Duck | Guest Post From Alex Wheeler

Alex Wheeler is a great friend and a fantastic cook. He has agreed to share his recipe for duck on my blog.


While Tandy and Dave are away, Tandy gave me the keys to her blog. They are in Italy looking at motorbikes and Ferraris and lovely Italian girls in little summer dresses (well Dave is, Tandy will be looking at unshaven, scruffy looking baristas) while I’m here slogging my way through the Cape Winter. I hate them. Do you know it was less than 20 degrees here today? Positively freezing, I’ve had to light a fire so that I don’t have to put long trousers on…

Anyway, while I’ve got the keys I might as well abuse the place…

A few weeks ago we had Tandy and Dave over for a duck meal and she asked me to post the recipe… sadly there was a lot of Red wine and I oafed the pictures pretty badly, so I didn’t get around to it, but yesterday I happened upon some actual fresh duck breasts and decided to cook them today…

duck supper

First of all – I swear by Mrs. Beaton’s for most things, but the Europeans have no idea how to deal with a duck. So this is a Chinese style duck – it’s almost Peking duck, just a lot easier and tastier…

The BIG secret with duck is drying it out like the Chinese do. If you don’t dry it you end up with that wet, tough, salty, nasty, oily greasy duck they serve you in wannabe french restaurants. The Chinese hang it up in the window for a few days, which is all very nice, but I hate to think of what the flies do on it in that time.

Despite my englishness, this is a serious case of ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – you marinade it and then you hang it in a biltong dryer for a couple of days. Mellerware will sell you a biltong maker for R400 that has a fan and a light and it works and it’s easy – this will seriously improve your life. get one.


Peking Duck…. Gordon’s bay style… I kind of made this up from loitering in kitchens and restaurants and poring over various cookbooks over the years… It works, but it’s not really traditional Peking duck as it’s roasted – it’s better!!

Usually I get whole ducks, 1 duck is enough for 3 people as a main course or 5 to 6 people as a starter. In this case I used 6 breasts (1.5kg) for 6 people, which is actually enough for 8 as a main course. As a starter 4 breasts for 6 people would be very generous. It’s very rich and high in protein, plus the condiments are a lot of food too.

It DOES sound incredibly complicated – but don’t be put off, it’s actually not – just do it systematically and it works out amazingly and is very very impressive. But you need help. Even gastronomically disadvantaged teenagers or spouses will be reasonably useful here…

Marinade and preparation:

500ml water
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (don’t use expensive table soy – use the cheap dark stuff)
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Rice Wine vinegar

put this in a small non-reactive saucepan (not stainless , aluminium or uncoated cast iron, use enamelled or glass pans) and bring it to a simmer – DO NOT BOIL – you need the acid in the vinegar – all you are trying to do is ‘melt’ the honey and soy so it all blends together properly

Take your duck out of the packaging, and don’t be alarmed, they always smell like that… it’s the blood…. rinse them off in cold water… put your duck/s into a bowl that has a lid and is big enough to marinade them in. If it’s whole birds, mix some black pepper and salt and season the cavity first. Pour the marinade over your ducks/portions and ensure it gets inside if whole birds. For breasts 3 hours is enough, overnight is better – for whole birds 6 – 24 hours, but the longer the better. Duck is tough meat; you want that marinade to work on it. Turn it over/ roll in the marinade as often as is reasonable…

Now you need to hang it. If it’s a whole bird you’ll need a couple of hooks through the rib cage, for breasts you can hook it through the meat like biltong. Don’t try and hang it through the skin – it will tear through in a couple of hours. Hang it in the biltong drier (or in front of a fan or anywhere else that there is a warm breeze and NO FLIES)

Reserve the marinade – place in the fridge.

Overnight for breasts is… okay… ish. 2 days is better. For whole birds dry for 3 days if possible. The skin should have the feel of parchment when you are ready to cook them.

Hanging duck

You also need Chinese pancakes to go with this. I am sure you can get premade pancakes, but it’s much nicer to make your own – below is a pretty standard Chinese cookbook recipe… getting pre made will make life much easier, but homemade really do make this so much more impressive…

Time to cook!!!

This is all about timing. So get ready and do it in order… and have a bottle of white wine on standby. This is for you, not the food…

Condiments part 1:

1 bunch of spring onions
1 cucumber.

Spring onions: cut away the roots and top so that each onion is about 100mm (4″) long. then slice them lengthways to make slivers.
cucumber: cut into 2″ / 50mm long sections, cut into quarters, cut away and discard the seeds/pulpy centre and slice the remainder into sticks about 2mm wide. Arrange nicely on a platter. Put a damp towel over this lot – you want to keep it pretty looking for a while…


450g plain flour
250ml boiling water
85ml cold water
5ml of Sesame Oil
Sesame oil for rolling.

Don’t mess with the quantities. Use exact amounts and it works perfectly, I weigh the water – 1 litre water = 1kg for the non engineers. (Sigh. at this point Dave will point out that boiling water does not even have a mass of 1kg per litre…)
Put the hot water (250g) into the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Put in the cold water (85 grams) and the teaspoon of sesame oil, and get your hands into it and work it until it’s a ball of dough. Put a wet tea towel over it and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Take it out, halve it, and roll it into ‘sausages’ about 50 mm in diameter. Cut these in half and then divide each into 10 pieces – you want about 40 pieces all together. Roll each piece into a ball between your palms.

Before you start cooking them – preheat your oven to 240 degrees for the duck and put the duck in the oven – see below.

Flatten a ball and smother the top in sesame oil. Don’t skimp. Press another one on top of that and roll it out until both pieces are round and about 2mm thick. DO NOT fold and so on – you need these to split apart after cooking. This is the time that a useless looking teenager or spouse that claims they can’t cook can become useful – this is a seriously kak job to do on your own… Fortunately I had the lovely Louise and my daughter to assist and it was all VERY easy to get through this bit. If you are as lucky as me, I can highly recommend a nice craft beer at this point…

Alternatively, in the absence of useless teenagers/spouses hanging around, do the pancakes a couple of hours beforehand and keep them moist with a damp cloth over them – they don’t need to be warm…

so – heat a crepe pan and put the flattened dough onto it – no oil or anything, just dry – It will start to ‘blow up’ like a balloon, flip it over when there are a few light brown spots on the cooked side, let the other side develop a few spots and put onto a plate. Get the next one onto the crepe pan.

Now – before the one in the pan burns – you have to split the one you just finished into 2 pancakes. You will burn your fingers, but if you’ve done it right it’s not too hard.

Pancake duck

Continue until all the pancakes are made… yes, this is the only hard bit. Like I say.. Get someone else to do it!!!

Cooking the duck:

NB: between finishing the pancakes and carving the duck, you need to fit in condiments (2) below… don’t forget…

After making the dough above, and before cooking the pancakes, put the duck into a roasting pan:

Breasts – skin side up.

Whole bird, breast side up

Pour in about 1/2 the reserved marinade – do not cover the skin if breast, should be about 10mm deep. Oven should be preheated to 240C… Put it in the oven with fan and grille on and cook for 15 minutes. Turn it down to 180 degrees and turn off grille. If the liquid cooks off, add more marinade to keep it moist.

Duck in pan

Cook for another 35 to 45 minutes for breasts, do not turn them, turn the grille back on for a minute or 2 if the skin is not deep red to almost black when finished

For whole bird, turn over after 20 minutes, then turn back after another 20 minutes and cook for another 30 minutes. if the breast is not deep red to black, put the grille back on for a few minutes…

By the time you take it out, your pancakes above should be done, as well as your condiments… let the duck rest for 10 minutes before slicing…

Condiments 2:

These are easy, and can be done hours before and left in the fridge. do take them out to come to room temperature a good 2 hours before you eat though- cold sauces ruin a meal… only takes 2 minutes to make the whole lot…

1. Plum sauce – just buy a bottle of Chinese plum sauce and decant about 150ml into a serving bowl with a teaspoon
2. Salt and pepper – crush equal quantities of GOOD pepper corns and GOOD rock salt in a mortar and pestle and put in a dish – to be sprinkled with fingers.
3. Black bean and chilli – mix up equal quantities of black bean sauce and Chinese chilli sauce, or to taste depending on chilli sauce. Should be salty but not to fiery…
4. Hoi Sin sauce – same thing – buy a bottle and decant 150ml in to a bowl…

Also, have a bottle of table soy (Kikkoman) on the table for those that want…


Somewhere in amongst the above you need to have laid your table…

Each person needs a small plate and a pair of chopsticks. that’s pretty much it…

Slice your duck into bite size pieces. Obviously the breasts are easy, just slice up… if it’s whole bird – get the breasts off and slice, joint off the wings and legs and get as much meat as possible off the thighs and belly… not easy. I then just take a cleaver and cut the carcass into 6 or 8 pieces because people WILL suck those bones clean…

Present the meat in a warm dish, with the spring onion/cucumber and pancakes on cold plates either end of it, with the condiments around it, in easy reach of your guests…

Table duck


using chopsticks (or fingers…) you take a pancake, place it on your plate, put a few slivers of spring onion and cucumber on it, add a couple of slices of duck and dress with condiment to taste… roll it up and eat!

Duck plate


A bit difficult, traditionally the Chinese probably have tea with this, which is obscene. Tea is horrible. So who knows what you SHOULD have with it? I have spent a little time in China (Tandy will explain to you that I came back FAT. personally I prefer the term “more cuddly” ) When we had Peking duck there red wine was recommended with the meal…. works very well, but I ‘d avoid Cabernets and so on – A shiraz/Syrah would be okay, but really a decent blend is what you want. We had some 2010 Roodeberg on the rack which was very suitable…


seriously, after that lot, you have to be kidding me, get your guests to bring desert. In this case my beloved li’l girl made us Malva pudding and custard!!!

Right – enjoy, I’m off to drink a lot of red wine after Ferrari did quite badly at Monaco…

24 thoughts on “Duck | Guest Post From Alex Wheeler

  1. Hello Alex, Wow this is a superb dish! You put so much effort and prep into this dish! I will have to stop by your blog to give you a visit.
    Tandy, make sure to overindulge in all the food and wine of plenty. Have some for me too.
    Take Care, BAM

    1. HI BAM, Alex has been convinced to blog on my bog instead of starting his own and I hope he sticks to that as it is so nice to have a different approach here 🙂 I always over indulge when Alex is around!

    2. Tandy doesn’t need much invitation for a second helping !

      I’ll put some more stuff up here soon, thanks for the comment!

  2. Fabulous – what a beautiful way of recreating a Chinese classic. I have a pal who makes it quite often too and she dries the duck overnight int he fridge then hangs it up and blasts it for 20 mins with her hairdryer. Really does work!

    1. the hairdryer is a fantastic idea! something to try out!

      as is your mussels with chorizo… definitley something I’ll be making, looks superb!

  3. Reminded me of visits to China, first time we rolled the pancakes with out fingers like any gross western tourists. By the time I had been there for a while, I could select, assemble, roll and eat the whole thing with my chopsticks.

    PS – your slices are a little thick, so I think you should come here and make more to get more practice doing the slicing thinner and thinner

  4. Well, methinks this actually takes more time to read than to do! Have had the ‘proper’ Chinese thing in situ many a time, but haven’t tried myself . . hmmm! Kind of fun if you have weekend houseguests whom you can entice with a glass of red to do ‘the chores’ and enjoy the results . . . with duck breasts to make matters easier . . . 🙂 !

    1. never having had duck is a crime. Far to delicious to have missed out on, give the slave a good flogging and set him to work!

    1. Oh cool, I got comments!!! I’ve been looking with avarice at your sourdough… something to test very soon! It is a very serious oversight to not have had duck pancakes!

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