Double-cooked duck

The Chinese are the undisputed masters of duck cookery. The basic Cantonese roast duck hanging in every Chinatown window is utterly superb, tender, crispy skinned and with most of the fat rendered out. The cooking process used to get this result is complicated and basically unachievable at home – witness the numerous Chinese ladies buying whole ducks to take away at the tiny ‘pork and duck’ café in Macclesfield Street.

I wanted to duplicate some aspects of this duck to use in a more western context at Frith Street. So a two-stage cooking process evolved: the duck is first boiled in salted water for 10 minutes, drained, allowed to cool and left uncovered in the fridge overnight; the next day it is roasted. The preliminary boiling starts the duck’s subcutaneous fat cooking and helps it to render out during the secondary stage in the oven. The duck, or more accurately duckling, used in this recipe will just about feed four, but two people could feast on it and have delicious shredded duck salad the next day.

I suppose this could be viewed as an early incarnation of ‘fusion’ cooking in that it combines elements of Chinese, French and English techniques. The important word here is ‘technique’: because the sauce is French even if I call it a gravy; the degree of doneness inflicted on the duck would gladden any Englishman’s heart; but a canny Chinese method has been introduced to improve the end result. This end result can only be viewed as a classic roast duck.

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  • 1 duckling
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped.
  • 1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, strings removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 50 g butter
  • 25 g plain flour


The Day Before Serving

Bring a large pan of water to a boil, and add salt. For a pronounced Chinese accent to this dish substitute Soy Master Stock for at least some of the water at this stage. With a fork gently prick the duck all over and plunge it into the boiling cauldron. Scald for 10 minutes then gingerly remove it with a spider or slotted spoon. Allow to drain and cool then pat dry and hold uncovered in your fridge overnight. You will be well advised to keep the semi-cooked duck away from any other meat or dairy produce in the fridge unless you want to start a salmonella culture.

Roasting the Duck

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Prepare the vegetables and place in a roasting dish with a rack on top. Season the duck liberally inside and out with salt and pepper then push the lemon inside its body cavity. Place on the rack, breast uppermost, and roast for 1 hour. Do not turn, prod or do anything to the duck at all during this time.

However, it’s not quite that easy: you will need to turn the oven down to 170°C/325°F/Gas 3 after a quarter of an hour, and most of the fat must be removed from the dish about half-way through the cooking. Do not throw this fat away, but cool and store in the fridge for the next time you do roast potatoes.

Remove the duck from the oven and carefully transfer to a large serving plate to rest while you make the gravy.

Making the Gravy

Remove the rack from the roasting dish and spoon out most of the fat that has accumulated. Add the wine to the caramelised vegetables in the dish and place over a high flame. Boil until the wine is almost evaporated then add 1 litre of water and the stock cube. Continue to boil rapidly, scraping and stirring for 10 minutes. Add any juices that have run out of the duck during its rest: to encourage this, tip the duck up and carefully stab the lemon inside.

While the gravy is boiling, mix the butter with the flour to form a smooth paste. Sieve the solids out of the gravy whilst transferring it to a saucepan, return it to a simmer and drop in pellets of the butter and flour paste. Do this a few at a time, swirling the pan to help them melt and incorporate. The gravy will thicken quite rapidly. As soon as the last pellet has dissolved, adjust the seasoning, give one last boil and transfer to a sauceboat. Add any more juices that have accumulated below the by now very relaxed duckling.


Carve the duckling as best you can, and serve on a heated platter with a little gravy poured on top. Pass the rest of the gravy in its sauceboat. Roast potatoes, spring greens simply boiled and buttered, and a few nice carrots would be good with the duck. Oven Chips, would be ideal, and if you used the duck fat extricated from under the bird during the roasting the timing should be spot on.