How to Cook Duck

6 Feb

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen got it right, last night, with their inaugural Winterlicious Tin Chef contest–no Gordon Ramsay theatrics or 18-month-pregnant pauses before announcing the winner, just supportive judges, a warm vibe, an engrossed audience, and a focus on the food. (OK, a few extra rounds of appetizers would have gone down well with the straight-from-work crowd, but belly rumbles coupled with tantalizing cooking aromas aside, it was such a fun event!)

Let the games begin.

Let the games begin.

I was at the Toronto restaurant to support my friend heroine, Roti Queen Deborah Brewster.

Deb has chopping skills on a par with her blow-out.

A woman whose chopping skills are on a par with her blowout

The pressure was palpable, as the contenders–five home cooks–had just one hour to create something original and delicious.

Under these circumstances, I would probably have crawled under the table and rocked, refusing to come out till it was over.


Under this kind of scrutiny, I would probably have crawled under the table and rocked back and forth, waving a carving knife at anyone who tried to coax me out.

Not Debbie. Competitors had a surprise black-box ingredient (duck) and the contents of a well-stocked pantry to work with. She quickly figured out her game plan and darted from workstation to pantry to stove like she owned that fancy restaurant.

Pantry envy

Boys with pantry envy

Executive chef Donna Dooher, her kitchen staff and the three judges–Alida Solomon from Tutti Matti, Paul Brans from Oliver & Bonacini and Saverio Marci from Cibo Wine Bar–were circulating to ask questions, take notes, help contestants use the eyebrow-scorching commercial gas stoves, and run to the kitchen for extra ingredients, when required.

Debbie interview

“Wanna fetch me some salt and a box of chocolates?”

Who will be Toronto's first Tin Chef?

It's a race against time for Ronn

They joked around throughout, finding a balance between respecting the cooks’ need to focus and keeping things animated for the crowd.

Our gal, Deborah, made blackberry-glazed duck breast with mashed potato (secret ingredient: egg yolk), charred cherry tomatoes, and some sprigs of parsley for good luck.

Debbie's duck

Eat me.  (Photo: Peter Martin)

And while she didn’t take first place–this time–she did her fans proud.

A small section of the cheering section here for Deborah Brewster..

A small section of Deb’s cheering section.

Fan club

The whole gang

Top honours went to Gav Martell for his pan-seared, garam masala-spiced duck breast with Irish mashed potatoes and a reduction of balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, duck fat, honey and grapes.

Gav Martel, second on the right, won. Everyone else does Oscar faces. Debbie would totally be able to handle an Oscar nomination. Our next project?

(Gav is the guy just to the right of Debbie.)

Gav looked surprised and modest and delighted when they called out his name. As for Debbie, she proved she could absolutely handle being up for an Academy Award, whichever way it went. (Our next project?)

Donna Dooher said the scoring was close, and in the end mastery of salt and pepper was Gav’s superpower.

There was a ticker-tape flurry of joy to honour Toronto’s first Tin Chef.

Three seconds earlier, this would have been an amazing image full of ticker tape. Picture it.

Two seconds earlier, this would have been an amazing photo full of cascading ticker tape. Picture it.

Then after that there was a lot of hugging, before everyone headed out into the snowy night–judge Paul Brans still clutching his very own Debbie-on-a-Stick.

She touched a life.

She touched a life.

*     *     *     *     *

Duck is a delicious, meaty bird–juicy and moist when done right. In honour of our Tin Chef contenders, I’ve gathered some expert tips on cooking it to perfection:

♥  “Only a genuine duckling–a bird under 6 months old–is good for roasting.”–Julia Child, The French Chef Cookbook

♥  “Slow-roasting means the skin goes really crispy, and you cook out loads of fat… the meat becomes tender, sticky and fantastically rich.”–Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef

♥  “Salt and season the duck at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours ahead. This salting ahead does two things: adds flavour and makes it moister. It also produces crispy skin that we love.”–Chef John Ash, Culinary Birds

♥  “Duck, having all that fat to keep it afloat, needs a little care if it is not to be greasy. Tear out the lumps of soft, white fat from inside the carcass and prick the duck’s skin all over, so that some fat escapes during roasting.”–Nigel Slater, Appetite

♥  “Hang on to your duck fat. Fried potatoes love duck fat!”–Lynn Crawford, At Home with Lynn Crawford


Got any of your own tips to share? Post them in the comments section!

13 Responses to “How to Cook Duck”

  1. Pat Anderson February 6th, 2014 at 9:04 PM #

    OMG, it looks and sounds delicious. Makes me miss duck a lot! I’m going to have to get one some time and do something with it. I don’t know if I can come up to Deborah’s standards though: that plated dish makes me weak in the knees.

  2. Valerie Howes February 6th, 2014 at 9:14 PM #

    Duck is such a treat, huh?! My fave (after Debbie’s, obviously) is Jamie Oliver’s version with rhubarb and ginger.

  3. Deborah February 7th, 2014 at 12:04 AM #

    What a GREAT night!

    Paul Brans also gave a great tip. After roasting rest your duck breast for a good long time before slicing. A long rest gets you really tender meat. Cut it too soon and you’ll get a tough slice.

    I’ll remember that.

    • Valerie Howes February 7th, 2014 at 10:37 AM #

      My dogs circle the roasting pan like sharks during resting time. Good tip though!

  4. Joyce February 7th, 2014 at 1:06 AM #

    So proud of Debbie! And while I could not be there this year at least I know she will try again next year and I can be there to cheer her on and see her win.

    Also as an actual Irish person, please describe these winning “Irish mashed potatoes”. I’ll let you know if they pass muster.

    • Valerie Howes February 7th, 2014 at 1:55 PM #

      Confession: I don’t know! I’ve asked Gav Martell to weigh in here…

  5. Alison Kent February 7th, 2014 at 9:57 AM #

    Mmmmm…duck. Duck is seriously up there as one of the most delectable and versatile meats going. For cocktail parties, duck rillettes and/or duck liver paté are two of my charcuterie staples.

    For full-on dinner, or for when unexpected and hungry company comes calling, keep a batch of duck confit (one of my all-time faves!) preserved in duck fat (another one of my all-time faves!) on-hand. Then, simply melt off fat, crisp up skin, and serve alongside frisée salad with oranges and fennel. For brunch the next day, shred any leftover confit and fold into omelettes along with Brie and arugula.

    • Valerie Howes February 7th, 2014 at 10:38 AM #

      I feel like knocking on your door right now, Alison.

  6. Signe Langford February 7th, 2014 at 11:01 AM #

    If you know me, you know I embrace fat; the duck’s and my own! So, if I have a duck breast that is particularly fatty on the skin side, before cross-hatching it, I’ll trim some of it off. Now, don’t panic, I’d never throw such a treasure away. I fry the trimmings until they are crunchy and golden; duck crackling or duck rinds. Sprinkled with a bit (ok, a lot) of sea salt they are a hardcore cook’s treat! And of course, the rendered fat goes right through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, into a jar and into the fridge for frying potatoes!

    • Valerie Howes February 7th, 2014 at 1:54 PM #

      Um, that sounds good. Like really, really good.

  7. Voula Halliday February 7th, 2014 at 12:57 PM #

    We love duck! So fun to read this post Valerie. Congratulations to all that participated in this event.

    Duck. Lovely duck. The beauty of it is that it lends itself to so many exciting techniques. And each part of the duck can be used for very different recipes. And you should use every bit of the duck too! Nothing wasted ever.

    For those who haven’t ever cooked duck, there’s an absolutely excellent book that I have in my collection–full of tips, ideas, techniques and recipes. It is The Duck Cookbook by James Peterson. New to duck? Start there! You’ll never turn back.

    • Voula Halliday February 7th, 2014 at 12:58 PM #

      Oh! Something isn’t right with my link on my previous comment. Click my name here and you’ll be in the right place. Cheers, V.

      • Valerie Howes February 7th, 2014 at 1:55 PM #


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