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May 27, 2009

Chef’s Notes: Choosing Duck for your Menu

Several varieties of duck are available for restaurant menus.  Below is a brief discussion of the different species.

Tremendously Flavorful
Ducks are packed with flavor that can be leveraged to produce all sorts of dishes in a restaurant kitchen. Duck confit, smoked duck, foie gras, roast duck breast or duck legs are all beloved classics, and rendered duck fat can be used as a cooking medium for other ingredients as well. Duck meat is often paired with fruit, port wine, sage, soy, or ginger.

Easily Controlled Fat Levels
As water fowl, ducks carry most of their fat just under the skin where it acts as insulation and as a flotation aid. While duck fat is considered one of the most flavorful fats available to chefs, this positioning allows it to be easily trimmed away (if desired) to make duck meat leaner. Care must be taken not to overcook duck breasts in particular, as they can become mealy and dry (the meat (especially in Muscovy or Magret breasts) is lean despite a heavy outer layer of fat).

Different Breeds, Different Characteristics
North American Import & Export is a duck distributor that carries wholesale Muscovy duck, Pekin duck, and Moulard (aka Magret) duck. Each of these breeds have gained favor in world cuisine due to different characteristics:

Pekin Ducks – The Standard American Duck

Pekin ducks (aka Peking ducks) are often called Long Island ducks (or Long Island duckling) in America (despite being Chinese in origin) because that is where they were first raised in the US. These are the ducks most Americans think of when they think of duck meat. Pekin duck meat is prized for its tender texture and mild flavor.

Muscovy Ducks – The Leanest of Ducks

Muscovy ducks are perhaps the best option when serving duck to health-conscious customers. While duck has a reputation for being luxurious and delicious, many people associate these qualities with duck fat. Muscovy ducks possess 50% less surface fat than other breeds, and if you remove that fat from Muscovy breasts you are left with meat that is 99% lean.

Moulard Ducks – Crossbred for Flavor

The sterile offspring of a male Muscovy duck and a Pekin female, these domesticated ducks are highly prized in southwestern France, Canada, and the US. Moulards are primarily known for being the breed of choice for duck foie gras production. These ducks possess the strongest game flavor of all the domesticated duck varieties with a taste which lightly evokes wild berries.

Magret Duck Breasts

Despite the fact that they are named “Magret,” these duck breasts are actually from a Moulard duck that has been raised for foie gras production. Magret duck breasts are larger (up to twice as big) and more flavorful than those found on other ducks. Magret duck breasts are sometimes aged for up to 7 days on the bone to further develop their natural flavor.

Because of their robust flavor, Magret breasts can stand up to combinations that could overwhelm other duck meat. At the same time, they are prized for that natural flavor, so simple applications may be best.

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