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Skillet method yields crisp, low-fat duck

What keeps most people from cooking duck more frequently isn't, I'm sure, that they don't like it, but that the roasting methods that efficiently rid duck of its thick layer of fat take so much time and a fair amount of attention.

The recipe here, for weeknight duck, takes less than an hour and results in a crisp bird from which nearly all the fat has been rendered.The key lies in cutting the duck into serving pieces, then removing the large chunks of exposed fat before cooking. The duck is then placed, skin side down, in a covered skillet on top of the stove.

Cooking the duck with a cover renders the remaining fat while tenderizing the bird in what amounts to steaming (the cover also prevents spattering). When the bird is just about done, you uncover the skillet and crisp it on both sides, using the duck's own fat as a cooking medium.

Served hot or at room temperature, the bird is crisp, tender and far more flavorful than any chicken.

Much as I'd love to take credit for this minimalist's dream of a technique, I cannot. I've been cooking duck this way for 25 years, after learning it from the brilliant "Paula Peck's Art of Good Cooking," which was published in 1961.

I have made some changes in Peck's technique; her total cooking time is about one hour, but I find that 45 minutes is enough. She seasoned her duck with a mixture of soy sauce and sherry. Although I like this, and offer a version of it as a variation below, I prefer to toss a few cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme into the skillet for a flavor more akin to that of duck confit.

If you have never cut up a raw duck, you will be relieved to know that the procedure is identical to that for chicken. As with a chicken, you'll have plenty of pieces left for the stockpot.


Total time: 1 hour

1 5- to 6-pound duck

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, optional

Sprigs of fresh thyme, optional

Cut the duck into 6 or 8 serving pieces, reserving the wing tips, back and neck for stock. (Cut the gizzard into 1/8-inch thick slices, and fry it along with the duck if you like; reserve the liver for another use.) Place the duck pieces, skin side down, in a 12-inch skillet, and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Add garlic and thyme sprigs if desired, and turn the heat to medium-high. When the duck begins to sizzle, cover the skillet and lower the heat to medium.

After 15 minutes, turn the duck, season the skin side, then cover and cook for 15 minutes more. Uncover the skillet and turn the heat back to medium high. Cook the duck, turning it as necessary, so that it browns nicely on both sides; this will take 15 minutes more.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Strip some of the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs, and use them as a garnish.

Yield: 4 servings.

Variation: Rub the duck with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of dry sherry before placing it in the pan. When it is done, garnish with minced fresh ginger or minced cilantro leaves.