that big bird. But nevertheless big. I had stopped by the Poultry Man's stall at the organic market because I thought it would be nice to have a roast chicken for dinner. And I found myself staring at the largest organic duck I had ever seen. (How did I know it was a duck? Well, it had...a duck beak attached to it's plucked duck head. Even I can figure that one out.) So I asked the Poultry Man how much for the duck. And I didn't even wince when he said fifty euros. I just said, "I'll take it!" And then I went home and sent a message to our friend Wendy:
Wendy, I bought a beautiful big organic duck at the market this weekend (total impulse purchase) and it's far too big for just the Critic and myself. Would you and Michel be interested in coming around for dinner one evening this week??
And she said yes and named her day. And so we had roast duck. I can't tell you what variety of duck it was because - in my excitement at such a big and expensive impulse buy - I forgot to ask Poultry Man. But I can tell you it weighed 4.4 kg (over 9 1/2 lbs). And I can also tell you that none of my cookbooks tell you what to do with a duck that weighs more than five pounds. Web research wasn't much more fruitful but I eventually found a site that had a chart and from it calculated that it would take four hours to roast my bird. An hour and a half after putting it in the oven (i.e. 2 hours before the guests were due to arrive) the bird was done. Oops. So now you know: a 9+ pound duck does not actually take that much longer to roast than a five pound duck, even if it is stuffed. I have a nifty electronic meat thermometer that does not lie, though apparently the web site I found did.
So the bird was a bit dry, but the skin was gorgeously crackling and the wine flowed and the guests lied valiantly about how delicious it was. Actually, they didn't have to lie about the stuffing because it was pretty darned good.
Roast Duck Stuffing (exactly enough for a 4.4 kg bird as it turned out)
360 g brown mushrooms
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
300 g cooked mixed rice (wild rice and long grain)
50g dried sweetened blueberries
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
salt, pepper, nutmeg
50 ml sweet sherry (e.g. Harvey's Bristol Cream, which we always have left after the holidays)
Chop the onion roughly and saute it in the olive oil and butter. While it is cooking, clean and slice the mushrooms. Add them to the pan once the onions are soft and transluscent. Press the garlic and add to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are limp and have given up their juice. Add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any bits of garlic or onion that may have stuck. Stir in the rice and dried blueberries. (You could add almost any dried fruit - cranberries would be lovely for example - but I thought the blueberries were particularly nice with the duck flavours.) Taste and add generous amounts of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stuff, loosely, in cleaned duck cavity and truss the bird. Roast until done (don't trust the web: trust your meat thermometer) and serve with the sliced duck.
I dusted the bird with smoked paprika and fleur de sel and it was absolutely perfect on the crisp duck skin. And it didn't import any foreign flavours into the stock I made from the duck for my favourite soup.
And by the way, duck fat is ideal for roast potatoes and one large duck will yield over a cup. I'm dividing mine in knobs about the size of a large walnut and freezing them. I'll toss one in the pan each time I make roast potatoes for the next few months and the Critic will be ever so happy.