Monday, January 18, 2010


We typically sit around the kitchen table on the weekends and talk about the week's menu. The Junior Chefs often have clear ideas about what they would like to have. Occasionally, they ask for quick-and-easy dishes, but more often than not propose meals that require more time and preparation.

This week, while reviewing our CSA stock I was dreaming up options for our turnips, Junior Chef #2 suggested we have duck. Having made turducken twice, this bird is not unfamiliar within our family. I also don't find the prospect of deboning fowl to be daunting. Yet, duck has never made a solo appearance.

According to one of my favorite resource cookbooks, Laroussee Gastronomique (1961), duck and turnips is a classic French dish. The rationale is that turnips (navets) tend to absorb fat and thus are cooked with meats such as mutton and duck. LG offers a version of this dish that differs from the one I chose: employing white wine and onions, glazing the turnips with sugar.

The Method
I elected "Caneton poele aux navets" (Casserole-roasted duck with turnips) from Mastering the art of French cookingYou will need to debone your duck (naming it is optional). If you saw Julie & Julia, this is presented as a Herculean undertaking. I think this is an exaggeration of some measure. If you are confident with a paring or boning knife and have a bit of patience, you'll find this very satisfying when you're finished. (On that point, too, I offer this observation from Junior Chef #1 after watching the movie: "But didn't she [Julie] have to bone lots of ducks to make all of the duck recipes in Julia Child's cookbook?" True!)

I will not endeavor to describe the boning process - except to say, begin by cutting along the backbone and work the flesh moving down toward the breastbone. Ducks have a large carcass, but the bones are more delicate than those of a chicken, so you will find yourself working more carefully to avoid creating bone shards.

The need for very few ingredients balances out the work involved in preparing the duck.

  • one 5-6# duckling, thawed (I placed mine in cold water bath for 3 hours to rapidly thaw it.)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 TB rendered pork fat or cooking oil
  • 2# turnips
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • parsley
  1. Bone the duck.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325.
  3. Season the inside of the duck with salt and pepper.
  4. Truss the duck.I did not have butcher's twine, so I used a natural fiber twine.
    • I did not have a large-eyed needle, so I used wooden skewers.
    • Close the duck skin. Pierce and secure with pieces of skewer along the length of the back. (Poke the sharp end through, then break off a segment to leave in the duck. Repeat.)
    • Criss-cross one length of twine around and along the row of skewers. Tie off the twine.
    • Tuck in the neck and tail skin. 
    • Flip the duck over.
    • Tie lengths of twine widthwise around the duck. This will create a firm "tube-like" shape.

  1. Heat the fat or oil in a deep, oven-ready pot.
  2. Prick the skin of the duck around the thighs, back, and lower part of the breast. This allows the fat to release during cooking.
  3. Dry the duck.
  4. Brown the duck on all sides. (I didn't allow mine to brown long enough. This left the skin less crispy and more fatty than I would have liked.)

  1. Remove the duck to a plate. Season it with salt.
  2. Drain the browning fat.
  3. Return the duck to the casserole breast up.
  4. Prepare an herb bouquet by placing the parsley, bay leaf, and thyme in a piece of cheesecloth. I regularly use a coffee filter and twine for this. 
  5. Add the bouquet to the pot. Cover. Place in the oven.
  6. Roast for 50-60 minutes. You do not need to baste.

  1. Meanwhile...prepare the turnips.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Dice the turnips. As you can see, I used both my small OPO turnips and one of the two large turnips I bought from another stall at the farmers' market. I preferred the flavor of the smaller ones, which I'll discuss later.
  4. Add the diced turnips to the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain.
  5. When the duck has cooked almost an hour, remove the pot from the oven.
  6. Degrease the duck juices and return them to the pot.
  7. Add the blanched turnips.
  8. Cover the pot and return to the oven.
  9. Baste the turnips occasionally.
  10. Cook until the duck is done. (Here I erred. I forgot to use a thermometer, and became so concerned with basting that I over-cooked the duck - to my liking, at least. The recipe states that the turnips will take 30-40 minutes. I think 15 would have be plenty.)
  11. Remove the duck and turnips to a platter. 
  12. Degrease and reserve the drippings. Serve along with the meal.
The Results

I have mixed reactions to the dish - mostly due to my choice of ingredients and errors in cooking. The overall effect was very nice. There's little to season the dish apart from the natural flavors of the bird. The turnips offered a sweet counterpoint, but were overdone. Also, the larger turnips were a tad bitter. This wasn't terribly distracting, but I would use only smaller ones next time if possible.

Some are given to believe that duck is "Greasy Goodness," as Junior Chef #1 quipped. We didn't find this true with this approach. As I mentioned, I should have browned the duck more in the beginning, so there was a little excess fattiness around the breast. And, I did cook it longer than I should have (it reached 186 degrees). For that reason, it was more tough than it should have been.

The great irony of the meal was that Junior Chef #2, who had requested duck initially, spent the night with a friend and missed it. There are leftovers, but not many - a whole duck serves 3-5 people.

One monster turnip remains in the pantry. I need to think of another dish. Lamb?

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Kudya Bwino Bwino (Eating Well) © 2009