Cuisine Fiend

roast wild duck

Wed, 4 March, 2015


Mallard, the wild ancestor of the domestic duck, is my favourite game. The plumper the bird, the tenderer it will be but the secret is to salt it as much in advance as you can, to tenderise the meat.

roast wild mallard duck

How to cook wild duck?

There are usually two ways to tackle duck - remove the breast fillets and cook them pink, remove the legs and confit them. Alternatively you can roast the whole bird slow, low and crispy, only to be afterwards shredded and wrapped in pancakes, Chinese style.

Roast a whole wild duck

But the bird can actually be roasted whole or in quarters until pink. I spent a lovely summer a few years ago in Languedoc and passed numerous mealtimes in a great eatery called De La Grille. They did just a few things and did them well - salads, a whole grilled cuttlefish, simple pizzas and my favourite grilled duck.

I think it was roasted rather than grilled in an enormous wood oven where they concocted most of their menu, served as a hind quarter (they reserved the breast for the pricier option) and utterly delicious. Pinkish, tender, fantastic.

the best way to cook wild mallard duck

Wild duck is the nicest game bird

That is also the best approach for wild mallard, arguably the nicest game bird. It is tenderer than pheasant, more flavoursome than partridge and much more substantial than pigeon. And it is in the much more affordable league than grouse.

Breast is delicious when cooked medium but legs usually need a tad longer spell, if necessary, so I’ve used here (and somewhat simplified) Pierre Koffman’s recipe for roast wild duck.

pan seared and oven roasted wild duck

How to tenderise wild mallard?

Female mallards are plumper and thus tenderer but unless you have shot it yourself, you’re likely not to know. Marinating might tenderise meat sometimes but game birds have their unique, wonderful flavour and taste so smothering it in aromatics is not my chosen method.

how to ensure the wild duck mallard is tender

Salt the bird

Salt alone, on the other hand, works wonders. As soon as you lay your eyes on the bird (okay - after you’ve transported it home, plucked), liberally season it all over with fine salt, leave it in the fridge, unwrapped, and let salt work the magic for up to 48 hours.

Wild mallard is usually large enough to share between two people, and there’s no need to carve it. Once roasted and rested, chop it in half lengthwise with poultry scissors and allocate a half and a leg (previously detached) per person.

roast wild duck

Servings: 2Time: 40 minutes


  • 1 large mallard duck
  • fine sea salt
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 leek, green part only, sliced
  • 1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 100ml white wine
  • black pepper


1. As soon as you have brought the duck home, unwrap it and generously sprinkle with sea salt, inside and out, rubbing the salt into the skin. Place on a plate, unwrapped, and leave in the fridge ideally for 24 hours or as long as you can (up to 48 hours).

2. When you're ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Scatter the diced vegetables in a roasting pan with the juniper berries and the bay leaves, pour in the wine and place in the oven while you brown the duck in a pan.


3. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and, over a medium heat, brown the duck well on all sides - with the windows open as it will smoke ferociously.

4. Transfer the duck to the roasting pan and settle on the vegetable bed. Season the breast with black pepper and roast for 14-25 minutes depending on the size of the duck. If you have spent some time browning the duck, 10 minutes may be enough.

cooking wild mallard duck

5. Take the tray with the duck out of the oven and remove the legs, cutting through the hip bone with poultry scissors. The bird will be hot so use a tea-towel or oven gloves to protect your hands. Put the legs back in the pan to cook for a further 3 minutes. Leave the rest of the bird to rest in a warm place.

6. When the legs are ready (you might want to check with a digital probe, it should read 65 – 70C inserted in the thickest part of the leg), let them rest for a few minutes with the duck crown, then carve the breast or just cut each in half and serve with the legs and some cooking juices.

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