Many people are afraid of cooking duck, but don't be intimidated. We'll show you every step of slicing the raw duck, from sharpening your knife to a few tricks for perfectly browning the meat. Plus, we always chop a few bits to make a delicious, crunchy garnish. The caramelized apples add a sweetness to the dish, and you'll end up with a show-stopping centerpiece with a crispy outside and golden inside.
Break down the duck: You’ll end up with 8 pieces of duck, plus the carcass and wings (for stock). Place duck breast side up on a cutting board. Use a sharp boning knife to trim away excess skin; dice and reserve for cracklings. Next, remove the wing tips at the joints; reserve for stock. Remove the first leg (drumstick and thigh) by making a cut between the thigh and the body, exposing the meat and joint. Pull the leg away from the body until you hear the joint popping; cut through the joint and detach the leg from the rest of the duck. Repeat with the other leg.
Continue breaking down the duck: Feel for the thin breastbone that runs down the length of the breast. Cut down one side of the breastbone to the rib cage, then down the length of the breastbone. Gently cut the breast away from the carcass, sliding your knife along the rib cage as you go. (You’ll encounter the wishbone towards the top of the breastbone, which you’ll need to cut around to remove.) When the breast has been cut off the carcass, cut the remaining skin from the bottom of the breast. Carefully remove the tendon from the tenderloin of the breast and discard. Repeat with the other breast. Cut each breast in half and set aside.Finally, separate the drumsticks from the thighs: Turn the leg skin side down and feel for the joint that connects the drumstick to the thigh. Cut in between the joint to separate the two bones, then slice all the way through the meat and skin to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Repeat with other leg. You should now have 8 pieces of duck. Reserve the carcass and wings for stock.Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut the onions in half, leaving the root end intact. Season the thighs and legs with salt and pepper, then lay them skin side down on the bottom of a heavy-bottomed, wide pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat and scatter the diced skin around the duck pieces; cook for 20 minutes. (As the duck is browning, don't be tempted to move or flip the duck!)
After the legs have cooked for 20 minutes, season the breast pieces with salt and pepper. Place them skin side down into the pan with the legs. Continue to brown the duck until it's cooked through, another 25 minutes.
Remove the duck and cracklings to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Lay the apples and onions in the pan cut side down, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium-high heat until deeply browned. Turn the apples and onions over and cover, to soften and cook through, about another 15 minutes.
Remove the onions and apples to a platter. Drain the duck fat from the pan, add the port, and cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. After the alcohol has cooked off, add the optional heavy cream and heat through. Add the duck pieces to the platter, drizzle the sauce over everything. Garnish with cracklings, fresh sage leaves, and a final sprinkling of salt and pepper. Serve immediately.