I had the pleasure of visiting with a California poultry farmer recently, who raises ducks and guinea hens for the foodservice industry. Unfamiliar with duck breeds, it was fascinating to learn more about those most popularized as specialty game poultry by culinary professionals. Here’s the Duck 101 on four of the most common breeds: Muscovys, Pekins, Mallards, and Mulards.
The Mallard, or Wild Duck, is the ancestor of most domestic duck breeds. Males are called, “drakes” and females are called “hens”. They are considered wild waterfowl and commonly feed on flies, beetles, dragonflies, crustaceans, worms, seeds, roots and tubers.
In America, Mallards are a protected species which can be hunted seasonally only. Their meat is all dark with very little fat and often tastes greasy and gamey. This breed is often considered as “bottom feeders” and takes a back seat to other farm raised breeds delivering more desirable eating experiences.
Pekin duck originated in China and was derived from the wild Mallard for domesticated egg and meat production. Brought to America in the 1870’s, this breed is the most common of domestic ducks and is also commonly known as White Pekin Duck, American Pekin Duck and Long Island Duck.
Pekin is the breed used for the popular Chinese dish, Peking Duck. Tender, mild and adaptable to a wide range of cuisines and flavor profiles, 95% of duck meat consumed in the US today are Pekin.
FYI: The ducks in those wacky AFLAC insurance commercials are Pekin.
Muscovy duck is native to Mexico, Central and South America. The male Muscovy is known for its size and meatiness and can grow up to 15 pounds. Muscovy hens are much smaller than their male counterparts, growing up to only 7 pounds. The breed is both feral, and farm raised.
Due to their size, Muscovy drakes have the best yield of breast meat of all ducks. The meat is especially lean, and the skin is 50% lower in fat than the Pekin and Mulard breeds. Muscovy also has an exceptional bold flavor, preferred by many chefs over the Pekin breed.
Mulard duck is a cross between Muscovy and White Pekin ducks, purposely raised for meat and foie gras (pâté). Propagated by mating Muscovy males with Pekin females, Mulards are born sterile. The parent breeds do not cohabitate well together, and thus most Mulards are produced by artificial insemination.
Mulards are larger in stature, have a stronger, gamier taste and have considerably fattier meat than Pekins. In France, the breed is referred to as Moulard, and its breast is called “Magret”. Mulard meat can be stringy and chewy, but the French covet the Magret for its rich flavor calling it, “duck steak”. Mulards are primarily raised for their livers for foie gras.
Duck is highly nutritious and tasty when properly cooked. It is an excellent source of protein, and without its skin, Duck has an even lower caloric value than skinless chicken. (There are about 140 calories in 4 oz of duck breast without the skin.) The meat is also a good source of vitamins A, B3, C and minerals iron, selenium and calcium.
Duck can be purchased in a variety of ways: Whole, Bone-in Breast, Boneless Breast, Whole Breast, Legs, Liver, Wings, Gizzards, Natural Smoked Duck Breast, Duck Leg Confit, Duck Prosciutto and Duck Bacon.
Like chicken, Duck can also be prepared in numerous ways: Roast Duck, Deep Fried Duck, Smoked Duck Breast, Duck or Duck Leg Confit, Duck Prosciutto and Peking Duck. Find more duck recipes here.
Duck is a delicacy that has been enjoyed for over 4,000 years. Now that I’ve come to understand the basic differences in the breeds most often used in cooking, I’m looking forward to giving more duck dishes a try.