Savoury Duck with Lychees

Thailand is blessed with a large variety of tropical and, to us, exotic fruits. It is therefore not surprising that these fruits have found their way into the Thai cooking canon. Such fruits are often paired with meats and the result is always delectable.

I am especially fond of duck with lychees (also called lichees, litchis). Here rich duck meat is combined with the sweet flavour of juicy lychees in an aromatic sauce. In Thailand this recipe calls for a whole duck, cooked bones and all. I find it a bit dry and prefer to substitute duck breasts, both for succulence and convenience. An impressive centrepiece for any meal.


  • 450 g (1 lb) boneless duck breasts, skinned
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh galangal root or ginger
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) tinned coconut milk
  • 600 ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 225 g (8 oz) fresh or tinned, drained lychees
  • 4 large fresh red Thai chillies, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce or light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves or 2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
  • handful fresh basil leaves


Cut the duck breasts into thick slices 4 cm ( in) long. Put the duck slices into a bowl and add the salt, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, pepper and cornflour. Mix well and let the slices steep in the marinade for about 20 minutes.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is very hot. Add the groundnut oil, and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the duck and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Transfer the duck to a stainless-steel colander set inside a bowl, leaving behind about tablespoons of oil in the wok. Reheat the wok. Add the garlic and galangal and stir-fry for 2 minutes, then add the shrimp paste and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Slowly drizzle in the coconut milk, stirring all the while. Then add the stock, lychees, chillies, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, lime leaves and peanuts. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Return the duck to the wok or pan. Stir to mix well, toss in the basil leaves and serve at once.