Just as with people, ducks are not the same everywhere you go; each country around the world has a different supply of duck breeds to eat. Across Europe they usually have a few breeds to choose from: the British have the Aylesbury, the Gressingham, and the Norfolk, while the French have the Barbary, the Nantes, and the Rouen duck.
I live in North America where there is not such abundance. In markets here, we generally have one type of duck to choose from called the Pekin duck- or alternatively, the Long Island Duck. Originating in China and brought to Long Island in 1873, we’ve been breeding and selling this type of duck in America ever since. While most of the breeding still occurs in New York, some production has moved to Indiana too. If you live in the US, you can easily find the Pekin duck frozen at your local grocery and running between 1.8-2.7kg (4-6 pounds). In fact, this breed is 95% of what Americans eat when they consume duck. While one type of duck seems a bit limiting, these ducks are a fine breed and thankfully are not too expensive.
Whichever duck you happen to have in your locale, see if you can source fresh ducks instead of frozen and if you don’t have a choice at least remember to check the dates. Grocery retailers tend to carry frozen game birds for months and months before taking them off of the shelves. While those stores continue to maintain their innocence and the edibility of the bird, I don’t feel comfortable with the whole idea of eating an animal that’s been dead for three months- frozen or not. Larousse Gastronomique even goes so far as to advise you not eat a duck more than three days after it has been killed. Either way, check the dates and use your best judgment.
If like me, you want to source a whole Pekin duck with the head and feet included, good luck. I live in a very metropolitan area and even I had a terrible time at it. I finally got a tip to inquire at the local Asian supermarkets and was able to get my hands on one. They had to order it especially for me but it came in quickly and I picked it up the next day. If you don’t have an urge to experiment with the feet, head, neck skin, or the complete butchery of a duck in general, from experience I can tell you just stick to the supermarket Pekin duck. You’ll get the neck and all of the innards and most of the fat, plus the whole body and wings. There’s plenty to work with there.
Before you begin selecting and cooking your duck, you will of course need to pick out some accompanying sides and wine. To round out your exquisite duck meal, Julia Child suggests pairing a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon and making a side of potatoes. If necessary, include some cooked green vegetable such as beans or Brussels sprouts. I find these tastes to be very complimentary if kept simple and light.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To aid you in the preparation, cooking and aftermath of serving duck in your home, the next six articles will attempt to walk you through the convoluted but rewarding process of preparing a duck, cooking all of the different parts of a duck, and what to do with duck leftovers.