I like maple syrup, and I like bourbon — and as it happens, a maple bourbon sauce makes a terrific gravy for roast duck or other meats. Here’s how I make it.
Duck season lasts 100 days here in California, so we eat a ton of ducks every autumn and winter. Whenever we bring home a pretty bird — one that is nicely fat and not too shot up — Holly and I often roast it whole. Most of the time we just carve it and eat it with salt, pepper and a little freshly squeezed lemon. But every now and again we crave gravy.
Gravy is to sauce what jeans are to slacks. A sauce can be aloof, even austere. Gravy is your mama ringing the dinner bell. Maple bourbon sauce is about as homey and as American as it gets, a meeting of North and South on the plate in the service of duck, venison, or really whatever you feel like pouring it over. I bet it would even be good with chicken.
Duck, maple syrup and bourbon are three ingredients that really ought to spend more time together. The combination is plenty rich, with a sweetness that duck really benefits from; a touch of Tabasco balances things without making the gravy overly spicy.
As is the case when you cook with wine, you will want to use a bourbon you would want to drink for your maple bourbon sauce. My standard is Maker’s Mark, which is a fine bourbon that won’t break the bank. Save the Pappy Van Winkle’s for after dinner.
Do try to get 100 percent real maple syrup, not the cheap adulterated product. It’s expensive, but worth it. Birch syrup is another good option, as is hickory syrup. Come to think of it, hickory is the best of all options, but it’s hard to find.
If you’re looking for other good recipes for other gravies or similar sauces, try my Southern red eye gravy, or a traditional Thanksgiving turkey gravy.
Duck with Maple-Bourbon Sauce
- 2 wild ducks, such as mallards, pintail, canvasbacks, gadwall or redheads
- Olive oil to coat ducks
- Pan drippings from the duck, about 3 tablespoons
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/3 cup bourbon or whisky
- 1/2 cup duck stock, beef stock or water
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot sauce
- 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Take the ducks out of the fridge and coat them with olive oil. Salt them well inside and out. Let them come towards room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- When the oven is ready, put the ducks breast side up in a cast-iron frying pan or other heavy, oven-proof pan. Make sure they do not touch each other. Roast until the breast meat hits about 135°F to 140°F, about 18 to 22 minutes. Remove the ducks from the oven and carve off the breasts. Set them skin side up on a cutting board. Return the ducks to the oven so you can cook the legs another 5 minutes.
- Take the ducks out of the oven again. Move the ducks to the cutting board and put the pan on the stovetop. Turn the heat to medium-high and crisp up the skin on the breasts. This should take about 2 to 4 minutes. Watch out for the pan handle -- it will be very hot! Once the breast skin is crisp, move it to the cutting board skin side up.
MAPLE BOURBON SAUCE
- You want 3 tablespoons of duck fat left in the pan. Spoon out extra or add some butter if you are short. Add the flour and mix well. Turn the heat to medium and cook the flour for 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the bourbon. The roux will seize up, so be ready with the stock or water. Add it, stirring all the while, to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer. Pour in the maple syrup, Tabasco, and add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for for a minute or two. If the gravy has the right consistency, you are ready to add the cream. If it is too thick, add more stock. If it is too thin, let it boil down a bit. Once it is the consistency of Thanksgiving gravy, add the cream and cook 1 minute.
- Carve the ducks and give everyone some breast meat and legs. Serve with mashed potatoes, pouring the gravy over everything.
Me and my boyfriend are going on an anniversary trip and the place we are staying doesn’t have a full kitchen. If I prepare this recipe Saturday morning, pack it with us and we reheat it that Saturday evening, will the duck and gravy still be delicious? How does it hold up? The place we’re staying does have camping burners. Should we reheat the duck on those or would the microwave suffice? Thanks in advance!
Hank Shaw says
Taylor: I wouldn’t. You want the duck medium to medium-rare, and it will suffer on reheating, and gravy is never as good the next day. If it were me, I would make something like a stew earlier in the week, then reheat that on Saturday night. Or just take the uncooked duck in a cooler and cook it on the camping burners. I’ve made this gravy in a cast iron pan over open flame, so that’s an option, too.
No maple in Louisiana, so substituted 1/2 Steen’s cane syrup + 1/2 honey.
Thanks, worked out good. Sid P.S. on pork, of all things.
Oh My Gosh! What a fantastic recipie! We de-boned our ducks and I cooked them on a cookie sheet after smearing bacon grease on them with salt and pepper at 450 for about 2-3 min each side…
We had a sauce taste fest — Cumberland Sauce and Chimichurri Sauce along with the Maple Bourbon Gravy. I was going to do the Chinese Wild Plum, but no plums available this time of year…
I have just found your site and LOVE it!
Andrew H says
I was curious, have you ever substituted sour cream for the heavy cream?
Aaron T. Myers says
Hi Hank, two quick questions for you:
1) Given that the instructions ultimately result in separating the breasts and cooking the legs further, is there any reason to roast the bird whole in the first place? Why not just remove the breasts and legs/thighs at the outset, and cook them separately from the carcass?
2) Aside from the gravy, these instructions seem similar but not identical to your “Roast Wild Duck” recipe (https://honest-food.net/2013/12/24/roast-wild-duck-recipe/). Why the differences? Thanks a lot!
Hank Shaw says
Hey Aaron: I tend to do this recipe with very fat ducks or domesticated ones, thus the removal of the breasts midstream. Could you cook them separately? Sure. More pans to deal with though.
Tom Dickson says
This gravy recipe is just another reason I love this blog. It is absolutely out of this world. Pour it over boiled raccoon. Dip a wood chip in it. Anything would taste good covered in this goo. Thanks again, Hank. You keep raising the bar. (By the way, all I had around the house was an Islay Scotch. So peaty, but melded with the maple syrup it gave the gravy a great deciduous/anaerobic/sphagnum moss undertone. And, as always, my Stormy Kromer is off to the talented Holly A. Heyser for luring us all in with her fabulous food styling and photography.
LB @ Bullets And Biscuits says
This is the first year of my husband duck hunting and he brought home (3) mallards. Finding this post is perfect timing for me!! Especially with us being “meat and potato” people, haha. YUM!!
Sarah G says
Lovely looking duck. I am adding bourbon a lot these days to all things, sweet and savoury. Great picture, BTW. And those look like some tasty mushrooms.
Hank Shaw says
Mike: The recipe for the maple-bourbon BBQ sauce is in this recipe: https://honest-food.net/2012/04/08/barbecued-turkey-thighs-recipe/
Not only am I jealous that your duck season lasts longer into winter, but you have candy caps as well. They just don’t seem to grow here in Montana. I guess we’re stuck with morels and boletes. Will have to try this recipe.
Looks great! Now about that maple-bourbon BBQ sauce?
As an aside, typically the cheaper the maple syrup, the more maple-y it tastes.
And like most Canadian whisky, Crown contains a lot of corn whisky too. I think Crown might even rely on it as their base whisky.
In my mind i made a connection with this recipe and the new maple crown royal that just came out recently. hmm…