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Delicious: How to roast a duck

When travellers on the Ross Garden Tours Victoria tour sat at Annie Smithers’ table and ate her roast duck salad there were two big questions:

how did you do that; and can you do it for us again tomorrow! Here she reveals her secrets.


The roast duck-magician herself, Annie Smithers. Photo - Robin Powell


Roast duck seems to be the dish that I hear the most stories about. They’re often funny, but always feature the dreaded tough duck.

I feel the problem comes from the fact that we are familiar with lovely rare roasted duck breast and slow braised or confited duck legs. It’s the mystery of how to get the whole bird delicious that flummoxes people.

Perhaps think of it like this. A good-sized duck takes a couple of hours to roast. A quarter of the way into the two hours, the breasts are cooked beautifully pink but the legs are tough and still partly raw. Halfway into the cooking process the breasts are starting to become seemingly overcooked, but the legs are still tough. Three-quarters of the way and the skin is starting to look delicious, the legs are starting to soften up but the breast meat looks dry. This is when most people have a bit of a panic and take it out, thinking it looks nice, and end up serving a tough, dry bird. But, if you have patience and faith, that last half-hour of cooking time is where the magic happens. The skin is crisp and golden, the legs are tender and delicious and the breast meat is rich, succulent and soft.

This is an edited extract from Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen: seasonal menus with a French heart, by Annie Smithers, with illustrations by Robin Cowcher, published by Hardie Grant.


Roast duck, Brussels spouts and parsnips

Invite friends round for a taste of French farmhouse cooking.

This recipe is from one of Annie’s four winter menus. The duck comes between double-baked truffle and gruyere soufflés and Paris Brest, a wonderful choux pastry ring filled with pastry cream, praline and whipped cream. The dessert was invented in 1910, Annie writes, to celebrate the cyclists in the Paris-Brest-Paris race, “when men used cake for stamina, not silly energy drinks!”

Annie serves the duck with parsnip puree, roasted parsnip, blanched Brussels sprouts and a rich sauce. Find the full recipes, a timeline for making the menu, and plenty of tips in Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen: seasonal menus with a French heart, by Annie Smithers, with illustrations by Robin Crowther, published by Hardie Grant.


What you need:

3 carrots cut into small cubes

3 onions, cut into small cubes

3 celery stalks, cut into small dice

4 small ducks

8 thyme sprigs

salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper


What to do:

Preheat the oven to 220 C.

Scatter the vegetables over the base of a flameproof roasting tin large enough to accommodate all four ducks comfortably.

Scatter over the thyme sprigs and season well with salt and pepper.

Add a little water to the roasting tin so that the fat doesn’t burn while the ducks are cooking.

Roast for an hour, basting every 15 minutes or so.

After an hour, turn the oven down to 160 C and roast the ducks until tender (when you push at the leg meat it should be soft and yielding) - this will take the best part of another hour. Start checking after about 40 minutes.

Remove the duck from the oven, and carve the meat from the bones.

Serves 8

About this article

Author: Annie Smithers