This Christmas, my family and I went to Washington, DC to visit my sister, Abs, her husband and their two children -- the second of whom was not yet a month old. We decided to do Christmas dinner potluck-style, with my mother and me bringing the veggies, and my sister handling the main event and dessert. She bought a ham and two ducks, which my mother then proceeded to show us how to crisp perfectly on Christmas afternoon.
I had never slow roasted a duck before, and I'll admit I was a little worried about the meat drying out. But my mother insisted that her method -- taught to her by her own mother years ago -- was foolproof. We watched as she pierced the fat of the duck with a carving fork at least thirty times, both front and back, salted the bird all over, and put it in the oven at 250 degrees. As the hours went by, she would periodically remove the duck, pierce it all over again, and then return it to the oven. Once it started to look browned and slightly crisp, she carved it into pieces, turned up the heat a little and stuck the pieces back in the oven on a cookie sheet. They emerged mahogany and almost impossibly crisp and crackling. —Merrill Stubbs
Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Remove the giblets from the cavity of the duck and rinse the bird inside and out with cold water. Dry the duck thoroughly with paper towels, including inside the cavity. Salt the cavity well.
Using a sharp carving fork, pierce the skin of the duck, working at an angle so you don’t cut into the meat, all over. (You want to pierce it at least thirty or forty times, all over the entire bird.) Salt the skin liberally, and place the duck, breast side down, in a roasting pan. Tuck the wings behind the neck and put it in the oven.
Cook the duck, removing it every half hour or so and re-piercing the skin so that the fat can escape. After 2 hours, flip the duck onto its back, piercing the fat over the breast well. After about 3 hours, the duck should start to look crisp and lightly browned. At this point, turn the heat up 350 degrees F and continue to cook for another 30 minutes or so, until dark brown and very crisp. (Alternatively, you can cut the duck into pieces, arrange the pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and return them to the oven to crisp that way.) Let the duck cool for 5 to 10 minutes before carving and serving.