Aromatic duck

13 June 2003 by
Aromatic duck

During the 1970s, Alain Senderens's signature dish was canard Apicius, a spiced, honey-roast duck. He borrowed the name and the idea from Coelius Apicius, a senator in ancient Rome credited with writing the first cookery book. The glazed duck, carved at the table, is still on Senderens's à la carte nearly 30 years later.

At about the same time, when they worked alongside each other at the first Gavroche, Albert and Michel Roux were earning critical praise for a main course where the duck legs and breasts came as two distinct services: breasts pink, legs cooked through. It was the start in the UK of an enduring fashion for both magrets and confits.

In the parallel culture of Chinese cuisine, cooks have shown more interest in the crisp texture of the duck skin than the flavour of the meat. Its Peking duck, though, has a relatively modern origin. A shopkeeper called Yang introduced it to the imperial capital in the mid-19th century. From there it has spread to Chinatowns the world over.

In his restaurant at Gleneagles hotel, Andrew Fairlie has brought these three strands together. He serves a crisp-skinned, honey-glazed breast - the meat still pink and juicy - with a separate side dish of crusty deep-fried leg meat in a sweet-and-sour dressing.

Like Senderens's speciality, Fairlie's dish is based on a whole duck ordered for two. As in the Chinese recipe, the skin and flesh is impregnated with the flavour of spices. Like Le Gavroche, he serves it already plated.

When he first introduced the dish, he imported firm-textured ducks from the Landes, but he now uses Gressinghams - partly because customers found the Landes ducks too chewy, and partly because the home-grown breed (a cross between the Peking duck and wild mallard) was a better size (about 1.5kg) and cheaper.

All about Andrew
Andrew Fairlie started his apprenticeship working for British Transport Hotels. In his teens he cooked part-time in the former chain's flagship Gleneagles hotel. Returning as the chef-proprietor of his own restaurant at this world-famous resort has been a strange twist of fate for him.

He came here, his first independent venture, having spent seven years as head chef of Glasgow's One Devonshire Gardens. Within a year he had brought Gleneagles the accolade it desperately needed, a Michelin star (plus a bonus as Scotland's McCallan Restaurant of the Year). Previously the cuisine at Gleneagles had never quite lived up to the hotel's other world-class facilities: its golf courses, spa and equestrian centre.

He attributes the success to being his own man. He invested £120,000 building his own kitchen and leases the space from the 300-bedroom hotel. His restaurant handles a maximum 40 covers and is open only in the evenings.

Gleneagles isn't the only leisure Mecca where Fairlie has cooked. He did a stint at the California Grill in Euro Disney when it opened -"the nearest thing to a gourmet restaurant they had". Nor is he a stranger to the atmosphere of grand hotels, having cooked for 18 months at the Crillon in Paris after a prolonged stage with Michel Guérard (his reward for being the first Roux Scholar in 1984).

Honey-glazed breast of duck with deep-fried leg meat in a sweet-and-sour dressing
Day one

Preparing the duck
Cut the legs off the duck as you would a chicken's. Hold the legs away from the carcass. Cut through the loose skin and pull the legs back against the joint. Trim any excess fat around them.

Cut through the fatty skin on the breastbone above the duck's tail, cut through the ribcage and sever the backbone to obtain a duck crown - two on-the-bone breasts in a single piece. Lift the skin over the neck end to expose and remove the wishbone. Scrape around it with a sharp knife to expose the bone and extract it with your fingers. Scrape excess fat from the underside of the skin around the neck. Trim the skin, but allow for shrinkage during cooking.

Spice mix
(for eight or more ducks - 16 portions)

12 star anise
1tsp black peppercorns
20cm cinnamon stick
4tsp coriander seeds
24 cloves
4 dried chillies

Divide the spice mix into two equal parts.

Blend half the spices in a coffee mill and pass through a fine sieve. Use these to sprinkle over the duck breast skin during roasting.

Add the remaining spices whole to the poaching liquid.

Aromatic poaching water
Andrew Fairlie says that the "nage" keeps for up to a week, during which time it can be reused as often as necessary. If the poaching temperature is controlled at about 80°C, it won't reduce significantly and need not be adjusted, but it will gain in strength. (If working with large batches make a separate, identical stock for legs).

Ingredients (makes five litres)

5 litres water
Whole spice mix
80g sliced ginger root
1 head garlic, sliced in half
100ml (approx) Kikkoman soy sauce

Put the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Scald the duck breast crown by dropping it [or "them" when preparing a batch] into the liquid. The temperature drops. Leave on the side of the range for 18 minutes. The breast meat remains pink. Drain on to a rack over a tray. Leave to dry out in a fridge for 24 hours.

Poach the duck legs. Cook the legs at simmering point for one hour or till they are tender. Leave overnight to cool in the liquid.

Duck leg dressing

(serves 8-10)

150ml tomato ketchup
30g honey
Juice of ½ orange
30ml soy sauce
75ml sesame oil

Blend the ingredients and reserve.


Deep-frying the legs
1 duck leg per portion
Deep-frying oil at 180°C
2tbs duck dressing

Pull the skin from the cooked duck leg and discard it. Roughly flake the meat into bite-sized pieces. Deep-fry until crisp (8)- it takes about four minutes. Drain on absorbent paper. Coat in dressing (9) and serve at once.

Roasting the crown
40ml oil (olive, groundnut or sunflower)
1 duck crown, scalded and dried
1tbs sieved spice mixture
30ml liquid honey

Heat the oil to smoking point on top of the range. Lightly brown the crown on all surfaces, turning as necessary. Leaving the breast uppermost, transfer to a preheated, very hot oven (250°C, gas mark 9). Roast for five to seven minutes. Take out, and dust the skin with spice mixture. Pipe honey over it from a squeezy bottle. Return to the oven for just two to three more minutes. Take out of the oven and rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Braised Pak choi

1 long pak choi per portion
30g clarified butter
150ml braising emulsion

Split the pak choi in half. Pare out a little of the base to ensure even cooking. Heat the butter to smoking point. Brown the cut surface of the pak choi. Transfer to a hot oven and bake for 10 minutes, basting once or twice. Pour over the braising emulsion and finish cooking in the oven.

Drain on absorbent paper. For a neat finish, tuck the green leaves under the stems.

NB. Braising emulsion: combine 500ml light chicken stock with 150g butter and a tablespoon of cream.

Watercress and coriander salad
Ingredients (per 25g portion)

15g washed and dried watercress and coriander leaves, mixed
Pinch of toasted sesame seeds
½ sliced spring onion
1tbs mooli julienne

Salad dressing

Ingredients (serves about 16)

150ml sesame oil
150ml groundnut oil
50ml Kikkoman soy sauce
50ml balsamic vinegar
30g grated ginger
½ clove crushed garlic

Blend the ingredients together.

To make the salad, toss the leaves and sesame seeds thoroughly in dressing.

Duck and cinnamon glaze
Ingredients (serves about 16)

300ml concentrated roast duck jus
1-2 tbs cinnamon jelly

Boil together to obtain a light glaze.

Turnip confit
24 baby turnips with stalk attached
1 litre water
1tbs sugar
Duck fat for confit
150ml braising emulsion


Boil the turnips in water and sugar for eight minutes. Drain. Transfer to a fresh pan and cover with melted duck fat. Stew gently for an hour until tender. Reserve.

To serve, remove from fat and reheat in braising emulsion.

Carving, assembly and presentation
Make a clean cut down either side of the breastbone. Keeping the blade against the carcass, remove the breast.

The wings are not served. Slice each breast into five or six pieces, cutting on the slant.

Put a 5cm or 6cm hoop on to the side dish. Part-fill with freshly dressed salad. Lay the hot, fried leg meat coated in sauce on top and finish with more salad.

Remove the hoop.

Lay the braised pak choi in the centre of the plate and the carved breast on top of it. Spoon a little hot duck glaze on either side and garnish with the turnips.

Order of work
Andrew Fairlie's restaurant seats 40. It's open six days a week for evenings only. He prepares small batches of four or five ducks at a time.

1 Butcher the ducks.
2 Prepare the spices.
3 Boil the spiced water.
4 Scald and air-dry the crowns.
5 Poach the legs and cool.
6 Make the dressing for the leg.
7 Prep the salad and its dressing.
8 Stew the turnips in fat.
9 Braise the pak choi.
10 Roast, glaze and rest the crown.
11 Deep-fry the flaked leg meat.
12 Reheat turnips in emulsion.
13 Finish jus.
14 Assemble.

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