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Roast Duck With Lavender and Honey


I had fun writing about what to cook for Valentine’s Day—and I’m happy to report that at least one reader made and enjoyed the rabbit stew I mentioned—but I couldn’t then reveal what I was planning to prepare myself. I wanted to surprise Santa Maria, and she reads this blog so I had to wait until after the big day to share what I made.

I served a fantastic roast duck, and I meant to write about it sooner, but you know how life is. It’s still mighty hectic, never mind my recent bouts of leisure, such as when I spent a perfect Saturday drinking coffee and looking at cookbooks, or how I hosted a dinner party last night that didn’t end until 1:30 a.m., and only after I sauntered into the living room and said to Guest No. 1 and Guest No. 2 “Ok, it’s time for you to leave.”

Hence, I’m only getting around to the duck now. Years ago, before we had kids, Santa Maria made a roast duck with honey and lavender, and we served it to two friends who are big Francophiles. They brought an exquisite wine, and I experienced that rare alchemic moment when the food and the wine combine in the mouth to create a hitherto unknown delicious flavor. And the more the years passed, the greater that duck loomed in my memory.

I love duck, and I often order it when out at restaurants, but I long thought of it as something that was too complicated, to rare, too expensive, to cook at home. One must be brave in romance, though, and I decided to recreate the honey-lavender duck for Santa Maria on Valentine’s Day.  Early in that week, I bought a duck from D’Artagnan, found some dried lavender at my local food coop, and I thought I was ready. A duck is just a fattier chicken, right? How hard could it be to cook?

The closer the day came, though, the more I started to get concerned. I mentioned to a friend that I was making duck, and she said, “Oh, don’t you have to prick it all over as it cooks?” “What?” I thought, “was she talking about?”

So I looked on Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything app on my iPod. And I looked in my heavily-stained hardcover copy of “D’Artagnan’s Glorious Game Cookbook,” and I combined a couple of recipes. As it turns out, duck is easy to roast, and this recipe is elegant, and more importantly, foolproof. Basically, you put lavender in the cavity of the bird, and it flavors the meat.

The D’Artagnan book said to truss the duck “or close with a skewer.” I looked around my kitchen, but couldn’t find any skewers. The best I could do was a paperclip. I rinsed one off, unfolded it half way, and poked it through the skin, and folded it back again. It worked like a charm.

The duck was scrumptious. The lavender suffused the meat with its aromatic flavor, and this dinner will live a long time in my memory, too. Plus, I now know that I can make it anytime I want. You should try it. Just remember, you can do it.

Roast Duck with Lavender and Honey

  • 1 whole duck, 3 to 4 pounds, giblets and excess fat removed.
  • 2 tablespoons, plus dried lavender
  • ½ cup niçoise olives
  • 4 tablespoons honey 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Put about half the lavender and the olives in the cavity of the bird, and close with a skewer (or paperclip!).

Mix the remaining lavender with the honey, and spread some of it over the skin of the duck as best you can. Save some for later.

Salt and pepper the bird.

Put the duck breast side down (wings up) on a rack in a roasting pan, and add water to the pan until it’s just below the bird on the rack.

Roast for 30 minutes, undisturbed. Prick the back all over with the point of a sharp knife, then flip the bird onto its back. Brush or otherwise spread some more of the honey and lavender mixture on the top of the bird. Add a bit more water to bottom of pan, if fat is spattering or the pan is dry. Be careful not to get the bird wet.

Roast for another 20 minutes, then prick the breast all over with a point of a knife, and if you have any honey-lavender mix left, spread that on the skin again.

Roast for another 15-20 minutes, or until the duck is beautifully brown all over, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh measures 155-165 degrees.

Let rest 5 minutes before carving.

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