A simple recipe lurks within this multistep affair. Forego deboning a whole duck and instead buy boneless duck breast halves, preferably from the larger Moulard or Muscovy breeds. If you’re in a market that sells duck breasts, you’ll likely also find a prepared brown stock for the sauce. Then you need only follow the directions for sautéing the breast and finishing the sauce.
But, but, but: Debone a whole duck! It’s fun, and an easier task than deboning a chicken because the tendons cut like butter. A whole duck gives you not only two breasts and two legs but also some serious fringe benefits. You can throw the neck flap and copious fat trimmings into a saucepan and render them over low heat, producing about a cup and a half of duck fat as well as a handful of glorious cracklings to snack on. (You’ll feel like a Perigordian grandmother having a private moment.) The duck liver is a treasure, ready to sear and deglaze with sherry vinegar for a frisée salad, or with cognac for a quick food processor mousse with soft butter. Finally, the roasted carcass will provide the backbone for the best stock you’ve ever made.
- Pat the duck dry, removing the giblets from its cavity. Remove the legs by snapping them away from the frame, then cutting along the thigh bone to disarticulate it, making sure to include the large, flat oyster resting along the backbone. Remove the two boneless breast halves by cutting straight along the keel bone, then down either side.
- Fringe benefit digression: Trim excess fat from the breasts and carcass, and cut up the neck flap; put all this goodness in a saucepan over medium heat to render until the cracklings crisp. Reserve the liver for another use, such as your lunch. Collect the carcass and giblets for stock, or freeze until you’re ready to make stock.
- Prepare the breasts: Use a sharp knife to score the fat on the duck breasts with ¼-inch crosshatches. Place the breasts in a skillet over low to medium-low heat, fat side down, and leave for about 30 minutes to render as much fat as you can. You don’t want the skin to brown yet but instead get as dense and rubbery as possible. The meat should remain raw. Add any rendered fat to your saucepan of rendering scraps.
- Assemble the forcemeat: Combine sausage, pecans, currants, bread crumbs, and scallions in a bowl and mix well. If the sausage isn’t highly seasoned, add a large pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Divide into two balls.
- Prepare the legs: With one swift, confident thwack of your cleaver or largest chef’s knife, cut the tip off the duck’s leg. Switching to a small, sharp knife, separate the thigh bone from the meat and twist it with your hands to rip it out. Use the small knife to scrape the meat away from the leg bone, cutting any tenacious tendons. Push the bone with your thumb up through the hole in the skin you created when you cut off the leg tip. Lastly, look for the little kneecap that’s still attached to the meat and cut it out. Repeat on second leg.
- Place forcemeat balls inside the duck legs and fold the meat and skin up and over. Place each leg, seam side down, on a 6-inch square of aluminum foil, then gather the foil loosely up and over the smooth side, covering everything but the protruding bone.
- At this point you can store the duck breasts and legs in the refrigerator until 1½ hours before you’re ready to serve. Allow to come to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Roast the legs in a roasting pan in the oven. After 45 minutes, pull the aluminum foil away from the top to allow the skin to brown. Roast another 30 minutes, until nicely browned. (If you want a darker shade, place under broiler for 5 minutes.)
- Prepare the sauce: Place the sugar and vinegar along with two tablespoons water in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally with a whisk, until the mixture turns golden brown and smells caramel sweet, about 3-4 minutes. Add the orange juice concentrate and stir vigorously. Allow the mixture to bubble and caramelize again, about 3-4 minutes. If you’re unsure, drop a bit of the mixture in a small bowl of ice water; it should crack like hard candy. Stir in one cup of the stock and season with salt and pepper. If it seems too sweet, add more stock. Keep warm.
- Finish the breasts: Heat an oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Season breasts on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add to pan skin side down and cook until skin is very brown and crisp. Flip breasts over and place pan in preheated oven for 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove from oven (if you squeeze the breasts with your fingers, they should give a little, like medium-rare steak), and rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
- Serves the sliced breasts and sliced or whole stuffed legs with the sauce. Ideal accompaniments: potatoes roasted in the duck fat and rapini. Orange twist garnish optional.
John Kessler spent nearly two decades at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he wrote about food and served as the newspaper’s dining critic. A graduate of Williams College, he attended L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school near Washington, D.C. and worked for several years as a restaurant cook and chef in Washington and Denver. His writing has received four citations from the James Beard Foundation as well as the National Headliner Award for best single subject column. He is working on a book with The Giving Kitchen — the beyond-expectation resource for restaurant workers employed in the Atlanta restaurant community facing unanticipated crisis . He currently lives and writes in Chicago.