Long Island birds usually reach four and a half to five pounds by the time they are killed at about eight weeks old. As the result of an incredibly sedentary life, they have also developed about one-half inch of subcutaneous fat at this tender age. (Probably the reason they withstand freezing better than most poultry.) It is essential that most of this fat be rendered out in the roasting to obtain a delicious, crackly brown skin.
1 Long Island duckling, 4 ½ to 5 ½ pounds
1 large onion, quartered
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, cut in 2 or 3 pieces
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp. dried thyme)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the duck in cold water and dry it well. Reserve the giblets and neck for your cat or stew them up in some wine to make a duck sauce. Rub the cavity with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Stuff the vegetables and thyme inside and skewer the bird closed. Tuck the wings behind the body and skewer the neck skin to the back of the duck.
Prick the entire duck skin at intervals of about one-half inch so that the fat can find an exit. Rub the bird well with salt and pepper and lay, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Set it in the preheated oven and roast for about two-and-a-half hours or until the legs move freely in their sockets and the flesh is very tender when pierced with a sharp fork.
Do not baste. On the contrary, the fat should be removed with a bulb baster as it accumulates to prevent its burning. Duck dripping is a very pure and highly prized cooking fat. It may be stored for many months in a jar in the refrigerator; it's great for browning meat and frying onions or potatoes. If the fat doesn’t render copiously, then you haven’t stabbed the skin deeply enough. Keep poking at it with a very sharp kitchen fork until the skin is crisp and nearly all the fat has cooked from beneath it.
Carving: because of the tremendous weight loss in fat, the average duckling only serves two or at most three people. Remove skewers and discard the vegetable stuffing. Either halve or quarter the duck with poultry shears or carve like a chicken except for the breast. Remove each side of the breast in one piece and cut it into two filets each.
It isn't any more trouble to cook four ducks than to cook one and they are a regal sight all arranged on one huge platter in a wreath of watercress. Duck is also a sensible alternative to turkey for the small family and if some traditionalist objects, tell them it's Chinese turkey.