Herbed Roast Duck is the perfect holiday meal for a small crowd, or a great dinner for two with tasty leftovers for soups and more.
Ever roasted a duck? It's surprisingly simple and makes the perfect, festive meal for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter—or whenever the mood takes you. Stick with me and I'll tell you everything you need to know!
Herbed Roast Duck and my favorite cookbook
I first made Herbed Roast Duck for Phil on Valentine's Day last year. Then, I made it again at Christmas.
I found the original version this recipe in The Silver Spoon: a cookbook originally written in Italian back in 1950, and finally translated into English in the 1990s.
This is in my top 5 favorite cookbooks of all time.
The recipe I found involved a lot of fresh herbs.
Some are hard to actually find in fresh form—for example, tarragon and chervil—but don't sweat it. There are plenty of herbs to go around.
The tangy, aromatics-infused sauce, which reminds me of a Hollandaise, is the perfect foil to the rich, succulent meat.
Herbed Roast Duck recipe
I've overhauled the herbed roast duck recipe from the book somewhat.
I begin with a super-hot oven for lovely, golden-brown skin, and also by adding chicken broth to the roasting pan to keep the bird from drying out.
I start out with the bird breast-side down on the rack in my roasting pan for the first 45 minutes. Then rotate it and dot the breast with butter.
The bird continues cooking for about an hour longer: at the 30-minute mark, I rotate the pan and baste the bird with the pan juices.
When the legs wiggle easily in their sockets and the temperature of the thickest part of the leg reads 165°F, the bird is done.
I rest it for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Please note that the breast meat will be done at this point, but, unlike the case with turkey breast meat, it will still be somewhat pink.
To explain why this is the case, we need a tiny lesson in muscle physiology. This was my area of study during grad school: Yay! It DID come in handy after all!
Disclaimer: if you're science-averse/easily bored, please skip this part and scroll down to the "PHEW" a few paragraphs below.
Duck and Turkey: Why does the meat look different?
[I strongly suggest reading the following discussion out loud in the style of Monty Python and/or Julia Childs. I promise that it will be more funny than boring that way.]
We all know from the Thanksgiving Dinner extravaganza that cuts of turkey come in 2 flavors: white and dark meat. This is not the case with duck, which is all dark meat.
Ducks, unlike turkeys, fly long distances. Turkeys, especially the farm-raised ones that are bred to have brontosaurus-sized breasts, rarely ever fly. If they do, they only fly short distances.
Because of the very different flying behavior of ducks and turkeys, their breast muscles are made up of very different stuff.
Turkeys have lots of fast-twitch muscle fibers: these are great for short bursts of vigorous activity, after which they quickly become fatigued.
This is obviously not ideal for long-distance flying ducks, but just fine for turkeys.
Slow-twitch fibers, on the other hand, are all about stamina: unlike the fast-twitch variety, these fibers contain a high concentration of myoglobin.
This protein reversibly binds oxygen, releasing it under conditions of oxygen deprivation: for example, during maintained exercise (like flying!).
Myoglobin is a reddish color when it's bound to oxygen in the same way that blood is red when oxygenated—though in the case of blood, hemoglobin—myoglobin's cousin—plays the oxygen-delivery role.
So there you have it. It all boils down to this: turkeys and ducks are very different birds.
DUCKS = long distance fliers = lots of slow-twitch muscle = lots of myoglobin = lots of dark meat.
TURKEYS = lazy loafers = lots of fast-twitch muscle = not as much myoglobin = lots of white meat.
PHEW. Lecture over.
How do you carve a duck?
Any time I have to do something completely mystifying like folding a fitted bedsheet, or, in this case, carving a duck, I look up relevant videos on YouTube.
I had a whole paragraph explaining how to do it in text form, then promptly deleted it because it had words like "keel bone." Here's a selection of YouTube videos to help you out.
Herbed Roast Duck: the Sauce
This sauce involves a delicious reduction of herb-infused balsamic vinegar.
If you have ever made Hollandaise sauce, you'll recognize the technique for assembling the rest of the sauce.
Egg yolks, butter, and a double boiler are key players—but there are also non-Hollandaise components like tomato paste and cream.
Servings and leftovers
Herbed Roast Duck is a perfect special-occasion dinner for a smallish group.
If you serve the duck with plenty of side dishes, it will feed 6. Split the breasts or separate the thighs from the drumsticks.
I've served the duck with Arugula-Shaved-Fennel Salad and Double Mushroom Barley Pilaf, for example.
I love to use leftover roasted duck for Slow-Cooker Duck Pho, a delicious Vietnamese soup.
Even if there's no leftover meat, I simmer the carcass with some aromatics and ginger, then strain it to get duck broth. The delicious, rich broth is well worth the effort.
For even more leftovers ideas, check out my post on Using up Leftovers!
I'm linking my Herbed Roast Duck recipe up with:
- #CookBlogShare, a weekly link party with tons of recipes from international food bloggers. Guest hosted this week by Casa de Costello!
- Delicious Dishes Recipe Party, a weekly link party where bloggers share their most delicious recipes and check out other bloggers’ amazing recipes, hosted by Walking on Sunshine.
- The What’s For Dinner Sunday Linkup at The Lazy Gastronome.
Herbed Roast Duck
Herbed Roast Duck is impressive enough for a holiday dinner party, but is also perfect for a romantic dinner à deux for Valentine's Day. I should know: I've done both! The bird is perfumed with herbs from the inside and garnished with an aromatics-infused, tangy sauce.
- 6 lb. duck
- 1 small onion, peeled
- 2 fresh sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf, (dried or fresh)
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- 1 sprig of fresh marjoram
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- ¼ cup butter, cubed and divided
- 2 cups chicken broth, hot
- 1 sprig of fresh chervil, (or use ½ tsp. dried)
- 1 sprig of fresh tarragon, (or use ½ tsp. dried)
- 5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 3 black peppercorns, crushed
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tbsp. heavy cream
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Remove neck, giblets, and any glaze/sauce packets from the cavity of the duck, reserving giblets and neck for another use—like making duck stock. If the duck has a pop-up timer, remove it and discard. Carefully rinse duck (avoid splashing!), inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any excess fat or fat pads that you can easily get to without damaging the skin. Cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Position your oven rack in the lower third of your oven; preheat oven to 500°F. While the oven preheats, sprinkle 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper around the cavity of the duck. Place the onion and the fresh herbs through the thyme sprigs into the cavity. Truss the legs to the tail with kitchen twine. Pin the neck flap to the back with toothpicks and tuck the wing tips under the back (I sometimes break the joint in the wings so that they tuck under more easily). Salt and pepper the outside of the duck liberally.
- Place the duck, breast side down, onto a rack set in a shallow roasting pan. Add the hot broth to the pan; place the roasting pan in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and roast for 45 minutes.
- Carefully take the roasting pan out of the oven. Turn the duck breast-side up and replace onto rack. Dot the breast with half of the butter cubes and return to the oven. Roast for an additional 45 minutes to an hour (basting with the pan juices once and turning the roasting pan), or until you can until you can easily wiggle the legs in their sockets and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the drumstick reads 165°F. Remove the duck from the oven and place onto a cutting board; allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
- While the duck rests, prepare the sauce. Pour the vinegar into a saucepan over low heat with the peppercorns, chervil, and tarragon. Simmer until the vinegar has reduced by half. Strain into a bowl and allow to cool. Mix together the egg yolks, tomato paste, and cream to a heatproof bowl or double boiler. Season with ⅛ tsp. each salt and pepper. Set over barely simmering water; gradually whisk in the remaining butter. Remove sauce from heat and mix in the reduced vinegar. Check for seasoning.
- Carve the duck and set onto a serving platter: make it pretty, garnishing with any remaining herb sprigs. Serve with sauce spooned over the slices of duck. Enjoy!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: ¼ of the bird
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 700Sodium: 1047mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 133g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!
Countdown to Thanksgiving: a complete work-ahead guide to the perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with turkey and all the fixings.
Using up leftovers: My favorite recipes for using up leftovers from big meals.
Hubby's just decided he likes duck (he's a fussy eater - so I'm always delighted to be able to try something new). I made a roast duck the other day (like a chicken) and it was OK-ish. Hubby enjoyed it though and bought another one so I've got one waiting in the freezer. I'm going to try your way of doing it - it sounds delish!
My hubby took some convincing as well, but he's come around. I hope you like this version! Thanks for stopping by!
Corina Blum says
I think duck is such a great alternative meat to cook at Christmas! It's very festive and perfect for a small gathering. We had ducks on our farm when I was growing up so we always used to eat it at some point at Christmas time. Thanks for sharing with #CookOnceEatTwice!
Thank you, Corina! I didn't have my first duck until I was an adult, but I just love it. My husband isn't a huge fan, but he likes the sauce in this recipe to cut the richness of the meat. But what he's REALLY looking for is the duck pho I make with the leftovers! 😛
Never had duck but your recipe sounds delicious. I think I can use it to make whole chicken roast.
Thank you, Balvinder! I think it would be delicious for chicken as well. 😉 Just keep in mind that the cooking times will be quite different.
Helen at the Lazy Gastronome says
Coming from a German family, we had roast duck for Christmas often. This looks amazing. Thanks for sharing at the What's for Dinner party. Hope to see you again tomorrow.
Thank you, Helen! I never even tried duck until I was in my thirties!
What a fragrant recipe! So many tasty herbs and there is even one I’ve never heard before - chervil. Happy thanksgiving!
Thank you, Monika! And Happy Holidays to you!! 🙂
Cat | Curly's Cooking says
Love the look of that crispy skin! I only eat Chinese crispy duck but the crisp skin on yours has got me wanting to try this!
Thanks, Cat! Chinese duck is something that I have yet to make: but it's on my bucket list!! 😉
Very simple to make and delicious. The whole family loved it!
It makes me so happy to hear that! Thanks for the feedback, and have a great day!
Platter Talk says
Mmmmm. I love roast duck. Yours has a nice, crispy skin. Just the way I like it!
Thank you, Dan! You and me both! 😉
Allison - Celebrating Sweets says
I have never made duck before. This would be a great recipe for me to try. Thanks for sharing!
Willow | Will Cook For Friends says
I love this! I literally was grinning while I read the sciency part, because A., I love learning about food science, and B., I TOTALLY read it in a Monty Python / Julie Child voice in my head, and it was high-larious!
I've always been intimidated to try a whole roast duck, but you really broke it down and made it sound so easy. I'm pinning this so the next time whole duck goes on sale, I know exactly what recipe to turn to. Thanks for the thorough explanation!
HAHAHA!!! Thank you, Willow! I really hope you enjoy the recipe. I'm glad you enjoyed my geeky post!
debi at Life Currents says
I had duck once at a Chinese food restaurant many years ago. I've never actually thought to make it at home. Your recipe makes it sound possible. Thanks so much!
Thanks, Debi! I hope you like it!
Kim @ Three Olives Branch says
What a great combination of flavors! Love all the herbs, it looks delicious!
Sharee Hill says
I have always wanted to try to make seared duck breast. Thanks for sharing your tips and yummy recipe to help guide me!
You're welcome Sharee, and thanks for stopping by!