December 17, 2021
By Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley
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I thank my cousin Keith Brown of Lincoln, Nebraska, for telling my husband and me about this recipe. Keith is a die-hard waterfowl hunter, and at 80 years old with replaced knees, the ducks still call to him, and September still means standing in the marshes and setting out decoys in the rainwater basins with the help of his sons and friends.
Keith was always like a beloved uncle to my husband, Rick, and some of Rick’s fondest childhood memories included being in the outdoors with Keith. We’re pretty sure Keith came into this world with a 20 gauge in one hand and a duck call in the other, and that’s probably how he’ll go out.
We go hunting with Keith whenever we get the chance. And during the holidays when we visit him, he will generously share his bounty with us by sending us home with ducks and geese so we can make recipes such as this one. Keith has talked about this Duck in Apple Cider Recipe for years. We thought it was odd at first, but once I tasted it, it all made sense. This is our version, which we’ve fleshed out with a few other ingredients.
Apples and waterfowl go so well together and if you don’t like duck because of its gaminess, slow cooking it in tart, sweet apple cider will help tame that flavor. Keith loves this recipe with teal because they’re small enough to fit inside a slow cooker. He makes a big batch and freezes them individually for future, ready meals. You also won’t go wrong with other choice ducks such as mallards, wood ducks, pintails, etc. We haven’t tried this recipe with goose, but I bet it would taste just fine. Just cut up larger birds into smaller pieces.
However, I do have a secret I must tell: the duck in this photo is a scaup. Eek! Rick and I went duck hunting last year with a couple of friends and we accidentally shot a scaup and a shoveler. Well, I believe in eating what I kill, so there it is.
But truth be told, the scaup didn’t taste bad at all. Maybe this bird does have a bad rap, as well as snow geese and other diver ducks, but when slow cooked this way, they do let go of some of their off-putting flavors and become surprisingly enjoyable.
I suggest pairing a fruity, spicy, full-bodied red wine with this duck recipe, such as Zinfandel or Shiraz.
How to Make This Duck in Apple Cider Recipe
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 4-5 hours
- 1 or 2 whole ducks, skin on
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil
- 1 Granny Smith apple, sliced into eighths
- 1 onion, sliced into eighths
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cups spiced apple cider
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1 ½ cups reserved, reduced cooked liquid
- ½ to 1 cup chicken stock, optional
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Rinse duck(s) thoroughly and dab dry with paper towels. If leaving the skin on, prick skin all over the duck with a sharp toothpick – this will help the skin render. Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a skillet and lay the duck breast-side down. Turn on heat to medium-high and allow breasts to render and brown. Once the breasts are golden, turn duck on its sides and back to brown.
- Take the duck(s) out of the pan and set aside. Add onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary and apple slices to the pan with a pinch of salt. (I had some room in the pan, so I added the onion to brown while the duck was browning at the same time. But if you are using a small pan, be careful of overcrowding and creating too much steam, or it will stop the browning process.) Stir aromatics and apple slices until slightly browned. Lower heat if necessary to avoid burning.
- Pour aromatics and apple into a slow cooker. Lay the duck(s) on top and pour in apple cider. Five cups are approximate, you want to make sure the duck is completely submerged. Add bay leaf and peppercorns. Turn slow cooker on high and cook for 3 hours or until duck is tender. Remove cooked duck and keep warm.
- To make apple gravy, pour cooking liquid through a colander and into a saucepan. Discard solids. Bring liquid to a rolling boil and reduce so about 1 ½ cups remain. Take off heat. Next, heat 3 tablespoons of butter in another saucepan/skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour and whisk for about 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in hot stock/cider mixture and simmer on low until you get a gravy consistency. If the gravy is too thick, whisk in heated chicken stock to thin it out. Drizzle gravy over ducks.