My favorite Sunday dinner is pasta, not surprising for someone with Italian DNA. But sometimes I need a change of routine, and that usually means roasting a chicken or, during the winter months, a duck. I did not grow up eating duck. The first time I ever had duck was in Paris when our daughter was about 18 months old. It was a Sunday and we were strolling through an outdoor market near the Bastille. I was growing weary of trying to keep my toddler still and quiet in restaurants, so I asked my husband if he would mind if we just picked up some odds and ends from the market and ate lunch in our hotel room. He agreed and then noticed a woman with a portable rotisserie selling roast duck and chicken with small baby potatoes roasting in the drippings. It smelled divine so we purchased some duck and chicken legs and a small bag of roast potatoes along with some bread, strawberries and Fontainebleau cheese for dessert and went back to the hotel. It turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of the trip. The duck was so good my daughter couldn’t get enough of it, and I had never had such delicious potatoes.
Fast forward a few years later to a summer in Cambridge, England. By then I had two children and one Saturday I was in Sainsbury’s grocery store. They had large whole ducks on sale and I remembered our Parisian vacation. I had never cooked a whole duck but I wanted to try it. I purchased one and returned to our townhouse excited to try something new, yet a little frustrated because I did not have very many cookbooks with me to reference and had a somewhat ill-equipped kitchen. But in the pantry were some red onions; in the refrigerator, an orange and some oil-cured black olives from the Italian market down the street; and a pot of fresh thyme was growing in the windowsill. This is the recipe I came up with, and we have been loving it ever since. If I don’t have black olives I substitute dried cherries. The usual accompaniment is roast potatoes.
We roast cubed potatoes separately, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder at 400 degrees. Half way through cooking we extract about 1/2 cup of duck fat from the roast, pour it over the potatoes, and stir. Continue roasting the potatoes until golden and crispy. It should take 30-40 minutes. It is a comforting and delicious meal.
I like to cook my roasts in cast iron. It cooks very evenly. I have a well-seasoned cast iron grill pan that my sister gave me about 15 years ago that I love. Place your pan in a cold oven. Turn the heat to 425 and let it heat for 30 minutes before adding the duck. You can do this with chicken as well as beef or lamb roasts.
Roast Duck with Olives, Orange, and Thyme
1 (5-6 lb.) duck
1-1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium orange, thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
6 oil-cured black olives (leave pits in)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Place cold cast iron pan in the oven. Turn the oven to 425 degrees. Let pan heat for at least 30 minutes. If you do not have a cast iron pan just preheat the oven and place the duck in a roasting pan. Rinse the duck in cold water. Pat dry. Prick the skin all over with a fork. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp. of the kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper in the cavity. Stuff cavity with red onion slices, orange slices, olives and thyme. Brush the outside skin with the butter and sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Place duck in prepared pan breast side up and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees with an instant read thermometer. Let duck rest 10-15 minutes before carving. Serves 4-5.
In the photo you can see grill marks on the duck breast. My husband experimented with turning the duck over, breast side down after the first 25 minutes of roasting, continued roasting breast side down for 30 minutes, then flipped it back breast side up for the remainder of the roasting time. We thought it might make the duck more moist. This is optional. We are not sure that it made much of a difference.