My Duck Problem

Duck with Raisins, Petits Oignons, and Madeira

J’adore duck. And I’m envious of French women, who can find duck breasts as easily as we find chicken breasts at the supermarket. It’s a great meat for quick, any-night meals: It cooks as quickly and easily as chicken breasts, but it’s so much more….interesting.

And yet, I decided to only put one duck dish in my entire cookbook of 250 recipes. What’s with that?

The problem is, in so many words, Donald Duck. I don’t particularly like his breed. Donald is a quintessential White Pekin duck, and White Pekin is the breed that’s sold most widely across the U.S. The French, however, generally use Moulard (or Mulard, en français) a crossbreed of White Pekin and another breed, Muscovy.

The difference between White Pekin and Moulard reminds me a little bit of the difference between chicken breasts and beef flank steak. Don’t get me wrong—White Pekin doesn’t taste exactly like chicken, and Moulard doesn’t taste exactly like flank steak, but the two extremes, in my mind, describes their differences. The former is mild, and the latter is beefy and robust.

Yet, once home in the U.S., I never cook with Moulard. It’s rare and expensive–I can only find it online. And one of the promises of my cookbook is that you don’t have to mail order anything to cook good, everyday French recipes in an American kitchen. If you live in any mid-sized city, you’ll probably be able to get White Pekin duck breasts (often, they’re in the freezer case of larger supermarkets and smaller gourmet shops; or look for them at Asian grocers).

So, what’s a duck lover to do when you can’t find Moulard, but you’re still craving duck? Find the right recipe for White Pekin. Marinate it. Braise it a bit—do something to get some flavor into this very mild meat. That’s exactly what I do in this recipe for Duck with Raisins, Petits Oignons, and Madeira. A little time marinating in, of all things, prune juice, deepens the flavor of the meat, as does a little time spent braising in some Madeira. Lovely little cippolini onions add elegance, and a sprinkling of raisins brings some fruitiness. Suddenly the White Pekin becomes a culinary swan….

Here’s my recipe.

Oh–and guess what: The preparation does great things with chicken breasts, too. It’s quite elegant, in fact. Enjoy.

And let me know if you’ve come up with amazing ways to serve White Pekin.

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7 comments to My Duck Problem (White Pekin vs. Moulard)

  • Linda

    Okay, this one I think I can try. Maybe even this weekend. I like eating duck in restaurants, but it is such a rarity here that I don’t even know how to begin, but can it really be all that different than chicken? Can you write a post about the similarities/differences between cooking duck and chicken?

  • Wini

    Actually, Linda, cooking skinless, boneless duck breasts is almost exactly the same as cooking skinless, boneless chicken breasts. The only difference is the thickness–sometimes the duck breasts can be thicker than chicken breasts. But in my recipe, whichever you use are pounded to 1/2 inch, so they cook the same.

    Cooking a whole duck is, as you suggest, another story. Though you can roast it (like a chicken), I like to cut it up and braise it. Great idea for a post! Thanks.

  • Carrie

    I started cooking young and have always considered myself a somewhat ambitious cook (I tackled Buche de Noel at 16) and willing to try anything. But in all of the years I’ve been cooking, I’ve never once attempted to make a duck dish of any sort. I agree with Linda that I’m just not sure where I would begin! For some reason, I think duck has always intimidated me but perhaps it’s time to push my fears aside and go for it—especially if indeed it is as easy as cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts (which I fall back on all of the time but can tire of easily).
    Also, my husband occasionally comes home from a hunting trip with a duck (and I’ve always made him take care of cooking it). I wonder how different that would be to prepare. Any thoughts?

  • Wini

    Hi Carrie. I’ve only cooked with wild (game) duck breasts once, and I must say, I didn’t love them–even though they were “wild” they were mild in taste. Not sure what was up with that. I’d leave the cooking of those to hi–maybe he knows how to coax flavor out of them.

    But give this a try…and if you do, let me now how you think the White Pekin rates against your husband’s loot.

  • amos

    Hello– Having hunted, cooked and eaten wild duck all my life and only recently discovered domestic duck ( Pekins only) I cant believe you find wild birds “mild”. and I cant imagine “milder” wild ducks than the ones we shoot on the western prairie where the birds only feed on grains in the stubble fields after harvest. And we only shoot the best dabbling ducks–Mallards,
    Pintails, Widgeons and Teal. They are very full flavoured, strong in the best possible way and very tender. Pekin is relatively very mild but I like that too. If you can get hold of some western grain fed birds give them another try. And dont dry them out–they are fatty in the late season but not like a domestic bird. And–they should be cooked med-rare (pink).Enjoy.

  • Geoff

    I am leaving a message here because I could not do it one you article on magret. The Moulard is NOT a muscovy cross – it is a Mallard cross – hence the name, mon ami. A good Frenchman would not raise muscovy ducks – poor flavour and no breast meat.

    Wild duck, AMos, send me some, please. These birds deserve the very best treatment and they have bigger breasts because they fly ….

    Wini, don’t beat up the duck, please. It should be tender enough and you are just going to dry it out.

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