THERE'S no such thing as "just a duck." You've got your Pekins and Muscovys, your Moulards and your Long Islands. How do you choose?
Well, in most cases, you don't. The vast majority of ducks for sale in Southern California are Pekins (also called Long Islands -- the breed originated in China, but in the United States, the early production was centered there).
At some stores, you can find Muscovy duck breasts, usually sold under the Grimaud label, but you'll rarely find a whole Muscovy (or Moulard, for that matter -- that breed is a cross between Muscovy and Pekin and is primarily raised for foie gras; it has become popular in France).
A poultry outfit in the Central Valley called Mary's is selling free-range Pekin ducks now.
The different duck breeds have different characteristics -- sometimes dramatically so. In general, Muscovy ducks have larger breasts and are generally meatier, though they tend to be a little gamier. The males are quite a bit larger than the females -- as much as 50% bigger.
Pekins are somewhat fattier than Muscovys, though they are usually moister, more tender and milder in flavor. Males and females are much closer in size.
Whichever variety, count on edible meat being only about 25% of the total weight of a whole duck (a chicken would be almost double that).
You can find whole duck either at fancy groceries or at Chinese or Southeast Asian markets. In general, they'll be somewhat more expensive at high-end markets (though not a lot; you can usually find duck for around $2.99 a pound). They'll be bigger and meatier; Asian shoppers seem to prefer smaller birds with a higher proportion of delicious skin.
It's also interesting what comes with the different ducks. At high-end stores, you'll usually get the gizzard, heart and -- most auspiciously -- the liver. At Asian markets, the giblets are often missing, but you get the wingtips, head and neck, and feet, which make wonderful soup stock.
-- Russ Parsons