Duck Takes Flight on Menus

Today’s guests are becoming increasingly educated on food, prompting higher expectations for dining experiences. They want to know where their food comes from, the story behind it, and if it’s locally sourced and prepared with care. They’re looking for authenticity and craftsmanship, but above all, they want it to be flavorful. To satisfy these demands, a high-quality protein that is ethically raised, such as duck, fits the bill because it not only delivers on flavor, but it also has a high-perceived value. It’s a protein guests usually don’t prepare on a regular basis at home, creating an opportunity for your menu and restaurant.

Select your Duck

Roaster duckling of the Pekin or Long Island variety is the duck most often used in foodservice containing only dark meat and packing plenty of fat. The Muscovy duck, a lean South American breed with an assertive flavor profile, has a small amount of fat with a distinct taste that pairs well with sweet and tart flavors. Larger duck breasts with richer, meatier flavor come from the Moulard, a Pekin and Muscovy breed mix, which is prized for its foie gras.

Maines and Maple Leaf offer several products that make it easy to include duck on your menu. There’s no reason to be intimidated by duck butchery; already-fabricated products such as boneless, hand-trimmed duck breasts, legs, ground duck, and all-natural rendered duck fat can help ease prep and make service run more smoothly. The ducks are also minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, appealing to customers who are looking for ingredients that taste good and make them feel good about what they’re consuming.

All-natural whole ducks provide an excellent base for any application or dish and are best prepared roasted, braised, grilled, or sautéed. Duck fat can be labor intensive to render, so ready-to-use duck fat is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Its versatility allows for cross-utilization in duck, chicken, and dumpling entrées as well as sides such as mushrooms or potatoes, adding a crisp texture. Ground duck and pulled duck can also be presented across the menu in fresh sausages, burgers, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and soups.

Duck Cookery

With its fat content and rich flavor, duck can be prepared in a variety of ways. Care and patience are the keys to ensuring a tender, moist duck with crispy skin. Braising is an ideal method to cook the legs, which will benefit from the long and slow cooking process that breaks down the somewhat tough meat. This method is practically foolproof because it renders the fat properly while ensuring tender meat. Braised and roasted duck meat can be pulled and shredded to use in a variety of applications. To cook the breasts, the skin should be scored and then placed in the pan skin-side down to properly render out the fat, resulting in skin with the perfect crunch. The breasts are best when seared to a medium-rare. Grilling and pan-roasting are also suitable methods for the breast meat.

These methods are typically not labor intensive, making it an ideal protein to work with especially when short-staffed. Some other methods require a little bit more time and effort than others but result in extremely flavorful duck for use in appetizers such as crostini, poutine, or hearty salads, as well as mains or in a risotto or pasta. For example, salt-curing intensifies the flavor of duck meat. Rub it with kosher salt and cure for a day or two for moist, tender duck. Brining is another method that produces a moist and well-seasoned duck. Add flavor to your brine by using orange juice, wine, soy sauce, and other liquids or herbs and spices.

Duck pastrami is another trending ingredient that makes an excellent addition to sandwiches or charcuterie plates. You can also heighten the flavor of duck by dry aging, a method that can impart flavor that you can’t get from traditional seasoning and cooking. Finally, confit is a reliable method that requires a little effort and takes a lot of time but has a big payoff. The preserved duck keeps well, six months and longer, and makes a good addition to entrées anytime you need to amp up flavor.

Pack on the Flavor

Duck pairs well with a wide array of ingredients and can stand up to big, bold flavors. It has a natural affinity for fruits such as cherries, figs, oranges, apples, and apricots; aromatics such as ginger, onions, and garlic; vegetables such as mushrooms and roots; sweeteners such as honey and sugar; acids such as vinegar and lemon; and nuts such as chestnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. It also matches up well with wine and warm spices such as cloves and cinnamon. With these different ingredients ranging from salty to sour to sweet, the possibilities are endless in maximizing the rich flavor of duck.

While duck is a staple in French cooking, it’s also used frequently in Chinese cuisine. Flavor combinations such as ginger, honey, and soy sauce as well as ginger, black pepper, and star anise pair beautifully with duck. Peking duck is a staple in Chinese restaurants – traditionally carved tableside to serve with steamed buns – but it can be tweaked and innovated to reflect interesting sauce choices and creative garnishes. Or, jump on the jianbing bandwagon and offer a take on a savory, on-trend Chinese street food with a crispy crêpe as the wrapper that makes a perfect vehicle for duck. Duck can be used as a filling in more than just Asian applications; it also works for tacos, quesadillas, and empanadas as well as pierogi and ravioli. Global mash-ups present a myriad of opportunities to set your menu apart.

Many of the top restaurants in the country are using duck in creative and innovative ways. At the vaunted Blue Hill in New York City, duck is prepared with Eight Row Flint corn and berries; the accompaniments for the duck make a statement about their commitment to using local and seasonal products. Eleven Madison Park Chef Daniel Humm’s signature dish is the lavender and honey duck, which blends a potent mix of lavender and spices with honey in an innovative combo.

Boosting the Bottom Line

Duck menu penetration has grown by 18.9% over the last few years according to Datassential. Incorporating more duck on your menu can benefit your restaurant; one way is through value-added products. By purchasing and breaking down a whole duck, you can utilize the entire product. Don’t throw away those bones; use them for brown stock and bone broths. Instead of outsourcing the production of fresh sausages, use scraps to make your own duck sausage and charcuterie, which was named among chefs as one of the trends for 2017 in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot culinary forecast. Since duck is flavorful and fatty, you don’t need as large of a portion as chicken or other proteins, allowing you to use less product while still charging a profitable price point. Duck’s phenomenal flavor, versatility, and propensity to be paired with seasonal fruits and vegetables create a great opportunity for a new signature dish like our Pomegranate Marinated Duck Breast with Celeriac Purée and Orange-Glazed Root Vegetables recipe. Adding a well-thought-out duck dish to your menu can help you realize the potential of this underutilized, delicious protein.