Roast duck with orange, soy and ginger
Ducks – 2 x 2kg (or 1.8kg without giblets)
Smooth-skinned oranges – 2 mediumsized, skin only, finely pared with a vegetable peeler
Fresh ginger – 50g, cut into coins
Star anise – 4
Cold water – 500ml
Soy sauce – 5 x 15ml tablespoons (75ml)
Honey – 2 x 15ml tablespoons
1 Take the ducks out of the fridge. Remove and discard the giblets, if the ducks have come with them (or, for a cook’s treat, fry the liver in butter and deglaze with brandy), then cut off and discard the parson’s nose with a pair of scissors and remove any excess fat around the cavity. Leave the ducks to come to room temperature. Lightly prick the skin all over with a cocktail stick.
2 Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. Once it’s hot, pour water from a freshly boiled kettle into a deep roasting tin, to come about 1cm up the sides, and place a rack on top. Sit the ducks on it, breast-side up, and cook in the oven for 1½ hours.
Then take the tin carefully out of the oven and, again, prick the ducks assiduously: you will see the fat bubbling and running out. Using oven gloves for ease, remove the ducks – pouring any liquid collected in the cavities into the tin below – to a couple of baking sheets, or similar, and leave to cool before transferring to the fridge (within 2 hours), where they can stay, preferably uncovered, for a day or two. Once it’s cooled down a little, carefully pour the liquid from the roasting tin into a large, heatproof jug and leave to cool, then refrigerate. When the fat’s cold and solidified, remove (discarding the water underneath) and store in the fridge to roast with at a later date.
3 About 2 hours before you want to roast your ducks, take them out of the fridge and sit them, breast-side up, on top of a wire rack sitting over a deep roasting tin, to come to room temperature; they really mustn’t have any chill about them. As soon as the ducks are out of the fridge, drop the finely pared orange peel into a small saucepan. Add the ginger, star anise and cold water, and bring to the boil. Let it boil for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and leave to steep for 2-3 hours.
4 Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan. Lightly prick the duck skin all over with a cocktail stick, yet again, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a few fatty blisters, bubble-wrap style, probably on the underside: if you do, press on them to push out and remove little dots of fat; this is very satisfying work. I know it doesn’t sound attractive in the context of cooking, but I have to say it: it is just like squeezing spots.
5 Transfer the ducks to the hot oven and roast for 50-60 minutes, turning the tin around halfway through, until the skin is crisp and bronzed. You will get some stippled dark brown patches – that’s fine. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes.
6 Before you carve, finish the sauce. Remove and discard the orange peel, ginger and star anise. Add the soy sauce, put the pan back on the heat and bring to the boil, then switch off the heat and stir in the honey to dissolve it. Pour into a warmed gravy boat or jug.
7 Carve the breast thinly and remove the meat from the legs or leave them whole, as wished, then arrange on a warmed plate, along with any crisp skin that’s left on the bird. Spoon a little of the orange, soy and ginger sauce just over the meat. Serve absolutely immediately.
The essence of a perfect roast duck is crisp skin and tender meat. All too often, the former comes at the cost of the latter. I have been assured that the platonic ideal of a roast duck can be achieved by blanching it in boiling water three times; suspending it for a couple of days on a coat hanger to dry; inserting a straw under the skin and blowing through it so that the skin puffs up and away from the flesh; then hanging it vertically in the oven to roast. That’s never going to work for me. But I have a method that does. It is a two-stage process, but don’t let that put you off, as both stages are very low effort. In fact, it’s a development and simplification of a recipe from [my book] How To Eat, in which the duck was poached, cooled, then roasted. There’s nothing wrong at all with that method, but it occurred to me that the same glorious effect could be achieved by steaming the duck in the oven, which does away with the need to get a duck in and out of a pan of bubbling water. The initial steam-roasting works in the same way, though: the meat cooks gently and stays tender, and the excess fat under the skin drips away, which makes the skin itself crisp up more during its second-stage roasting. (It also means that the oven won’t get as smoky as it does with any regular roasting method.) Despite the Asian-spiced sauce – more of an anointing liquid, really – this isn’t in any way a Peking roast duck, with its lacquer carapace, but a perfect, plain roast duck with wonderful, wafery crisp skin and delicate shards of “quackling”. You don’t need to add anything to the duck as it roasts, as meat and sauce deliver all the flavour needed. I say “duck”, but we’re actually talking ducks here, as you can’t get enough for more than two or three people out of one.