Magret, a fillet of meat cut from a breast of duck. Duck is a red, succulent meat which I learned to eat rare or rosé when in France. I have been told that duck doesn’t harbor the bad bacteria that infests chicken and that it is perfectly fine to eat rare. However, in fair warning, our Food and Drug Administration recommends cooking duck to an internal temperature of 165° F. These are the same people who until early last year recommended turning pork into shoe leather by cooking it to 160° F but ultimately grew a palate and now recommend fresh pork be cooked to 145° F.
One of the challenges with duck breast is the fairly thick layer of fat under the skin. It is difficult to cook a duck breast rare and still render much of the fat so you are left with a delectable crispy skin. There are two steps that you can take to help the fat rendering along. First, with a very sharp knife score the skin creating a cross hatch pattern without cutting into the flesh this provides more channels for the rendered fat to escape from under skin. Second, place the breast skin side down in a cold pan and then turn the heat to medium; by slowly applying heat you will coax the fat to begin rendering well before the flesh begins to cook. Also, if you don’t get the heat so high as to burn the rendered fat then after cooking the breasts you can strain it off through a cheesecloth and have some of the best cooking fat there is. If you don’t believe me then hunt down some duck or goose fat and prepare a few home fries, you’ll be eating quantities of duck in no time at all.
The remaining challenge is finding duck breast. Here in southwestern New Hampshire I have only seen duck breast sold at Philbrick’s Fresh Market in Portsmouth. I also found whole ducks at Market Basket in Lee which costs slightly more than the boned breast. This lead me to start buying whole ducks and cutting them up for the parts. I have been tracking my results and found for the parts that I track, on average per duck, are:
1 Lb 21.8% Breasts
.98 Lb 20.6% Legs
.21 Lb 4.3% Meat Trimmings
.13 Lb 1.9% Liver
1.59 Lb 33.4% Carcass, Wings, Gizzard, Hearts & Kidneys
.27 Lb 5.6% Rendered Fat
.6 Lb 12.4% Waste
4.78 Lb 100.0% Total
This is interesting and satisfies my needs to keep records but the overall economic valuation depends on your culinary valuation of the parts. As you already know, I cook the breasts and then the legs become confit, the meat trimmings and liver will ultimately become a terrine or sausage, the carcass et al makes stock, can’t do home fires without duck fat and the waste is everything else – primarily the plastic packaging and rendering remnants.
I just updated my reference price for duck fat (Amazon of course), using 2-year-old prices for duck breasts and legs and substituting comparable prices for chicken parts for the other items which yields a $32.51 sum-of-the-parts valuation for a whole duck that I paid $15.80 delivered. It certainly doesn’t take a half hour to cut up a duck so this seems a worthwhile operation. You will find similar results if you price out the costs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs to the current cost of whole chickens.