How to cook duck

Roast duck is great for dinner parties and even on Christmas Day. Whether you want to cook the breast, legs or whole bird, we've got lots of advice.

Chinese style duck on a wooden board with peaches

Duck is a popular dish for serving when you're entertaining. Both whole duck and duck breasts (and legs) can be cooked using different methods and will give very different results. You should bear in mind that quite a large percentage of a duck is fat, and what looks like a large bird will be considerably skinnier when cooked, but that means duck breasts are easier to portion accurately. Duck breast is often served ‘pink’ or ‘rare’ but the Food Standards Agency advises cooking duck, like chicken, until it is no longer pink, for safety.

How to cook duck breast

Duck breast slices with pilau rice and peas

Duck breasts are covered in a thick layer of fat that needs to be rendered (melted) out from beneath the skin during cooking. The best way of doing this is to season the breast and leave it for a couple of hours to come to room temperature and dry out. Score the skin in a criss-cross pattern or with parallel lines (the idea is to expose as much of the fat to the hot pan as possible) and then put it skin-side down in a cold pan and slowly heat it. This will melt the fat first and then start to crisp up the skin and it's also more likely to stop the skin from burning than if you heat up the pan first.
 

Pan-fried duck breast recipe

Serves 2
EASY

  • 2 duck breasts
  • a knob of butter
  1. Score the duck breasts with parallel cuts through the skin but being careful not to cut all the way to the flesh. Season well and leave them to come to room temperature.
  2. Put the breasts skin-side down in a cold frying pan and slowly heat the pan. Fry the breasts for 6-7 minutes, letting the fat melt out and the skin start to crisp. Keep frying until the skin is crisp and brown and you have gotten rid of as much of the visible white fat as possible. This will take about 10-15 mins. Pour off the fat into a ceramic or glass dish.
  3. Turn the breasts over, add the butter and swirl the pan. Cook for 5 mins until the meat is browned all over. The duck breasts should feel soft but spring back slightly when pressed. Rest for 10 mins before slicing to serve.

How to cook duck legs  

Duck leg with potatoes and lettuce on a plate

Duck legs are traditionally ‘confit’, this means they are salted overnight and then submerged in duck fat and cooked slowly so they are preserved by the fat. Because the cooking method is low and slow the meat remains succulent and doesn’t dry out, and the fat isn’t absorbed so the meat isn’t fatty. The legs are then cooked at a high temperature in an oven to crisp up the skin. This method works far better than just roasting the legs as the meat remains tender.

It’s possible to get the same effect using less fat by cooking the legs in stock or wine and then covering them in fat. 

To cook confit duck legs, brush the fat off them, put them in a tin and roast them in an oven heated to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7 for 30-40 minutes, turning them once so both sides crisp.

Confit duck

How to roast a duck

Whole duck is usually roasted in one of two ways; Chinese-style where the skin is dried and lacquered as it cooks, or in the same way as a roast chicken in a hot oven. Roast duck however, unlike chicken, needs considerable help in de-fatting or it will taste greasy. This is done by scoring and pricking it all over to encourage the fat to run out.
 

Roast duck recipe

Serves 4
EASY

  • 1 large duck
  1. Heat oven to 120C/fan 100C/gas ½. Pull any excess fat from the duck’s cavity and score the skin in a criss-cross pattern. (The trick to not cutting into the flesh is to cut into the skin and fat at an angle rather than straight down.) Next, use a roasting fork or skewer to prick the skin of the duck all over – do this lightly so you don’t pierce the flesh underneath.
  2. Rub the duck generously with flaky sea salt, then lay, breast-side down, on a rack over a roasting tray. Roast the duck for 3 hrs, pricking again every now and then. 
  3. Turn the oven up to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and turn the duck over, roast for 30 mins and then rest for 10 mins. When the duck is cooked the leg joints should feel loose when wiggled, if they don’t, then cook it for a little longer. Tip any excess fat into a ceramic or glass dish while it is still hot.

How to make duck skin crisp

It’s easier to crisp the skin on a duck breast than a whole duck but the principle is the same:

  • Dry the skin well first, preferably overnight for a whole duck
  • Score or prick the skin all over so the fat can melt and escape
  • Keep the fat hot and don’t add any liquid to the skin-side of the duck as it cooks

What to do with duck fat

Leftover duck fat can be poured into a ceramic or glass container and chilled. Lift the fat off along with the jellied juices and use it within a week to roast potatoes.

To keep the fat for longer, lift off the juices, reheat it to a liquid and strain it through muslin before freezing it in cubes. Heat the fat in the roasting tin until sizzling before adding the potatoes.
 

5 of the best duck recipes

Roast spiced duck with plums

Roast spiced duck in a casserole dish with plums

In this recipe you score the skin before roasting the duck whole, which makes it very crisp, and the plums cook alongside the bird to make an instant plum sauce.

Roast spiced duck with plum  
 

Chinese roast duck

Chinese roast duck on a white plate

Chinese-style crispy duck is a popular classic, but you don't need to call the takeaway. If you have a little time and patience, you'll see that making it at home is worth the effort.

Chinese roast duck
 

Marmalade glazed roast duck

Marmalade glazed roast duck

Duck and orange are a match made in heaven and this recipe is perfect for entertaining. Oranges are so festive, too, so it would make a great centrepiece for a small gathering on Christmas Day.

Marmalade glazed roast duck
 

Roast duck breast with plum sauce

Roast duck slices ontop of mash and plums

Super simple, this duck recipe has a 20-minute plum sauce that can be made ahead to take the stress out of entertaining.

Roast duck breast with plum sauce
 

One-pan duck with Savoy cabbage

Duck breast slices with salad and potatoes on a plate

Cook the duck first and then fry the potatoes and cabbage in the duck fat, and it’s ready in under an hour.

One-pan duck with Savoy cabbage

Find more delicious duck recipes...

Duck recipes
Duck breast recipes
Duck leg recipes
Duck glossary

 

 

 

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