Years ago, the best ducks always came from France. If you wanted that lovely rich, full-flavoured taste with minimum fat and skin, you had to buy a Barbary or a canard de Challans – or you had to use the breast (magret) or legs from a duck that had been reared for foie gras. These days, fortunately, we don't have to go so far afield to find quality ducks. British farmers have come around to the fact that they too can produce quality ducks for the table. Poultry farmers, such as Reg Johnson in Goosnargh in Lancashire, are producing great free-range ducks and chickens that can match their French counterparts.
Reg used to breed turkeys – until northern food supremo Paul Heathcote asked him to experiment with ducks and chickens. When buying a good quality duck, look for a large meat to fat ratio on the breasts and try to ensure that the fat covering is only a quarter or one-third of a centimetre thick. The feed is important, and as with chickens, corn seems to be the favoured food, although I think it's worth dispelling the myth that corn-fed chickens are better tasting than the more traditional grain-fed chickens.
We have recently been under the spotlight for serving foie gras in our restaurants and have received several angry letters from protestors, most of whom were unaware that some ducks raised for their fattened liver by artisan farmers are left to feed at their own pace rather than being force-fed. Increasing numbers of us are turning to ethically reared ducks and looking to suppliers like Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon. As in France, we too now have our own quality regional ducks such as the Gressingham, wild Derwentwater and Goosnargh varieties.
One of the great things about cooking duck is that you'll get a lot of meals from a whole one if you treat it with respect and a little culinary know-how – so here are four delicious recipes that you can make from just one duck.
Preparing your bird
Choose a large duck, complete with its liver and heart, and with its neck too, if you can find it, which can be boned and stuffed and which makes an excellent addition to the salad below or served with soup.
With a heavy, sharp chopping knife, turn the bird on its side and holding the end of the leg up, cut the leg away from the carcass, cutting through the joint. Turn the bird over and do the same with the other leg, then chop off the knuckles. Remove the wings in a similar way to the legs. Remove the breasts by cutting either side of the central breast bone and following the carcass with the point of a knife, leaving the skin on if desired. Remove any fat from the carcass, leaving the carcass bare, then cut the pieces of fat into rough 1cm pieces. Remove the fat and meat from the wings and cut the same size and put in a container with the rest of the fat. Remove the under fillets and place on a plate with the liver and heart.
You should therefore then have the following: the carcass and knuckles, which you need to chop into pieces with a heavy chopping knife; two breasts; the under fillets, liver, heart and fat; the two legs.
Szechuan peppered duck breast
You can find Szechuan peppercorns in most good supermarkets. It's one of the most exciting Asian spices – but use them sparingly.
2 duck breasts, skin left on
1tsp Szechuan pepper lightly crushed
1tbsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic peeled and crushed
Small piece of root ginger, scraped and finely shredded
4 spring onions shredded on the angle
150g small pak choi or any other Chinese greens
1tbsp soy sauce
Few sprigs of coriander, roughly chopped
Score the skin of the duck breasts with a sharp knife as closely together as possible. Season with salt and rub the Szechuan pepper into the skin. Heat a frying pan, place the duck breasts skin side down and cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes then turn them and cook for another 4-5 minutes, keeping the breasts nice and pink. Remove the breasts and leave to rest on a plate. Add the sesame oil to the frying pan and cook the ginger and garlic for 1-2 minutes on a medium heat. Then add the pak choi and spring onions, lightly season and cook on a high heat, stirring every so often, for 3-4 minutes. Then add the soy sauce and about 1 tablespoon of water and stir on a medium heat for about 30 seconds. Place the duck on a chopping board skin side down. Pour any duck juices into the pan of greens. Cut each breast into about 8 pieces on a slight angle. Spoon the greens on to warm serving plates and arrange the duck on top. Scatter sprigs of coriander over the duck.
Slow-cooked leg of duck with Bramley apple mash and cider sauce
This ends up rather like a confit, although it's not cooked by completely immersing the leg in goose or duck fat. Apples and duck are the perfect match as the acidity of the cooking apple counteracts the fattiness of the duck.
To cook the duck
The two duck legs
Half a head of garlic
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mash
1 cooking apple, peeled and cored
1/2tbsp caster sugar
1 large floury potato, peeled and cut into quarters
A couple of good knobs of butter
For the sauce
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
150ml hot chicken stock
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Place the duck legs in a tight-fitting ovenproof pot with the rest of the ingredients, cover and cook in the oven for 1 hours until tender, basting every so often. Turn the oven up to 220C/gas mark 7.
Meanwhile put the potatoes into a saucepan, cover with water, lightly salt, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain, return to the
pan and place over a low heat for a minute to evaporate any excess water. Mash with a potato masher, season and add a knob of butter.
Meanwhile, chop the apples into chunks and place in a saucepan over a low heat with the butter and sugar and cook on a low heat, stirring every so often until the apples have disintegrated and dried out a bit, then mix with the mashed potato and keep warm.
To make the sauce, gently cook the shallots in the butter for a couple of minutes until soft, stir in the flour and then gradually add the cider, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming (you can give it a good whisk if it's lumpy). Add the chicken stock, then boil until the sauce has reduced by about three-quarters and thickened.
While this is happening, drain the fat from the duck legs (keep it for roast potatoes) and return to the oven for about 20-25 minutes so they crisp up. To serve, spoon the mash on to the centre of warmed plates, place the duck legs on top and spoon the sauce around.
Duck and quince salad
The delicate but perfumed flavour of this unusual fruit is a great match for duck and cooking it in sugar and spice, as I have done here, gives a really exciting twist to this salad. You may want to cook a few quinces and store them for another time, or you could even cook them for longer in the pan and serve with ice-cream at another time.
1 small quince
A small piece of cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
Half a lemon
10 black peppercorns
Cubed fat from the duck
Duck underfillets, livers and heart
A handful of small salad leaves
For the dressing
1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2tbsp walnut oil
Peel, quarter and cut out the core of the quince, and place into a saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon, peppercorns, bay leaf and lemon with enough water to cover. Lay a circle of greaseproof paper over the top and bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or until the quince is tender. Meanwhile, place the pieces of duck fat in a small frying pan on a low heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often or until the pieces of duck fat are crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon on to some kitchen paper and season with a little salt (reserve the fat for roast potatoes at a later date), leaving about 1 tablespoon in the frying pan to cook your liver, heart and fillet.
Season the liver, heart and fillet, and heat a little of the duck fat in the frying pan. Cook the
liver and heart first for a couple of minutes on each side on a high heat, keeping them pink, then add the fillet to the pan and cook for about 20 seconds on each side.
Mix the ingredients of the dressing together. To assemble the salad, toss the leaves in the dressing and arrange on plates. Slice the liver, heart and fillet on the bias and scatter into the salad.
Remove the quince from the syrup and thinly slice using as much or as little as you want to add to the salad. Finally, scatter the crispy fat over the salad.
Duck and cep broth
I always think that it is such a shame to throw away poultry carcasses whether they are cooked or raw. They are perfect for making soups and stocks as simple or sophisticated as you like. I've used ceps in this recipe (which are around at the moment, incidentally, if you're a forager). Alternatively, you could use any other seasonal mushrooms such as chanterelles or pieds de mouton or any cultivated mushrooms.
For the stock
The carcass or bones from the duck
Half a tablespoon of duck fat
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock
1/2tbsp of Madeira or medium sherry
To garnish the soup
1 leek, halved, cut into rough 1cm squares and washed
150g small firm ceps or wild mushrooms, cleaned
1tbsp chopped parsley
Heat about half a tablespoon of the duck fat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and fry the duck bones, onion, carrot and celery for 5-6 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the peppercorns, thyme, garlic and chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 1 hour, skimming every so often. Strain though a fine meshed sieve and place into a clean saucepan. Remove any pieces of meat from the duck carcass and put to one side. Add the leeks to the duck stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Then add the ceps and continue to simmer to 4-5 minutes. Finally, add the parsley and pieces of duck meat and adjust the seasoning if necessary and add the Madeira sherry. Serve immediately.Reuse content