Wings of desire: Mark Hix's simple and delicious ways to make good use of the whole duck

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There is so much more to the bird than breasts and confit legs...

There are so many ways to use a whole farmed duck – or a wild one, come to that. You can also buy all the various cuts in supermarkets and butchers these days, so you aren't tied to buying the whole bird and butchering it.

If you are into shooting, or know someone who is, then you may have a stash of birds in your freezer which would be perfect for using in the recipes below.

Each part of the duck should or can be treated in a different way and generally you will need to cook the legs longer than the breasts so that you get the best out of your bird.

Mixed grill with turnips and quince

Serves 4

Serving the various cuts of duck in different ways certainly does make a whole duck go a bit further and enables the various parts of the bird to be eaten and enjoyed for their own distinctive flavours – I think it's sad that so many of us only really taste duck in the form of duck breasts or confit legs. You can actually buy the under-fillets from the breast reasonably cheaply from supermarkets these days and whenever I see them in my local Waitrose I always snap them up.

2 large duck breasts with the fillets removed and halved
4 under-fillets
8 duck livers, cleaned
2 large or 4 medium turnips, peeled
A couple of knobs of butter
2tbsp clear honey
60-80g quince paste or membrillo, warmed and melted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a ribbed griddle plate or a heavy frying pan, season the duck breasts and cook them skin side down on a medium heat for about 4-5 minutes, until the skin is crisp, then turn them. After about a minute spoon the honey over and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and keep warm. While the breasts are cooking, cut the turnips into wedges and cook in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until tender. Drain and keep warm. Thread the under-fillets on to skewers, season the fillets and the livers and cook in the same griddle pan for a couple of minutes, keeping them both nice and pink. Arrange the breasts, fillets and livers on warmed serving plates, scatter the turnips over and spoon the melted quince paste around.

Duck and squash curry

Serves 4-6

Farmed or wild duck both make a great curry, although it's worth bearing in mind that a wild duck will be a bit more fiddly to eat because it's more bony.

4 duck legs, halved, or 2 wild ducks, quartered
1kg squash, peeled if necessary, seeds removed and cut into 2-3cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and roughly chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp chopped root ginger
3 small, medium-strength chillies, sliced
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp onion or nigella seeds
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp freshly grated turmeric or 1tsp ground turmeric
1 pinch saffron strands
A good pinch of curry leaves
1tsp paprika
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp mustard seeds
The black seeds from 10 cardamom pods
2tsp tomato purée
1.3litres chicken stock (a good cube will do)
3tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the pieces of duck, place in a roasting tray and roast for 15 minutes, turning them as they are cooking, then drain in a colander, reserving any fat and putting it to one side.

Put the duck fat in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add all of the rest of the spices and continue cooking for a couple of minutes with a lid on to release the flavours, stirring every so often.

Add the tomato purée and stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, add the duck and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Take a cupful of the sauce from the pan and blend in a liquidiser until smooth and pour it back into the sauce. Add the pieces of squash and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until tender. The duck legs should be tender by now; if not, remove the pieces of squash and continue simmering until they are tender. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, transfer to a warmed serving dish and scatter over the chopped coriander. Serve with basmati rice.

Pintail duck with sprout tops and hazelnuts

Serves 4

These small wild ducks such as widgeon, pintail and the smaller teal are perfect individual servings for a dinner party. If you are using teal you will need to serve a couple of birds per person.

4 small oven-ready wild ducks like pintail or widgeon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of knobs of butter
250g sprout tops, trimmed of any thick stalks
30g shelled hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 240C/gas mark 8.

Season the birds inside and out and rub with a little butter. Roast for about 15 minutes (less for teal), keeping them nice and pink. While the birds are cooking bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the sprout tops for 2-3 minutes until tender; then drain. Melt some butter in a pan and cook the hazelnuts for a minute until they begin to colour, then toss in the sprout tops and season to taste. Arrange the sprout tops on warmed serving plates with the duck on top.

Duck and green split pea soup

Serves 4-6

This is a great way to use up a half-eaten duck carcass, or you could use a whole mallard if you have plenty in your freezer from a shoot – or alternatively you could simply buy a couple of raw duck legs. Serve this as a substantial lunch dish, a dinner party starter or it's perfect on a chilly day to take fishing or shooting.

25g butter
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
A couple of raw duck legs or leftover duck
250g green split peas, soaked overnight in cold water or according to instructions
1-1.5litres chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and cook the onion in it for a few minutes until soft, without allowing it to colour. Add the thyme, duck legs and chicken stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the split peas; continue simmering for an hour or until the duck is falling away from the bone and the peas are soft. Remove the duck and leave to cool.

Blend half of the soup in a liquidiser or with a stick blender as coarsely or as smoothly as you wish and return to the pan. Add a little water or stock if it is too thick, or simmer for a little longer if too thin. Check the seasoning and add a little salt and more pepper if necessary. Remove the meat from the cooked duck leg and either shred it or just break it up and add to the soup. Simmer for a couple of minutes and re-season if necessary before serving.

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