Roast duck with honey and thyme
Duck is a classic French cold-weather dish. In this version, a honey-thyme glaze lends a festive touch, and garlic roasted alongside the duck gives a boost of flavor. Serve it as the centerpiece of a holiday meal — or any old time, as the spirit moves.
Bearing in mind that there is less meat on a duck than on a chicken, this recipe will serve two to three people. Preparation is simple, with roasting time of one hour and 15 minutes — or less if, like the French, you prefer your duck medium rare.
If possible, have the butcher truss the duck for you. Trussing the bird is not essential — it is done in France is mainly to keep the shape intact while roasting. If you’d like to truss the duck yourself, check out this video.
Serve the duck with seasonal vegetables — for example, pan-seared baby artichokes (as shown in the photo above), roasted winter vegetables, rosemary potatoes or a purée of carrots, celeriac or pumpkin with parmesan. For a traditional French touch, place fresh watercress leaves on the platter. Spoon on the honey sauce, and prepare for applause.
1 duck or duckling, about 4-1/2 pounds (2 kilos)
1 tbsp. olive oil
5 branches fresh thyme, or 1 tbsp. dried thyme
3 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 large garlic cloves
1 bunch fresh watercress (optional)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C).
Place most of the thyme in the cavity of the duck, branches and all, reserving one branch, or 1 tsp. of dried leaves, to use in the honey sauce.
Coat the bottom and sides of a roasting pan with 2 tsp. of the olive oil. Use the remaining 1 tsp. olive oil, or more if necessary, to coat the duck. You can rub it over the duck with your hands. This will help seal in the juices.
You will roast the duck in three stages, with a shorter second stage for pink meat.
Stage 1: Place the duck in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
While the duck is roasting, make the honey sauce. Put the honey in a small bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir well to blend. Add the remaining thyme — if using fresh thyme, strip the leaves off the branch and add.
Peel the garlic cloves and cut in half lengthwise.
Stage 2: After 30 minutes, remove the roasting pan from the oven and transfer the duck to a board. There will be a lot of fat in the roasting pan. Tip it into a bowl and set aside. You can use the duck fat later for sautéing potatoes — see note below.
Transfer the duck back to the roasting pan and return to the oven. Roast for an additional 20 minutes for medium-rare duck, and 30 minutes for medium.
Stage 3: Remove the duck from the oven. Salt and pepper thoroughly on all sides. Using a pastry brush, baste with the honey sauce. Place the garlic cloves around the duck, cut-side down. Return to the oven and roast for 15 minutes more.
The duck is now ready. Take it out of the oven. Remove the garlic from the roasting pan and set aside. Tip the duck over the pan to allow the juices to run out. Transfer the bird to a board and allow to sit for five minutes.
While the duck is resting, complete the sauce. Add 1/4 cup water to the roasting pan and mix with the juices, using a wooden spatula to incorporate any bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the sauce into a small saucepan. Place over low heat.
If you would like to present the duck as is, you are now ready to serve. Place the whole duck on a platter, surrounding it with watercress leaves, the roast garlic and, if there’s room, some vegetables. Spoon the sauce over the duck and bring to the table.
If you prefer to carve the duck before serving, begin by carving off the wings, and next the legs. To carve the breast meat, slice through the top of the breast along the bone, then cut the meat away, trying to keep each breast intact. Slice through the breast meat on the bias. Place the carved duck on a platter, spoon on the sauce and serve as described above.
Note: If you’d like to keep the reserved duck fat, strain it through a sieve into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. It will keep for several months and may be used for sautéing potatoes or other veggies, or for making confit de canard.