Tom Cooks! Duck

Well, after Wednesday's D for Duck column I don't have much choice, do I? Many food writers say that duck and fruit go well together. Accordingly, I begin with raspberry. A big loud one to all of you who wrote in to say that I had misspelled Pekin and that it should have been Peking. Well, I hadn't, so ya boo socks to you, as one of my daughters used to say. Pekin duck is a bird, Peking Duck is a dish. (Mind you I did lose the moral high ground a little, having egregiously misspelled Gressingham.)

Peking Duck

And I suppose you're expecting Peking Duck as well? I did actually consider it. I read that many chefs have simplified the incredibly complex process to allow the dish to be made at home. I even tracked down a domestic recipe. Its first two ingredients were, 1 bicycle pump and 1 electric fan. For those of you who don't know, air is used to separate the skin from the fat. That recipe counselled, You may have to do this more than once. Some ducks are more airtight than others. You then soak the duck in boiling water and dry it, then you glaze with a layer of maltose and rinse the inside, then you glaze with a secret marinade and leave for 24 hours. Then and only then do you get round to cooking it. My advice is to take yourself to a Chinese restaurant of good repute, and part with some folding stuff.

Speaking of folding stuff, you could go to Le Tour d'Argent in Paris, where the specialty of the house is their pressed duck, each individually numbered. No. 33,642 was served to President Teddy Roosevelt, and No. 253,652 was enjoyed by Charlie Chaplin. Assuming prices don't increase after the Paris lockdown, two of you can enjoy this delicacy for a mere 145€ a head. As that's not available just now, and as you have been screaming for something complex, I offer you a little cracker I found in Larousse Gastronomique, Wild Duck a la Walter Scott. Ticks all our boxes, I'm sure you agree.

Roast your duck. See On The Side for details. Fry its liver in butter then mash together with 20g of foie gras. Fry two croutons in butter (clarified, of course) and spread them with the liver paste. Core two apples, stud each with 4 cloves and cook as for apples bonne femme (see below). Dilute some Dundee marmalade with 2 tbsp whisky and heat gently. When the duck is cooked, place it on a serving dish. Remove the cloves from the apples. Put the croutons on the serving dish, place an apple on each one and pour the marmalade/whisky mixture down the holes.

If you ever make this, let me know how it turns out.

The basic cooking technique for apples bonne femme is as follows. Remove the stem and core from an apple, leaving the skin on. Score the skin along the circumference about a third of the way down. (This is important as it prevents your apple exploding.) Place each apple on  a piece of bread to soak up the juices. Drizzle with apricot jam and maple syrup, and stuff a good sized piece of butter down the hole.  Bake for about an hour at 190˚C/Mark 5.

OK, time to get sensible. Duck smacks of luxury; however, if you use duck legs you can feed a very hungry person for two quid. The following recipe is a real favourite with us, as the potatoes are flavoured with the duck fat. It may sound an awful lot of potato for two people, but I'll be amazed if you don't scoff the lot.  If you just want to cook the duck legs on their own, the technique is exactly the same. This is another recipe from the lovely Sarah Mellersh of the late lamented Let's Cook Scotland. I know Sarah occasionally reads this column - thanks again.

Ideally, use an oven proof frying pan. If you don't have one you can transfer the duck to a roasting tray, but make sure it's preheated.

Roast Duck Legs with Oven Sautéed Potatoes (Serves 2)


2 duck legs; 450g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes; ½ tsp dried thyme; half a head of garlic (separate the cloves leaving the skin on, but remove the papery exterior and snip the top of each clove); salt and pepper.


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Heat the frying pan over a medium heat. There is no need for any oil. Make sure that the duck legs are at room temperature, and pat them dry. Place the legs skin side down and leave until the skin is a golden brown, and some fat is coming out. Resist the temptation to fiddle with them. When the legs are brown, arrange the potatoes and garlic in the pan and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the legs, skin side up, on top of the potatoes and put the pan in the oven. Cook for one and a half to two hours, turning the potatoes two or three times. After serving, you can squeeze the glorious cooked garlic out like little toothpaste tubes.

Duck legs on their own will cook in an hour and a half.





  1. lesley x on 13th November 2020 at 5:11 pm

    It seems a lot of potato, but there again the author always says that “tatties” are his favourite veg.

  2. Janet Hood on 13th November 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Ok is that a real challenge? Al used to make me Peking Duck bicycle pump and all – that was when we were all young amd slim

    • Tom Johnston on 13th November 2020 at 6:25 pm

      Yes, my lovely, but he was a professional.

      • Anne Hillerton on 13th November 2023 at 12:03 pm

        Your duck on potatoes recipe is one of our go-to dishes and we are very grateful for it. We tweak it by adding beetroot to the potatoes, cut up slightly smaller to cook in the same time.

        • Tom Johnston on 13th November 2023 at 2:14 pm

          Interesting tweak, and duck legs are such great value.

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