Duck is a delicious and festive alternative to turkey or chicken for your Christmas feast. It has a rich and succulent flavour, crispy skin and tender meat that goes well with a variety of sauces and sides.
Here, the Christmas.co.uk team will show you how to buy and cook a duck for Christmas dinner.
Why choose duck for Christmas lunch?
Duck is a popular choice for Christmas lunch because it is festive, tasty and easy to cook. Here are some reasons why you might want to choose duck for your Christmas feast:
It is different: If you are bored of having turkey or chicken every year, duck is a great way to change things up and surprise your guests. Duck has a distinctive flavour that is richer and gamier than other poultry. It also has a higher fat content which makes it moist and succulent.
- It is versatile: Duck can be cooked in different ways and paired with different sauces and sides. You can roast it whole or in parts, confit it or pan-fry it. You can also experiment with different flavours and cuisines, from traditional British to French, Chinese or Moroccan.
- It is easy to cook: Duck is not difficult to cook if you follow some simple tips and tricks. You don’t need to brine it, stuff it or baste it constantly. You just need to score the skin, season it well and roast it until it is golden and crisp. You can also make use of the rendered fat to make delicious roast potatoes or save it for later use.
How to buy a duck for Christmas
When buying a duck, you want to look for a plump and firm bird with smooth and unblemished skin. The colour of the skin should be creamy white or pale yellow, not pink or grey.
The weight of the duck you need will depend on how many people you are serving, but as a general rule, you should allow about 500g per person.
A whole duck will usually weigh between 2kg and 3kg, while a duck crown (which is just the breast and wings) will weigh around 1.5kg. You can also buy duck legs separately if you prefer.
You can buy fresh or frozen duck from most supermarkets, butchers or online retailers. If you buy a frozen duck, make sure you defrost it thoroughly in the fridge before cooking.
You can also buy ready-made confit duck legs, which are cooked slowly in duck fat and then preserved. These are very convenient and easy to reheat in the oven.
Some of the best brands of duck in the UK are Gressingham – check out their cooking video below – and Cherry Valley.
Gressingham is known for its high-quality free-range ducks that are bred from wild mallard and Pekin ducks.
Cherry Valley is a British company that specialises in Pekin ducks that have a mild and delicate flavour.
Christmas.co.uk Top Tip: You’ll need to appreciate that a significant portion of a duck constitutes fat. So, what might appear as a sizeable bird will notably reduce in size post-cooking.
Gok’s take on Christmas dinner with an AROMATIC roast duck!
We loved this video from Gok Wan offering up a tasty and different take for the main course on Christmas Day – an aromatic roast duck.
The fun starts at 3:35 in the video of a festive dinner. You have to start the process the day before though.
Gok starts dry frying spices and then puts together a paste for the bird.
The paste goes into the cavity, and he then stitches the cavity using a poultry needle and string.
He adds the most important part is to scald the skin before cooking to ensure the skin is crisp when cooked.
Gok creates a simple glaze which is then brushed over the duck.
Left in the fridge overnight, the duck is left for a couple of hours to come up to room temperature and then cooked.
The duck is basted every 20 minutes, but Gok says the effort is worth it!
The finished result really is a standout creation and for anyone wanting an unusual Christmas dinner this year, this creation from Gok is worth considering.
How to cook a duck at Christmas
There are different ways to cook a duck at Christmas and the style will depend on whether you are wanting to roast the whole bird, the breast or the legs. Here are some tips and ideas for each method:
Roasting the whole duck: This is the most traditional way to cook a duck for Christmas dinner. You need to preheat your oven to 200°C, fan 180°C, gas mark 6 and weigh your duck without giblets. Prick it all over with a fork, especially around the legs. Season the duck with salt and pepper or your favourite rub and place it on a rack in a roasting tin. Roast it in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes per kg plus 10 minutes extra. Baste it occasionally with the fat that collects in the tin. When the duck is cooked, cover it with foil and rest it for 10-20 minutes before carving.
- Roasting the duck crown: This is a good option if you want to save time and avoid wasting any meat. You need to preheat your oven to 220°C, fan 200°C, gas mark 7 and weigh your duck crown. Score the skin with a sharp knife and season it with salt and pepper or your favourite rub. Place it on a rack in a roasting tin and roast it in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes extra. Baste it occasionally with the fat that collects in the tin. When the crown is cooked, cover it with foil and rest it for 10-20 minutes before slicing.
- Cooking the duck breast: This is a quick and easy way to cook duck that results in crispy skin and juicy meat. You need to score the skin of the duck breast, but don’t cut into the flesh. Season well with salt and pepper and leave it so it reaches room temperature. Then place the breast skin-side down in a frying pan which you then need to heat up slowly. Once hot, fry for seven minutes, so the fat will melt, and the skin will crisp up. You can keep the fat for later use. Turn the breast over, add some butter to the pan and swirl it around. Cook for another five minutes until the breast is has been browned. Let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
- Cooking duck legs: This is a great way to make tender and flavourful duck legs that can be prepared ahead of time. You need to season your duck legs with salt and pepper and leave them in the fridge overnight or for at least two hours. Preheat your oven to 150°C, fan 130°C, gas mark 2 and place your duck legs in a large ovenproof dish or casserole. Cover them with duck fat, stock or wine and add some herbs and garlic if you like. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and cook in the oven for 2-3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. You can then store the duck legs in the fridge for up to three days, covered with the cooking liquid. To reheat them, preheat your oven to 220°C, fan 200°C, gas mark 7 and brush off any excess fat from the duck legs. Place in a roasting tin for 30-40 minutes, turn once while cooking so that both sides have crispy skin.
Christmas.co.uk Top Tip: Be aware that duck breast is frequently served with a slightly rare or pink centre – and some recipes will recommend this. However, the UK’s Food Standards Agency recommends cooking duck like you would chicken — that is until all traces of pink are gone — for the sake of safety. Or, as many chefs will do, you can pinch the meat which will be soft and it should spring right back into shape – and many cooks will also use a meat thermometer to check the middle of the duck is 52˚C.
How to cook whole duck by Gressingham Duck
This is an easy guide to cooking a duck from the team at Gressingham.
Along with the duck, you’ll need foil and scales and other items before leaving the bird for 30 minutes at room temperature.
The chef pricks the skin, especially around the legs before seasoning.
You’ll need the scales to work out the cooking time – that will be 40 minutes per kilo plus 10 minutes extra.
Place in a roasting tray with a wire rack – the bird is uncovered for roasting.
When cooked, the foil is used to allow the meat to rest.
The final scene is of the duck being served with crisp roast potatoes and other veg.
It looks delicious!
Simple step-by-step recipe for duck for Christmas dinner
Cooking a duck may seem intimidating, but with the right technique, it’s easier than you might think. Here’s a simple and delicious recipe to follow:
- 1 whole duck (around 2-3 kg)
- 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil or melted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, or orange zest for added flavour.
- Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Remove the giblets from the duck’s cavity and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Score the skin (be careful not to cut into the meat) to help the fat render during cooking.
- Rub the duck with olive oil or melted butter, and season generously with salt and pepper.
- If desired, stuff the cavity with herbs or citrus zest for extra flavour.
- Place the duck on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, breast-side up.
- Roast in the preheated oven for about three hours, basting it every 30 minutes with the accumulated juices to keep it moist.
- For crispy skin, turn up the heat to 220°C (425°F) during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.
How to serve a roast duck
Duck is a versatile meat that can be paired with various sauces and sides. Here are some suggestions for how to serve your duck for Christmas dinner:
Sauces: You can make a simple gravy by deglazing the roasting tin with some stock, wine or cider and adding some flour, butter and seasoning. You can also make a more festive sauce by adding some fruit, honey or spices to the gravy. Some classic combinations are orange and Grand Marnier, cherry and red wine, cranberry and port, plum and ginger, or apple and cider.
- Sides: You can serve your duck with traditional roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots and Brussels sprouts, or try something different like mashed celeriac, roasted beetroot, braised red cabbage or wilted spinach. You can also add some stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, bread sauce or cranberry sauce for extra flavour and texture.
- Desserts: After a rich and satisfying duck dinner, you might want to end your meal with something light and refreshing. Some good options are lemon tart, pavlova, fruit salad or sorbet. You can also go for something more indulgent like sticky toffee pudding, chocolate cake or cheesecake if you have room!
How to carve a whole roast duck for Christmas
Here’s another video from the team at Gressingham Duck on how to carve a duck on Christmas Day.
You’ll need a good sharp knife and a carving fork.
The fork is used to support the duck by placing it between the middle of the breast.
First, cut between the breast and the leg to snap off the thigh joint.
The chef then cuts along the breastbone and over the rib cage to remove the breast.
That breast meat is then sliced and plated up.
If you haven’t carved roast duck before, this is an easy way to achieve great results for your festive dinner table.