Like most artsy kids raised in 1980s New England, sometime around age eight I was cast in the local children’s theater production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. My official role was something like, “Ensemble Girl #7″, but I was also cast as the understudy for a more senior role – a role that had two whole lines. Despite everyone telling her to break a leg, on the night of the performance the other kid was in perfect health, so that 15 minutes I spent rehearsing the two lines were for naught. I did, however, get to spend what seemed like hours singing about figgy pudding with the rest of the sheep in the ensemble. Apparently it left a mark.
Remember the scene where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present(s) are creepily watching the Cratchit family serve goose on Christmas Day? And Bob walks in with Tiny Tim on his shoulder and announces that Timmy was “good as gold” in Church, and everyone’s super bummed because we all know it’s bad news for Timmy if Scrooge doesn’t get his act together and pay Bob a fair wage? Well, it makes sense that the Cratchits would serve goose at Christmas because they had like nine kids and a common roasting goose can feed up to 16 people.
What if you want to serve a fun, festive game bird for your holiday roast, but you’re only serving four people (see this month’s theme below)? In that case, goose is clearly not the best option, but duck certainly is. And it’s more readily available in supermarkets than goose, saving you a wild goose chase.
Duck is a rich, dark poultry option with a texture far more tender than turkey and a flavor that’s mildly gamey. The duck breast is surrounded by a thick layer of fat, so it’s important to score the skin in order to let the some of the fat melt away. Salting the bird beforehand seasons both the meat, but also the basting liquid so that each baste adds more seasoning. A good herbed bread stuffing absorbs some fantastic duck flavor and added figs balance out the savory herbs nicely.
Not quite figgy pudding, but close enough to be just as festive.
A note on this month’s theme: December is Roast Post Month here at YC. Each Thursday until New Years we’ll be posting a new holiday roast for your holiday inspiration. This year’s Roast Post theme is Party of Four - each roast recipe is written to accommodate four people as opposed to the usual eight or ten, because not every holiday party has dozens of people in attendance.
Roasted Duck with Fig Stuffing – serves 4
1 – 5-6 lb duck
2 T salt
1 – 2 ft baguette with a good crust (about 6 cups diced)
1 t olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh marjoram
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh sage
1/3 C dried mission figs
1/2 C cream or milk
1 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse and pat dry the duck. Set in a plate breast side up. Score the top 4 times on each side. Season generously with the two tablespoons of salt.
Cube the bread into 1 inch pieces. Place in a baking dish and toast in the oven while the other ingredients are prepared or about 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium-low. Peel and dice the shallots and add them to the oil. Soften about 5 – 7 minutes.
Finely mince the herbs, stems removed. Dice the figs into 1/4 inch pieces.
Remove the bread from the oven and in a large bowl toss with the shallots, herbs, figs, salt, pepper and cream or milk.
Stuff the duck with the bread mixture. Set on a rack in a roasting pan and allow to cook for about 2 hours total, basting every half hour until the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175. Temperature will continue to climb to the safe temperature of 180. Serve hot with lighter sides like steamed vegetables.