My desk at Serious Eats HQ is adjacent to that of our resident office dad and ramen whisperer, Sho Spaeth. From where I sit, I can turn my head to three o’clock, as I am doing right now, and survey the curated chaos of his workspace, which looks like a staged freshman college dorm room.
I’m not talking about the perfectly neat, aspirational model rooms you are shown on college tours, outfitted with basics like the extra-long twin sheets and collapsible mesh laundry hamper from Bed Bath & Beyond (don’t forget to grab the free move-in essentials checklist on your way out!). No, Sho’s desk has finals-week dorm-room vibes, with his computer surrounded by a stockpile of instant ramen cups, stacks of books, and half-drunk cups of coffee. A perimeter of opened shipping boxes at the foot of his desk completes the look, but sadly, none of them are filled with care-package cookies.
All of this is a front though. Despite his best efforts at projecting an undergrad aura, Sho is the grumpy but lovable, great-cook grandparent we all wish we had. All the trademark grandparent qualities are there: He makes us bowls of soup, shouts at his computer screen, and goes on rants about how everyone should always buy whole chickens at all times.
I admire Sho’s commitment to whole-bird utilization, and I love hearing about the chicken nuggets he whips up from scratch for his daughter or the chintan ramen broth he casually prepares as if it’s not a massive project. But I don’t live by the same code. Sure, I’ll buy a whole chicken for roasting on a Sunday, but I’ll also pick up a package of bone-in thighs or a container of store-bought stock for a weeknight dinner.
My Big Duck Project, however, is not a weeknight meal, and I knew that I would be doing Sho proud by breaking down whole birds and putting all of the parts to good use for a number of recipes, starting with rendered fat and homemade stock.
While you may not buy whole birds all the time, when you do, you should definitely take the time to turn the bones and scraps into stock. When working with duck bones, I like to make a brown stock, which involves roasting the bones and vegetables before simmering them in water with tomato paste and aromatics. I find that roasting the bones intensifies their flavor, which is important because there aren’t a ton of them to begin with here (dry-aging the duck breasts on the cage means there’s a lot less carcass to initially turn into stock).
How to Make Brown Duck Stock
The process for making brown duck stock is nearly identical to that for brown chicken stock, but in this case, I have gone with a stovetop cooking method to accommodate those who don’t own a pressure cooker. However, if you do own one, you can easily adapt and speed up the cooking time for this duck stock recipe by following Daniel’s method for brown chicken stock.
Step 1: Roast Bones and Vegetables
Start by cutting the larger pieces of duck bone (necks and backs) into manageable chunks and coating them, along with the reserved wing tips, in oil. Spread them out on a baking sheet and roast them until they begin to brown. Add mirepoix (diced aromatic vegetables like carrot, onion, and celery) to the mix and roast the bones and vegetables together until well-browned.
Step 2: Transfer to a Stockpot and Deglaze Roasting Pan
Move the roasted bones and vegetables into a stockpot and then deglaze the baking sheet with red wine, scraping up the browned bits of fond stuck with a spatula or wooden spoon. If you don’t have any wine to spare or prefer not to cook with alcohol at all, you can use hot water to deglaze the roasting pan.
Add a spoonful of tomato paste to the mix, and stir everything together on the baking sheet before pouring the mixture into the stockpot with the bones and veggies. Toss in a few sprigs of thyme and parsley, a couple of bay leaves, and some whole black peppercorns.
Step 3: Simmer the Stock If You Have Time, or Hold Off
At this point, you can either go ahead with the cooking of the stock if you’re going to be kicking it at home for a few hours, or if you have other stuff to do, you can stop here, pop a lid on your stockpot, and transfer it to the fridge until you’re ready to continue.
Putting together this stock “kit” makes your life a lot easier; when you’re ready to cook, all you need to do is fill up the pot with water, and get it simmering on the stove. Cover the bones by a few inches with water, bring it to a boil, skim off any scum and foam that rises to the surface, and then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Let the stock simmer away for a couple of hours until it’s a deep reddish brown, very flavorful, and has reduced by about a third.
Step 4: Strain, Chill, and Skim
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. To maximize yield while keeping the stock as clear as possible, I prefer to tap the side of the strainer with a ladle rather than pushing down on the solids caught in the strainer basket to get more liquid out.
At this point, the stock is ready to go. You can cook with it right away, or cool it down before transferring it to the fridge. There will be some fat that accumulates on the surface of the stock; it can be skimmed off with a ladle while warm. Or you can make life easy by chilling the stock completely, which will harden up this layer of fat, so it can then be easily removed with a spoon.
You’re left with a delicious, homemade brown duck stock that is great as-is for a variety of recipes, but for this Big Duck Project, we will reduce it down into a silky, rich duck jus.
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