The Ultimate Duck Dinner

The Sporting chef shares his menu for the perfect summer feast
By Scott Leysath
Photography by John Hoffman


Preparing the "ultimate" duck dinner can be a daunting task unless the menu is both user-friendly and delicious. My fantasy meal is not complicated and does not require any special equipment or obscure ingredients. Much of the work can be done well in advance, leaving a few finishing touches for the time when guests arrive. It pains me to see home chefs running around making a mess of the kitchen when they should be enjoying the evening with their friends.

At first glance, this five-course feast looks like you will have to set the alarm clock early, as you would for a duck hunt. But rest assured, if you plan ahead you can sleep in. The smoked duck, jalapeño cream cheese, marinated shredded duck, soup, sauces, and dressing can all be prepared a day or two ahead. Come dinner time, the majority of the pots and pans will have already been cleaned and put away. Your guests will marvel at how easy you made it look.


{ All recipes serve 6 }

Smoked Duck Breast Crostini

This first bite of the evening will let your guests know that this is no ordinary wild game dinner. For this recipe, brine the skinless duck breast fillets for 12 hours, then place them in a 180-degree smoker for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the finished duck is 135 to 145 degrees. To make a quick brine, combine 1/2 gallon of water with 1/2 cup each brown sugar and kosher salt. If you don't have a smoker, you can substitute duck breast fillets that have been seasoned, grilled, and cooled.

Preparation Time: 25–30 minutes  
Smoking Time: 1 1/2–2 hours

Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 small sourdough baguette, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 3 tablespoons jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2/3 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 smoked duck breasts
  • Sriracha hot sauce (or any hot sauce) 

Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, and salt. Arrange the sliced baguette on a baking sheet. Brush the baguette slices with the olive oil mixture and place them in the oven. Bake until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. In another small bowl, combine the jalapeño, cream cheese, and lemon juice; stir to blend thoroughly. Spread the mixture evenly over the toast.
  3. Slice the duck thinly and place it across the cream cheese mixture. Top with a small drop of Sriracha hot sauce. Garnish with green onion and red bell pepper.

Shredded Marinated Duck Salad

If you cook any piece of meat slowly in a little liquid, it will eventually be very tender. The shredded duck meat that tops this salad can be used for casual fare such as sandwiches and tacos. Goose breasts will also work as part of this light entrée.

Preparation Time: 20–25 minutes  
Cooking Time: 3–4 hours

Ingredients
  • 3 duck breasts, skin on or off
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 1 large head butter leaf lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans (lightly browned in a 300-degree oven)
  • 1 cup navel orange segments
Marinade
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
Vinaigrette
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Prepare the marinade by whisking together the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. While whisking, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Place the marinade and duck breasts in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours, turning contents occasionally to coat evenly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Remove the duck breasts from the marinade. Transfer the marinade to a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside. Place the duck breasts in a shallow pan in a preheated oven and cook for 2 hours or until the internal temperature is approximately 175 degrees. 
  3. Remove the duck breasts and put them in the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Pour the reserved boiled marinade over the duck breasts and fold the foil up from the outside edges to seal. Place the duck breasts back in the oven for another hour or until the meat pulls apart easily. Remove the meat from the foil and allow it to cool. Once cooled, shred the meat and place it in a small bowl.
  4. Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. While whisking, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Tear the lettuce into large pieces and place them in a big bowl with the cabbage, red onion, and pecans. Add half of the vinaigrette and lightly toss to coat. Arrange the salad mixture on a platter. Add the remaining marinade to the shredded duck and toss to coat.
  6. Stack the shredded duck on the center of the platter and garnish with orange segments.

Duck, Kale, and White Bean Soup

This is one of my favorite anytime soups. It can be served alone as a main course, but also works well as a starter. Everyone should at least have a taste. In this recipe, the cubed duck breasts are simmered until tender in a savory broth with chopped kale, colorful bell peppers, and white beans. To keep it simple, you can use beef broth, but I prefer to turn roasted duck carcasses, onion, carrots, and celery into a rich broth by simmering them in water for several hours. 

Preparation Time: 20–25 minutes   
Cooking Time: 2 hours

Ingredients
  • 2 cups skinless duck breast fillets, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups beef or duck broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups red and yellow bell pepper (or any color), chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans
  • 2 cups fresh kale, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
Directions
  1. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the duck meat and brown evenly. Add the beef broth and next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the duck is tender.
  2. Add the bell pepper and white beans; simmer for 5 minutes. Add the kale and simmer for 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Transfer the soup to a serving bowl and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Grilled Peppercorn Duck with Herb Velouté Sauce 

The first three dishes have prepared the palate for the bold, yet straightforward and uncomplicated flavors of the main course: grilled duck served with a mild herb sauce, rosemary mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus. Peppery split ducks are best cooked over hot coals, but this recipe can also be prepared in a hot skillet. The velouté sauce is simply a basic white sauce made with chicken broth instead of milk.

Preparation Time: 25–30 minutes  
Cooking Time: 15–20 minutes

Ingredients
  • 3 whole ducks, preferably with skin intact
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup mixed red, white, black, and green peppercorns, freshly ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh thyme for garnish
Herb Velouté Sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs—thyme, rosemary, oregano, and the like
  • Salt and white pepper
Directions
  1. Place the ducks, breast side up, on a cutting board. To separate the breast fillets and legs from the bird, slice along each side of the breastbone with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, working the knife along the breastbone from the front to the legs. Fold back the legs and cut through the joint that attaches the leg to the body. Continue cutting along the body to remove the legs while keeping them attached to the breast fillets. Slice a tic-tac-toe pattern across the skin with a sharp knife. 
  2. Combine the olive oil with lemon juice and rub evenly over the duck. Mix the pepper and salt and rub it over the duck to coat evenly. Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes while preparing the sauce. 
  3. To prepare the velouté sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook while whisking until the flour mixture (roux) is blond in color. Whisk in broth a few tablespoons at a time until smooth. Add herbs and continue to cook over low heat, whisking often, until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
  4. Place ducks, skin side down, on a well-oiled white-hot grill for 6 to 7 minutes or until well-browned and crispy. Flip them over and cook for 4 to 5 minutes more or until the internal temperature in the center of the breasts is 135 to 145 degrees for medium-rare. Allow the ducks to rest for a few minutes before serving.
  5. To serve, spoon the velouté sauce onto plates or a platter and arrange the duck meat over the sauce.

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes 

This dish can be prepared several hours in advance and warmed in a 300-degree oven before serving. I usually add roasted garlic to this recipe, but since the pepper-coated ducks are loaded with flavor, I've toned it down a bit so the flavors don't compete. 

Preparation Time: 10 minutes  
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes until potatoes are tender.
  2. Drain cooked potatoes well using a colander. Transfer to a bowl while still very hot and mash together with half-and-half, butter, and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Grilled Asparagus 

While some folks like to blanch their asparagus before grilling it, I prefer mine more on the crunchy side.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes  
Cooking Time: 8–10 minutes

Ingredients
  • 30 small or 18 large asparagus spears (3 to 5 per guest)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Remove and discard the woody part of the asparagus stems. Coat the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place the asparagus on a hot grill and cook until it is lightly charred and still a little firm.

Poached Pear with Crème Anglaise and Balsamic Syrup

By the time you get to this dessert, you may have to loosen your belt a notch or two. Don't let the French scare you off, it's just a custard sauce with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. 

Preparation Time: 10 minutes  
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 firm pears, peeled
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Mint for garnish
Crème Anglaise
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 2-inch piece vanilla bean, split (or substitute 1/4 teaspoon real vanilla extract)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a wide pot, at least 6 inches deep, bring the wine and next 3 ingredients to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each pear so that it will sit upright when placed on a surface. Place pears upright in the pot with the poaching liquid. The liquid should cover about 1/2 to 1 inch of the bottom of the pear. If necessary, add additional wine to the liquid. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. While pears are poaching (or a day ahead), prepare crème anglaise and balsamic syrup. Heat the milk and cream together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean or add the vanilla extract into the pot and heat until almost boiling, but do not boil. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. While whisking, add the hot milk and cream to the combined yolk and sugar, a little at a time. Return the mixture to the saucepan and warm over very low heat while stirring until the sauce thickens. Do not let the sauce boil! 
  4. To prepare the balsamic syrup, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small, uncovered saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the liquid to 1/4 cup and allow it to cool. The syrup will thicken when cooled.
  5. To serve, place a pool of crème anglaise in the bottom of a shallow dish or bowl. Drizzle a thin stream of balsamic syrup around the edge of the sauce. Place the warm pear in the center of the bowl and garnish with mint. 


The Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath, is an author and television host who is among America's best-known experts on the preparation of fish and game. All dishes featured in this article were prepared and photographed at the Greentree Hunting Club in Desha County, Arkansas.

Wine Pairings 

Wines are an integral part of my spectacular duck dinner. I paired my dishes with a selection of wines from the Michael-David Winery of Lodi, California. The appetizer course goes well with this vineyard's crisp and somewhat fruity Symphony white wine. Michael-David's soft and lighter red Ancient Vine Cinsault is a natural for the salad course. For the soup, it's the "everyday" 7 Deadly Zins, a blend of zinfandel that's just a tad on the fruity side. The peppery duck and creamy velouté sauce work well with my favorite—a dense, full-bodied Petite Petit, made mostly from petite sirah grapes. Keep in mind that your choice of wine shouldn't be overly influenced by my own. If you are strictly a white wine person, drink up and enjoy the meal!