Duck with roast apple sauce

Roast duck is not something I’ll often serve for supper. I’d cast it off as too rich. Too fatty. Too temperamental. Too… much.

The last time I ordered roast duck was in Prague. It was either the bird, or half a pig. I thought I’d end up with a modest portion of poultry which I could pick at while shovelling more bread dumplings down my throat.  What arrived was half an adolescent duck. It was as if it had been put through a log shredder- straight down the centre. I ate about a third of it. The Hungry One offered to help, but was up to his elbows in a pork knuckle the size of a toddler.

Since that gargantuan effort, it’s taken a while to get my quack back. The inclusion of duck with roast apple sauce as the main event on my Granny’s day dreamed June menu (circa 1937) surprised me. Duck isn’t something I associate with summer. The fat it leaches is there to gild you from the cold. It’s snow food, designed for bunkering down.

Yet the woman was right. What duck needs more than anything are light and acidic side components that offer cut through. And in June, they’re everywhere.

Watercress, wafers of radish and white cherries were all winking at me from the markets.  Added to that were few toasted hazelnuts for texture and crunch (beyond the crisp armour of the fat).  The roasted apple sauce was a doddle; a few peeled and cored apples (a mix of sharp cooking Bramleys and gentle Braeburns) dabbed with butter, bedding down  with a cinnamon stick and a slosh of cherry liqueur. They were roasted for an hour and a bit, until soft and brown, then their flesh was blitzed and sharpened with a dash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Without the acid and seasoning it could have masqueraded as baby food. With those elements an elegant sauce was born.

It was the easiest of main courses for a crowd; the salad was made ahead, the mandolin doing most of the heavy lifting on the radish circles which pottered about in iced water so they stayed crisp until they were called to the stage. The sauce merely needed to be reheated before plating. Meanwhile all each duck breast needed was a quick sear in a screamingly hot pan to render the fat and crisp the skin, before they all cuddled up in a hot baking tray in the oven for six minutes or so.

There were many things my grandmother tried to teach me; the zen art of a cryptic crossword, the importance of 30 minutes of piano practice each day. I didn’t always listen. I should have known better.

Wherever she is now, I’m listening. This one’s a keeper.

Roast duck with apple sauce

Serves 6 as a main course  (though can be easily scaled up and down).  If you feel you need something extra on the table, roasted fennel segments would be lovely.


1 mandolin. 1 or 2 fry pans. 1 baking tray large enough to hold the duck breast. 1 stick blender.


Roast apple sauce
6 peeled and cored apples (a mix of sharp cooking apples and sweeter eating apples)
1 stick of cinnamon
40 grams of butter
2 tablespoons of cherry or blackcurrant liqueur
1 -2 tablespoons of good quality red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

6 radishes, cleaned and shaved on a mandolin
6 large handfuls of mixed salad leaves (watercress, rocket, baby spinach)
80 grams of hazelnuts, toasted in a pan with the skins cut off
30 white cherries, pitted and sliced
Salt, pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar to dress the salad

6 medium duck breasts (or 4 large ones) trimmed of sinew, fat on the top of the breast scored.

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat oven to 150C/300 F.

2) Roast 6 peeled and cored apples, dotted with butter with 1 stick of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of cherry or blackcurrant liqueur for 1 hour, until the apples have lightly browned and are soft. Remove the cinnamon quills and use a stick blender to puree the apples until smooth.  Add a little salt and pepper to the sauce. Taste the sauce. Add a splash of red wine vinegar, blend and taste. If it is still nursery-sweet, add a little more red wine vinegar- you want it to be able to stand up against the richness of the duck. Set aside to reheat just before serving.

3)  Turn the oven up to 200 C/ 292 F and preheat with a baking dish large enough to fit all of the duck breasts in it inside.

4) Season duck breast with salt.  Place duck breasts skin side down in a hot  fry pan and fry  to allow the fat to render out. Cook for 3 minutes until the skin is crisp. Set aside and do the same with the other duck breasts.

5) Transfer duck breasts to hot baking dish and cook for 5-8 minutes in the oven (five minutes for rare, 8 or more if you like things cooked through).

6) Allow the duck breasts to rest for 5 minutes before carving.

7) Put a swoosh of hot apple sauce down each plate. Add the duck breast and the salad that has been dressed lightly in red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Previously in the June Menu : Asparagus toasts

 Salmon Soup


Cold cherry souffle

  1. It’s so true that duck pairs beautifully with the tart cherries of early summer and a crisp salad to cut through the richness. You’ve definitely inspired me to seek out some duck in the next week or so.

  2. Wow, Tori! This looks absolutely stunning. I love the use of the apple and the cherries. I feel like I should try and throw a dinner party just to make this dish! Incredible!

  3. The sauce sounds splendid spiked with cherry liqueur and a dash of red vinegar. I’d have this duck dish any time of year!

  4. I actually love duck and make it quite often (but yes, more in the winter… although that may change now), but I had the same experience as you did in Prague. Not to mention I had a stomach bug while there… and the next thing I ordered after it was duck (yes, that or a pig)… when that half duck came to the table I almost fainted, despite being the big eater I am!

  5. I love duck with fruit!

    PS “it’s taken a while to get my quack back” made me giggle.

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