Duck breast, Croquette & Jus with Spinach, Baby Gem, Peas and Cauliflower


Quack attack!

This is a deceptively simple looking dish. You wouldn’t think it took two days to make from start to end would you? This recipe, at heart, is the process of taking a whole duck, butchering it into its component parts and using the whole bird to create a variety of delicious components.

Normally I am perfectly happy for the butcher to do the work for me, but on this occasion I saw some whole ducks at half price and I fancied giving myself a bit of a challenge. 

There is also something to be said for confronting the reality of being a carnivore every once in a while. It’s all too easy to become disassociated from the reality of eating meat, and whilst not in the same ball park as hunting your dinner, making this recipe and butchering a bird did bring home the fact I should never take meat for granted. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes about this topic far more eloquently than I ever could in his seminal The River Cottage Meat Book, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

There are 8 elements to the plate, and a lot of processes at work. Breaking down the duck, making a proper jus from the carcass and giblets, confiting the legs, constructing the croquettes, deep frying, pan frying, pureeing, griddling. It’s slightly exhausting thinking back to cooking it, but also satisfying.

In retrospect however it still needed one more element, something slightly acidic to balance the flavours. If I make this again I will add of scattering of pickled Chanterelle mushrooms or maybe a tangle of pickled red cabbage.

Some notes on this recipe:

1. The recipe below doesn’t give a huge portion, it’s intended as a light lunch or the central component of a 3 course meal. If you’re serving this as a stand alone dish I’d serve a whole duck breast per person, and scale up the serving size of the other elements.

2. Credit where it’s due, the filling for the confit duck croquettes was inspired by a Gordon Ramsey ravioli filling which you can watch here (video link).

3. As I mentioned this is a very time consuming  and lengthy recipe (apologies, they will be shorter in future). You can vastly speed up the prep time of this recipe using a couple of shortcuts if you don’t want the hassle of doing the whole thing.

  • Firstly rather than using a whole duck buy a couple of duck breasts and use store bought duck confit, however these always seem very small compared to homemade, so you may need to use 3 legs.
  • Secondly you could skip the making of the jus and and make a quick pan sauce after frying the duck breasts with sauteed shallots, reduced sherry vinegar, red wine and chicken stock, finished with a little red current jelly and butter.

If you attempt the whole recipe from scratch, good on you, I wish you the best of duck!


Prep time: 2 days
Cooking time: 6-8 hours
Serves: 4 portions


Duck breast:

2 x Duck breasts, removed from the bird as described below, or store bought
I Tbsp Honey
Salt and pepper

Confit duck:

2 x Duck legs, removed from the bird as described below.
6 x Sprigs of thyme
6 x Garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with the back of knife
3 x Bay leaves, chopped
2 x Star anise flowers, broken into petals
25g Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
400g Duck fat

Confit duck croquettes:

2 x Shredded confit duck legs, as described below or store bought
180g Cooked, vac packed chestnuts, very finely chopped
3 Tbsp Double Cream
3 Tsp Fresh thyme leaves, picked
2 Tbsp Chives, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
10 Tbsp Plain flour
2 x Eggs, beaten
150g Panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Duck jus:

Duck carcass as described below, chopped
Duck giblets
1.5 Litres of water
1 Tbsp Duck fat or olive oil
2 x Carrots, peeled and chopped
2 x Onions, peeled and chopped
2 x Celery ribs, chopped
6 Black Peppercorns
1 x Star anise
2 Bay leaves
1 Small glass of red wine
50g Cold butter, cubed
2 tsp Red currant jelly
Salt and pepper

Cauliflower purée:

1 Small cauliflower
1/2 Pint of milk
50g Butter
2 shallots
4 Tbsp Double cream
Optional, 1 Tsp Organic natural truffle oil
Salt and pepper

Pea purée:

300g frozen petits pois
2 Tbsp Double cream
5 Mint leaves
Salt and pepper
500ml of water


300g Spinach leaves
1 Clove of garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp Butter
Salt and pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg

Baby gem lettuce:

2 Baby gem lettuce
1 Tbsp Olive oil
Salt and pepper


Pea shoots
Baby beet leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp Finely chopped chives


Butcher the duck:

When you buy your duck make sure you get one with the Giblets included, these normally come in a small bag in the cavity. Remove the bag of giblets and refrigerate. Break your duck down into 2 breasts, 2 legs and a carcass as described here (video link). Refrigerate the duck carcass and breasts.

For the confit duck:

Place the duck legs, skin side down in an appropriately sized bowl and rub well with the salt, pepper, star anise, bay leaves, 3 sprigs of the thyme and 3 cloves of the garlic. Cover and refrigerate in the marinade for 24 hours.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees. Put the duck fat in an oven proof dish that will snugly fit the duck legs and fat, the legs will need to be completely submerged. Place in the oven to come to temperature.

Remove the duck legs from the fridge and carefully wipe the marinade from the legs using kitchen paper or a (new, clean) damp cloth. Reduce the oven temperature to 140 degrees and add the duck legs, remaining garlic and thyme to the duck fat ensuring the duck is completely submerged. Top up with olive oil if necessary. Bake for 3 hours.

After 3 hours remove the duck from the oven and then from the fat and set aside to rest. When cool enough to handle discard the skin and shred the duck meat from the bones and set aside to be used in the croquette recipe which follows below.

If you happen to be making the duck stock at this time you can also add the bones from the confit to the stock pot.

For the duck jus:

If you have a cleaver, this is the time to use it! Chop your duck carcass into several large pieces. Alternatively use kitchen shears or your largest, heaviest knife.

Heat the duck fat or oil in a stock pot or large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the carcass pieces and leave to brown before adding the onions, carrots and celery – leave these to colour a little. Add the red wine and reduce by half. Add the water, bay leaves, peppercorns, star anise and – if you have already made your confit – the bones from the legs.

Bring to a gentle boil, skim and discard any foam that rises to the surface, reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer for 5 hours. After 5 hours add your giblets to the pan, again skim and discard any foam that rises to the surface and leave for a further hour.

Strain the stock through a fine sieve, discarding the solids. Set the stock aside and let the fat rise to surface for around 30 mins. Skim off and discard fat.

Return the stock to a pan and reduce over a medium/high heat to 300ml. Whisk in the cubes of butter and the red currant jelly until amalgamated and keep warm.

For the duck confit croquettes:

Ideally make your croquettes whilst the shredded confit duck is still slightly warm. Place the shredded duck, finely chopped chestnuts, cream, thyme leaves, finely chopped chives and a little freshly ground pepper into a bowl and mix well. Taste the mixture for seasoning, adjust accordingly.

Form the confit mixture into golf ball sized balls, place on a tray and refrigerate until set, around 20 mins.

Set out 3 bowls. Fill one with flour, one with beaten egg and the last with breadcrumbs. Remove the confit balls from the fridge and pané each ball by rolling them through first the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Repeat with each ball if you want them super crispy, which I did in this case. Return to the tray and refrigerate again for 20 mins.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees.

When ready to fry, heat vegetable oil in a saucepan to a suitable depth for deep frying to a heat of 180 degrees. If you have a deep fat fryer, lucky you even better. Carefully lower the croquettes one at a time into the oil with a slotted metal spoon. I did this two at a time with each croquette for around 2 mins each, the filling is already cooked so you just need to pay attention to the coating ensuring an even, crispy golden finish.

Drain each batch of croquettes well on kitchen paper and place in an oven proof dish and place in the oven to warm through fully, keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t become too brown.

For the cauliflower purée:

Peel and finely chop the shallots. Add the butter to a saucepan which will comfortably accommodate the cauliflower and place over a medium heat. Add the shallots to the saucepan and soften gently for a few mins.

Cut the cauliflower florets from the tougher, thick stalk. Discard the stalk and place the florets into the saucepan along with the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave until the cauliflower is tender, around 10 mins.

Strain the cauliflower, discard the liquid, add to a blender and liquidise. Pass through a fine sieve into a saucepan, you may need to push it through using the back of a wooden spoon. Add the cream to the cauliflower a little at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper and a tsp of natural* truffle oil if you are lucky enough to have some. Keep warm.

*Most commercially available truffle oil has never seen a truffle in its life and is simply olive oil perfumed with petroleum derivative 2,4-dithiapentane. Organic, natural truffle oil is really difficult to make because truffles are so volatile, however it does exist and is available to order online.

For the pea purée:

Place the water in a saucepan with a good pinch of salt over a high heat and bring to a boil. Add the frozen petits pois, return to the boil for 2 mins.

Drain the petits pois from the saucepan into a blender with a slotted spoon and reserve the water. Add the cream, and mint leaves to the blender with the petits pois and liquidise, if the mixture is looking a little stiff add a couple of tsp of the cooking water.

Once liquidised pass through a fine sieve back into a pan, season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

For the duck breast:

Remove the duck breasts from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Season well on all sides with salt and pepper.

Place the duck breasts, skin side down into a cold heavy bottomed frying pan. Put the pan over a medium heat and slowly render the fat. As the fat is released from the breast spoon a little over the top and remove any excess by tilting the pan and removing with a spoon.

Cook for 6 minutes skin side down, turn and continue to cook for a further 4 minutes. Finish in the oven for 2 mins, skin side up with the honey added to the pan.Remove, cover and leave to rest for 5 mins.

Slice each breast vertically through the centre so you end up with two long portions of each breast.

For the spinach:

Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the crushed garlic and cook for a few mins without allowing to colour. Add the spinach, stir well and leave to wilt. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Remove from the heat.

For the baby gem lettuce:

Heat a griddle pan over high heat.

Trim the lettuce, discarding any damaged out leaves. Halve each lettuce vertically, drizzle the cut sides with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper.

Place the bay gems, cut side down on the griddle pan and allow to char a little on the ridges. Don’t leave too long, remove from the heat.

To serve:

Warm 4 plates.

Place a spoonful of pea purée on one side of the plate and drag the spoon through the purée to make a teardrop shape.

Repeat on the opposite side of the plate with a slightly larger spoonful of the cauliflower purée.

Add one half of baby gem lettuce, a spoonful of Spinach ,one portion of duck and one croquette to the plate as you wish or as in the picture at the top of this post. Spoon over a little of the jus.

Finally garnish the plate with a couple of baby beet leaves, pea shoots a pinch of chopped chives and a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Breathe a sigh of relief, serve.



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