All families have traditions that are passed down from one generation onto another. Holiday traditions are perhaps the ones that stick with us the most, for me they are the ones that cling to my memories and heart.
In my Mexican home we incorporated our traditions with ones from our new adopted land; alongside our tamales sat an American style roasted turkey. Eventually both tamales and turkey became staples on our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. In my family some traditions, like posadas, became things we only observed when in Mexico; while other, like going to see Santa at the mall, were ones only celebrated in the States. At the same time we began incorporating elements from our Mexican heritage and our American home. One such mix of cultures was that us children began believing that it wasn’t only baby Jesus (in Mexico children believe that el niño dios is who brings the gifts) that brought us gifts, it was also Santa Claus.
After marring my American husband I got to experience Christmas the American way…a combination of Old World and New World traditions. He, like many other Americans, is a mix of several European ethnicities. As the generations of his family passed so did some of their old traditions, but also along the way new ones from their new home were incorporated into their celebrations. I learned many things from the holidays we spent at my in-laws, but perhaps the most important thing was that it doesn’t matter where someone is from, we all cherish those unique customs that make our family and culture our own.
In our marriage my husband and I have continued to observe some of our families holiday traditions. We’ve also created our own to pass down to the next generation, of course influenced by his European-American and my Mexican heritage. We have some traditions that we observe no matter what country it is that we happen to be living in at the moment. Then there are others that have become new ones influenced by the places we have lived in, like eating goose or duck for our Christmas dinner.
Our Christmas goose tradition began the year we arrived in Prague. In Czech Republic carp is the traditional holiday meal, and although we both enjoyed it we wanted to also have Christmas bird dinners. Czechs are not people who eat much turkey, instead duck, goose and chicken are the preferred or more popular poultry. (If you’ve ever tasted duck or goose then you know they have much more flavour than turkey and chicken.) My husband and I love duck and goose so when it came to continuing the Christmas bird tradition, we were more than happy to incorporate Czech duck and goose into our holiday meal.
The way duck and goose are prepared in Czech Republic is, perhaps, the very best tasting method you will ever find. It is so simple but so packed full of delicious flavour. Rubbed with salt and caraway seeds, slowly roasted, continually basted with it’s own juices, cooked into a crispy perfection and served with dumplings, stewed cabbage and drizzled with a gravy made from drippings, you’ll never want to eat duck (or goose) any other way!
Typically we cook a large goose, but this year there were less of us at dinner so we opted for the smaller duck. My husband is the one who has always prepared our Christmas bird, but knowing this would be the last holiday dinner in our Prague kitchen, I wanted to be the one to cook the meal. Mostly I stuck with the traditional Czech recipe but I also added a few extra touches. I hope you give my recipe a try and see how amazing Czech roasted duck tastes.
- !Duck Ingredients:
- one duck weighing 3kg or 6.6 lbs (make sure it’s fresh or fully defrosted)
- 1 small granny smith apple, cored and quartered
- 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, with stems and leaves
- 1 small onion, peeled and quartered
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- fine sea salt, to rub outside and cavity too
- whole caraway seeds, you'll need enough to rub all over outside and inside too
- 1 coffee mug full of water
- !Gravy Ingredients:
- bag of giblets from cavity
- 2 stalks of parsley, stems and leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- sea salt to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- !Suggested Accompaniments:
- bread dumplings
- stewed red cabbage
- Heat the oven to 180°C or 356°F, and have a large and deep roasting dish ready. In the cavity you’ll find a bag of giblets, remove it and set it aside — we will need it for the gravy so don’t throw it away. Next trim off all excess fat from the duck and discard, then make small incisions across all of the skin to help it drain off the fat as it roasts. Rub the entire duck outside and inside with sea salt and whole caraway seeds. Then stuff the apple, onion, garlic and parsley (you’ll need to fold the parsley in order for it to fit inside) into the cavity. If you'd like you can now tie together the legs, or leave them untied. Pour the water into the roasting dish, then gently place the stuffed duck (breast side up) into the dish. Place in centre of oven and roast breast side up at 180°C or 356°F for 1 hour. After one hour flip the duck, breast side down, and roast another hour. For the last or 3rd hour, turn the heat up to 200°C or 392°F then gently flip the duck again to breast side up. As the duck is roasting the entire 3 hours keep basting and brushing with the grease from the bottom of the roasting dish. Also you might want or need to keep pricking fattier parts of the skin to help it drain off. If too much grease if building up in the dish you can remove it and set aside on the counter.
- After the 3 hours the duck will be cooked through, the skin will be crispy and the meat nice and juicy. Place the duck on a large cutting board or serving tray to allow to cool before carving and serving. Save the dripping in the bottom of the pan to make the gravy and for other cooking needs.
- You will want to start cooking the gravy in the last hour that the duck is roasting. Open the bag of giblets and rinse. (I like to set the liver aside so I can fry it in a little oil and snack on while the duck is cooking — it tastes great!) Place the giblets in a small pot then add the parsley, onion, garlic, a large pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper. Pour in just enough water to cover the ingredients by 5 cm or 2 inches. Cover and simmer for one hour, making sure not to allow the water to evaporate because we need it to make the gravy.
- After one hour of simmering and once the duck has been removed from the oven: use a fine sieve to strain the juices and fat from the roasting pan. You can discard the chunky bits but reserved the drippings. Next you’ll have to adjust to your taste, pour in one ladle at a time of the strained baking juices into the boiled giblets broth. Mix and allow to simmer for 15 minutes then taste and add more strained drippings if desired — in total I added 2 full ladles of the strained juices into the giblet broth to make my gravy. Once the taste is to your liking strain the gravy and discard the giblets and vegetables and pour the gravy back into the pot. In a small bowl mix 1.5 tablespoons of all purpose flour with some of the gravy until it is a thick, lump-free mixture, then pour it into the pot and allow to simmer until the gravy thickens.
- Plate each serving with 3 dumplings, red cabbage, sauerkraut and a bit of the gravy or allow each person to pour their own gravy. And don't forget to serve with a Czech beer!
**PLEASE BE AWARE USING A DUCK WEIGH LESS OR MORE THAN THE STATED 3 KG OR 6.6 LBS MEANS YOU'LL HAVE TO ADJUST THE ROASTING TIME ACCORDINGLY OTHERWISE YOU RISK THE DUCK BEING UNDER OR OVER-COOKED.**
The duck was crispy outside and juicy inside, there were slight notes of apples that accompanied the delicious caraway taste. The gravy was amazing, the flavours were savory, ducky, onioniny and just plain yummy; I could’ve eaten it by the spoonful.
And because no Czech meal is complete without beer, we drank a seasonal flavour alongside our duck dinner. This particular beer was pear flavoured and it tasted like cider and a bit like spiced mulled wine. You could taste subtle pear, cinnamon and clove flavours, it was a bit sweet and really the perfect drink for our meal. Not bad at all for our last Christmas diner in Prague.
Next week will be the first time that hubby and I have spend a Christmas in Mexico. We are far from the small town I spent Christmases during my childhood and so there are new regional traditions to learn. We are both looking forward to continuing with our own as well as incorporating new ones…perhaps lobster will find it’s way to our Christmas table.
Wherever it is that you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you have a beautiful celebration surrounded by your loved ones and great food, of course. All the best to you and yours!