Who doesn’t love a perfect roast duck? Crispy skin, tender meat and just enough fat to make things interesting.
Getting there, however, can be daunting for inexperienced cooks. I mostly work with wild ducks and geese, but I do cook enough domestic birds to know my way around a bill and a pair of webbed feet.
A caveat: I don’t always roast my wild ducks or geese because the legs are better slow-cooked and the breasts served rare. But sometimes you want that pretty presentation, and small ducks, like teal or ruddy ducks (pictured above), are best enjoyed roasted whole. Here’s how I do it:
roast wild duck
This is a recipe specifically for wild ducks that are not morbidly obese. It will not really work well with hugely fat ducks or domestic ducks. For those ducks, use my slow roasted duck recipe. You will want to set the birds out for 30 minutes to an hour to warm up; roasting a cold duck doesn’t work well.
Geese can be a little harder to roast. They tend to be older and tougher than ducks, but you can use this recipe easily for small geese such as Ross’ geese, Aleutians or cacklers or smallish specklebelly geese. Large geese, such as normal-sized specklebellies, snow geese and typical Canada geese can be roasted whole, but I don’t really recommend it. Giant Canadas are, in my experience, terrible roasted whole.
As for sauces, I have a selection of wild game sauces elsewhere on this site. And perfect side dishes are mashed potatoes, polenta, roasted potatoes, spaetzle, etc. A good green salad is nice to cut the fattiness of the duck, too.
Prep Time: 30 minutes, resting time
Cook Time: 15-25 minutes
- 4 small ducks (teal, ruddy ducks, spoonies) or 2-4 larger ducks or small geese
- Lemon or orange wedges
- Duck fat, butter or lard
- 2-3 celery stalks
- Black pepper
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees or higher. I often cook ducks at 500 degrees, and small ducks are best cooked at these high temperatures. Let the oven preheat a good 20-30 minutes, and check the temperature before cooking. Let the ducks rest at room temperature while the oven heats up.
- If the duck is reasonably fat, use a needle to pierce the skin where there is a lot of fat under it: The front of the breast, between the breast and legs, at the flanks, and all over the back of the bird. Be careful not to pierce the meat. Rub a little duck fat, butter, olive oil or somesuch over the bird and dust it well with a good salt, such as fleur de sel. Stuff a lemon or orange wedge inside the duck.
- Place a few celery stalks onto an oven-proof pan, arranging them so you can rest the ducks on top. This prevents the ducks from sitting in its own juices. Roast in the oven as follows: About 10-15 minutes for teal or other small ducks, 13-20 minutes for anything up to the size of a gadwall, 18-25 minutes for a mallard or canvasback, and 25-45 minutes for a goose. The key here is an internal temperature of about 135-140 degrees. Don’t have an instant read thermometer? Get one. Ducks really need to be cooked medium-rare to medium. An overcooked duck is a sad thing.
- Take the duck out, move it to a cutting boar and tent it loosely with foil. Let it rest at least 5 minutes. Let large ducks rest closer to 10 minutes, and geese up to 15 minutes.
- If you want a simple pan sauce, remove the celery and stir a tablespoon or two of flour into the drippings, stirring well. Let this cook on the stove (you might be able to pull it off with the residual heat in the hot pan) until this roux is the color of coffee-with-cream. Add maybe a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, some wine or brandy and the juice of a lemon. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water or stock. Whisk everything to combine and taste for salt. Turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of minced parsley and a knob of butter. Swirl to combine and serve it hot.