Lucky Duck: Preparing the Perfect Holiday Bird

Elegance and heartiness in one bite—that’s duck, the chef’s choice. Even the late Julia Child chose duck as her ideal birthday dinner when she wrote “Julia Child and Company.” These days nearly every upscale restaurant serves some kind of duck dish. No, it’s still not as popular as chicken or turkey, but the rich flavor and versatility that made it a favorite in pro kitchens is catching on with home cooks. Make your own delectable holiday duck dish with these tips and tricks.

Duck, Duck

Many home cooks are nervous about cooking duck, but Tom Grant, former chef at Martine (a beloved Salt Lake bistro that shuttered in March of 2020 as a result of the pandemic) for 12 years, cooked his first duck when he was 16. “Of course it was for duck à l’orange,” he says. For years, duck à l’orange was a French/Continental standard and was also pretty much the only way you ever saw duck on a menu in this country. Decades later, Tom Grant has some advice for beginning duck cooks:

Don’t fear the bird. Cooking duck is easy, Grant says. Remember, it’s red meat with no marbling—treat it like you would a tenderloin of beef.

Duck is amazingly versatile; its rich meat combines well with spice and chilies or sweet-tart fruit and port. Besides his traditional recipe, Grant serves it smoked, with a potato-ricotta rotelle and a mission fig jus; dusted with espresso with a hazelnut-Frangelica jus; with a cherry jus and a goat cheese bread pudding. 

Divide your labor. Grant partially cooks the duck breasts early in the day, and then sears them off to order. He puts a little olive oil in a pan, then puts in the duck, fat side down. “Start it in a cold pan,” he advises. Then cook it slowly; the fat will render out and turn a rich brown. 

duck breast with sauce

Top it Off

Cranberries pair famously with well-prepared duck. But you don’t have to settle for the nostalgic can-shaped cranberry jelly on the holiday table. Jazz up the jelly with these ideas:

• Serve the jelly in slices.

• Add texture by sprinkling the jelly slices with chipped, toasted pecans.

• Chill the jelly thoroughly, slice and shape with small cookie cutters.

• Mash the jelly so that it resembles jam and garnish with orange zest.

• Mash the jelly and sprinkle with crumbles of blue or goat cheese. 

What To Pour

Wine pairing advice when serving duck: Pinot noir—like the stylish and popular Meiomi—is the classic accompaniment to duck. But duck is friendly to a wide variety of seasoning flavors—from aromatic spice and chilies to sweet-tart fruit and port reductions. So, follow this rule of thumb: the deeper the sauce, the deeper the wine. Taking the principle in the opposite direction, rosé is terrific with duck salad.

This article was originally published on on Dec. 23, 2020

Read recipes, restaurant recommendations and more from Salt Lake. This story was originally published in Utah Style & Design.

Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy is a former managing editor at Salt Lake magazine. Though she writes about everything, she has a particular interest in arts and culture in Utah. In the summer months, you will find her at any given outdoor concert on any given night. In the winter, you will find her wishing for summer. Follow her on social media at @whynotboth.

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