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 Blow-dry duck It may sound ridiculous, but the modest hair dryer is the key to Marcella Hazan's classic roast-duck procedure.
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Blow-dry duck

Thanksgiving? Turkey? Who needs turkey when you can enjoy the succulent, dark and earthy flavors of the bird that's perhaps my favorite poultry of them all? Make mine duck, if you will ... and so I did, launching the holiday festivities a little early last night with a modern Italian take on roast duck from the Bolognese guru who's just about everyone's Italian cookbook author of choice, Marcella Hazan.

This recipe modified from Hazan's 1978 More Classic Italian Cooking is simplicity itself in terms of ingredients, using only fresh herbs, salt and pepper to accent the duck's natural flavors. But it's way out there in terms of technique, achieving a remarkable, grease-free and glassy-crisp skin by a thoroughly non-traditional procedure: First the duck is simmered in boiling water for a few minutes, then prepped for roasting by blasting it all over with a standard home hair dryer.

Marcella's name for the dish is the simple, descriptive Italian "Anatra Arrosto" ("roast duck"), but for the past quarter-century we've lovingly nicknamed it "blow-dry duck."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Fresh duck, 4 pounds (2kg) or so
Fresh rosemary
Fresh sage
2 teaspoons (10g) salt
Black pepper
The duck liver or 1 or 2 chicken livers
1/2 cup (120ml) duck broth or chicken broth


1. Thaw the duck (if frozen); rinse and pat it dry. Remove the packet (if any) from its cavity and, if there's a liver there, reserve it. I put the neck, heart and gizzards in a little water with salt and peppercorns and simmered to make a quick broth; if your duck doesn't come equipped with these parts, use the chicken broth option in the ingredient list.

2. Chop the rosemary and sage fine, using enough to make about 1 tablespoon (15g) of each. If you must use dried herbs, use a little less. Mix the herbs, salt and pepper and divide the mixture into equal parts in separate bowls. Finely chop the duck liver (or chicken livers if you don't have the duck's original equipment) and blend it in with one-half of the seasoned herbs.

3. Fill a pot large enough to hold the duck with enough water to cover the duck, and bring the water to the boil. Gently place the duck in the water, let it return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer it gently for about 10 minutes. Lift it out to a large plate, taking care to avoid scalds.

4. Preheat your oven to 450F (230C). While it's pre-heating, turn a hand-held hair dryer to hot/high, and blow hot air all over the duck from an inch or two away, moving it around to cover all surfaces. You'll see a significant amount of fat come streaming out ... feel free to pat some of it away. Hazan says, "This is to keep the pores wide open, and ease the outflow of fat while roasting." Maybe so. I can only testify that it works.

5. Spoon the liver-and-herb mixture into the duck's cavity and spread it around. Pat the remaining herbs all over the outside of the bird. The fat that came out during the hair-dryer operation will help it stick.

6. Put the bird breast-up on a rack in a large roasting pan, and put it in the preheated oven. Let it roast at this high temperature for 30 minutes, trying to ignore the spattering noises and smoke that will emerge from your oven. (If your smoke detectors are sensitive, you may want to take them down before making this dish.)

7. After 30 minutes, reduce heat to 375F (190C). This would be a good time to open the oven door and turn the pan around to ensure that the duck roasts evenly. Cook for another hour.

8. Remove the duck from the oven to a large dish. Drain any liquid out of the cavity into a dish, and scrape out the cooked liver-and-herb mix. Put the juices and the liver in a small saucepan, add the duck or chicken broth, and boil briefly until the liquid reduces a bit.

9. I cut the duck into parts and plated them with the sauce for a neater presentation, but you can just as well carve the bird at the table and pass the sauce in a gravy boat. I served it with simple accompaniments, fresh spinach and rice made with duck broth in place of water.

I like hearty red wines with duck dishes, and thought long and hard about an Italian option in honor of this recipe's ethnic heritage. Ultimately, though, a big, fresh and fruity 2003 Southern Rhone caught my eye, and the very-berry and peppery flavors of Reserve Grand Veneur 2003 Cotes-du-Rhone proved an excellent match. Just about any red Northern or Southern Rhone or Northwestern Italian red, or a Grenache, Syrah or blend from just about anywhere should go well with this wine-friendly bird.

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this article or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by the Food & Drink section of our brand-new WineLovers Community, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Blow-dry duck,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

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Thursday, Nov. 24, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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