How to Break Down a Duck

Bird Breakdown by Hunter Lewis With a whole duck, "nothing goes to waste except the beak," says Ariane Daugin, owner of the New Jersey-based meat and poultry supplier D'Artagnan. We agree. To make duck a l'orange, we recommend butchering a whole Pekin so you can saute the breasts and braise the legs, basting them with the rendered fat, and use the wings and carcass to make the sauce. Here's how. 1.Place the duck breast side down on a cutting board. Using a small knife, make a cut underneath one of the wings and grasp it with your free hand to pull it away from the body. Cut under and around the joint to remove the wing. Repeat the process with the remaining wing; set both wings aside to brown with the carcass in a skillet or to roast in the oven to use as a base for a rich, flavorful duck stock in which to braise the duck legs.
2.Turn duck breast side up. Make a cut between one leg and the body. Grasp the duck leg and pull it away from the body to expose the joint. With the knife angled flush against the carcass, cut under and around the joint and then, pulling the leg, cut down the back of the duck to detach the leg. Repeat with the remaining leg. Trim and reserve the excess fat away from each leg and set the legs aside for braising. (You can also cook the legs in duck fat to make confit.)
3.Using your fingers, feel for the thin breastbone that runs down the length of the breast from the neck cavity to the tail. Working slowly and using the breastbone as your guide, cut down the length of bone about 1" deep until you reach the cartilaginous rib cage. Gently peel the breast away from the carcass, sliding your knife along the rib cage as you go. You want to see as little red flesh remaining on the rib cage as possible, so as not to let any breast meat go to waste.
4.Continue peeling the breast from the carcass, sliding your knife under the flesh along the rib cage toward the tail end. Then, work back up toward the neck end and cut around the wishbone. Gently free the breast by sliding the knife against the carcass. Repeat with the other breast. Cut off and reserve the tail and neck fat and any fat from the carcass. Invert each breast skin side down and trim and reserve the excess fat for a more elegant presentation.
5.The wings and legs are now ready for cooking. Using a cleaver, chop the carcass into manageable pieces. Roast the carcass and wings in the oven or brown them in a skillet to make the base for a rich stock. Finely chop the reserved fat and heat it in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until the clear fat renders, about 1--2 hours. Strain the fat and refrigerate or freeze it for use later on when frying potatoes, making confit, or cooking an omelette.
6.Scoring the thick layer of fat covering the top of each breast allows the fat to render out in the pan more quickly as you saute it also yields a crispier texture. Arrange a breast skin side up and facing you at a 45-degree angle. Using a sharp knife, make diagonal cuts spaced about 1/4" apart through the fat without piercing the flesh. Turn the breast 45 degrees and cut crosswise incisions spaced 1/4" apart to make a diamond pattern. Repeat with the remaining breast.

Continue to Next Story

Want more SAVEUR?

Get our favorite recipes, stories, and more delivered to your inbox.