Here we make the most of two birds, using the legs and giblets to make confit, around which we base the later dish Confit Sarladaise. With the breasts left on the bone you can make a delightfully sophisticated roast which bows towards China and France in flavour and execution.
When buying the ducks, ask your butcher to remove the legs, the backbone from behind the breasts and the wishbones. Get him to clean the gizzards for you and make sure you get all the rest of the giblets (including the livers) and the necks and carcasses. The necks and carcasses are the basis for the gravy to accompany this dish, and the legs and giblets make the confit.
It is probably best to glaze the duck and make the gravy the day before. If the gravy is refrigerated overnight this has the added benefit of enabling you to remove the last vestiges of fat which will have set on the surface.
First glaze the duck (preferably the day ahead): dissolve the honey in 4 tablespoons of water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Do not reduce: if the glaze is too syrupy it will burn and become black and bitter during roasting. Paint this glaze over the duck breasts and leave overnight in a cool airy environment. This effectively ‘wind dries’ the skin. Alternatively, use a fan or hair-dryer on a cold setting for 10-15 minutes to blow dry the skin.
Begin by making the gravy (this whole process takes about 60 minutes, so it is a good idea to carry it out in advance): in a flameproof casserole or deep heavy roasting pan, brown the mirepoix in
Sprinkle with sugar (this is essentially a caramelization process), vinegar, some pepper and the rosemary and continue to brown, stirring continuously. Do not skimp on the browning, but be careful not to char the bones.
Add the wine and boil hard to reduce, scraping the pan as you do so, until the liquid has almost all evaporated. Add just enough water almost to cover the bones. Return to the boil and skim. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced by half.
Add a handful of ice cubes and skim again. Pass through a sieve and return to a clean saucepan. This is the technique whereby the classic jus (French for gravy) of the French professional kitchen is achieved, creating the stock and the sauce simultaneously.
To roast the ducks: place them breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan and
Transfer to a warmed serving dish and leave to rest for 5 minutes. The skin will deflate slightly (but remain crisp), so if you want to get your guests excited show it to them as soon as the roast duck comes from the oven.
Towards the end of the roasting period, reheat the gravy and just before serving swirl in the butter to give the sauce its final consistency and gloss. It should resemble the varnish on a burnished mahogany table, not Bovril please.
Transfer the duck to a carving board (still in the kitchen). With the breast joint (neck end) towards you, locate the breast bone and run a sharp knife along it, pressing down vertically until you meet the ribcage. Prise away the breast, which will detach easily from the bone, and continue to stroke the knife down to separate the flesh away from the bone, working the knife along the length of the breast until the shoulder joint is exposed.
Press firmly to cut through the joint and you will have a whole suprême of duck with a small nugget of partially cooked fat under the wing. Discard this piece of fat and transfer the carved meat to a warmed serving plate.
Turn the breast so you are working on the left-hand side again (left-handers reverse the process) and follow the same procedure with the second breast joint.
A lot of juice will have collected around the suprêmes, which you pour into the gravy.
Serve as whole suprêmes or sliced, pouring the sauce around. Accompany with plain lightly buttered potatoes, noodles or rice as a simple foil to the rich complexity of the duck and gravy.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.