Rich and full of flavour, duck meat is extremely nutritious, with high levels of protein, B vitamins and minerals such as zinc, potassium, magnesium and iron. Weight for weight, it has less meat than chicken and turkey but, because its flavour is strong, a little goes a long way. If you're cooking duck breast its comparatively high fat content can be reduced by removing the skin, and the layer of fat that sits beneath it, before cooking.
Farmed duck, domesticated from the wild mallard, is the most commonly available, but wild duck is also available in season. Duck is popular in Chinese and Thai cuisine, as well as in European cookery, which often pairs it with fruits such as oranges, raspberries, cherries, cranberries and blueberries.
Choose the best
As is the case with all meat, duck should be bought from a source that you trust - a good supermarket, local butcher, farmers' market or shop, or a website mail order company. Read more about animal welfare at Food Standards Agency.
Various breeds of duck are available. Good British breeds to look out for include Goosenargh, from the Lancashire village of the same name, Aylesbury and Gressingham - they all have plump, succulent flesh with a good flavour. The French breeds, Barbary and Nantais, also have very flavourful meat. Wild duck is mostly mallard, as well as teal and widgeon.
Whole ducks are good for roasting. Other portions are also available (either skin on or off, on the bone or boneless), including breasts (dry fry, sauté, grill or roast) and legs (use in casseroles or stews). You can also buy smoked duck breast, sliced and ready to eat (it is edged with fat, which can be removed), as well as confit de canard, duck legs that have been cooked and preserved in their own fat - all it needs is to be reheated.
Whichever breed, type or cut of duck you choose, look for birds or cuts that have clear, soft skin, without bruising, blemishing or tears.
As farmed duck meat is so richly flavoured, with a fattier texture than other poultry, cuts such as breasts don't need to be marinated. However, wild duck breasts, while having just as a strong flavour, can be dry, so will benefit from being marinated for between 4-24 hours; slash the skin a couple of times to help the marinade penetrate further.
Before it goes in the oven, both whole and cuts of duck should be at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge (1 hour for a whole duck; 30 minutes for a cut) before cooking. Keep it covered, in a cool place.
Duck should be stored in the fridge as soon as you get it home. Take off all the wrappings, then wipe it all over (and inside the cavities) with kitchen paper. Put the duck on a tray or a plate wide and deep enough to contain any blood or juice that might seep out. Cover loosely with foil.
Make sure the duck doesn't touch any over food in the fridge that's to be eaten raw, or meat that is already cooked. Whole birds and pieces of duck will keep for up to 2 days.
Roast (whole duck: 2 ¼ hours for ducks weighing 1.75-2 kg, 2 ¾ hours for ducks weighing 2.5-3 kg; breasts, 30 minutes). Dry fry, grill or barbecue (3-4 minutes on each side). Stir fry (cubes or strips, 5-7 minutes).
Try chicken, goose or turkey.