Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spit-Roasting Duck

Over the weekend I spit-roasted a couple ducks on the patio of our Seattle apartment. The fuel was apple wood, the merits of which I'll discuss momentarily, and the equipment I use (pictured) all comes from Weber. It's a 22 1/2 inch kettle grill with the rotisserie attachment, which costs more than the grill itself. It has an electric motor which is quite effective.

On to the duck. I kept it real simple, just a hefty dose of salt and cracked pepper all over the skin and in the cavity. As you can see from the pictures, it browned up real nice. One of the beautiful things about duck is that right beneath its skin it wears a natural wet suit made of half-inch thick fat, a fat I would put up in the stratosphere with back fat from a pig in terms of importance and usefulness in the kitchen. So as the birds turned over the fire, the fat slowly rendered and was constantly running down the sides of the bird to give it a slickness unlike anything I've ever seen; that right there gives spit-roasting a big plus that regular roasting doesn't have, in which the fat from the top would run down the sides of the bird as it sat in the oven or on the grill, but all the fat from the sides and the bottom would just run down into the roasting pan- where it might later be collected and stored in a jar in the fridge by a hungry chef :)

And now for what I would have done differently. First off, apple wood doesn't burn hot enough to render all the fat from the duck, in spite of the pricking of the skin I did before I started. Pricking the skin is part of the preparation of cooking a whole duck- essentially poking tiny holes (I used my sausage pricker, though a sterilized needle would work), all over the body of the duck to give the fat an easy exit. Yeah, I didn't prick nearly enough. I should have pricked the breasts much more. There was still too much fat left on after I carved them. And in terms of fuel, mesquite charcoal would have made a better choice. It burns much hotter and I know it would have rendered much more fat from the bird.

Furthermore, in trussing the duck I kept the large flap of neck skin (peculiar to this animal in its supermarket form) tucked against its back, effectively sealing off the opening to the body cavity from the head area. Then, in mounting the birds onto the spit, I speared through the tail flap of the bird (the pope's beak?) as I always do with chicken so as to keep the bird from jostling around as the spit turns. Then to fit both duck on one spit (tail to tail), since they are so long, I had to push them together. All these things added up, I believe, to a sealed-up body cavity, which meant that hot air couldn't flow through the inside of the bird and cook it from the inside out.

Long story short, I had to pull them a little underdone in order to maintain the flow of the evening, which involved a guest in our home. This meant nice pink juicy restaurant-style breasts, albeit a little fatty for the taste of most (I was the only one at the table who trimmed zero fat, thank you very much, no guilt here). I discretely carved off the breasts, leaving the legs a little bloody, attached to the birds. The next day I carved them off cold, put them skin side down in my cast-iron skillet and rendered them out until they were superbly crisp and well-cooked.

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