Duck has been a favorite in the Lowcountry since colonial days. With the numbers of wild ducks decreasing each year, and bag limits reduced, I rarely see wild ducks at my table. All of these recipes have been cooked with the delicious Pekin varieties of ducks (more widely known as Long Island ducklings). Buy fresh ducks: since they’re very fatty, the birds are not drastically affected by freezing, but you will get the added bonus of giblets with a fresh duck. In larger cities, especially those with sizable Asian populations, you may even find fresh whole ducks with the heads still attached. Zooarchaeological digs in the Lowcountry have shown that domesticated ducks played an important role in the local cuisine before the Civil War. I hope these recipes will help bring them back into local favor; duck still seems to be the province of the restaurateur and the hunter.
Most people seem to have a fear of cooking duck, for several unfounded reasons—fattiness and unfamiliarity the most common among them. Paula Wolfert has pointed out that duck fat has only 9 percent cholesterol compared with butter’s 22 percent, but of course it’s true that duck is rich. I find that I pay about the same for fresh duck that others pay for what I call “grocery store chicken.” I remove the fat and render it for use in biscuits and vegetable dishes; I have a meal or two from the breasts; I simmer the legs in port or whiskey and make stock from the carcass—or make the pâté; so I get several meals from my 4- or 5-pound duck, for just a little more than I’d pay for chicken.