That Time I Roasted a Whole Duck

Crispy roast duck with hoisin sauce, spring onions, fresh coriander and chilli in a lettuce cup

Chinese Peking duck with hoisin sauce, served with thin pancakes and slivers of fresh vegetables, is one of my favourite takeaway treats. It’s expensive, but I’ve never minded too much because I’ve always been rather intimidated by cooking a whole duck at home. I’ve seen a load of instructions for first dropping the duck into boiling water, or pouring boiling water over the skin before roasting – and frankly, that’s enough to put me off.

Crispy Roast Duck

I’ve tried to recreate the duck-hoisin-vibe before using duck breasts, which was nice – but the meat stays juicy and pink, and the skin doesn’t get super-crisp. It’s the rich, shredded meat and crispy skin that feels like the real deal.

When I discovered my butcher had whole ducks in stock this week, I decided to finally give it a go – with not a drop of boiling water in sight.

I am very pleased to report that not only was the process incredibly easy, but also the end result tasted fantastic. The skin gets super thin and crisp, and the shredded meat is moist and rich. The only element of the cooking that required any level of effort was shredding it at the end. And while pulling the meat off the carcass might take a few minutes, the good news is you’re pulling the meat to shreds, so you can’t mess it up!

Crispy Roast Duck – Feeds 4


1 whole duck
Chinese 5-spice

To serve: Iceberg lettuce cups, fresh coriander, sliced spring onions, fresh red chilli, thinly sliced cucumber, prepared hoisin sauce, mini thin Chinese-style pancakes (or mini tortillas)


Remove the duck from the fridge an hour before you want to cook it.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C/160C Fan. (If you have a convection (fan) oven it’s worth using it, here. The air circulation will help dry out the skin and get the duck super-crisp.)

Prick the skin with a fork to help the fat render out.

Use a fork to prick the skin of the duck all over, including the sides and underneath. This will help the fat render out and get the skin crispy. Make sure you’re actually pricking through the skin – some force required.

Dust generously with 5-spice

Heavily season the duck all over with salt – top, bottom and inside the cavity. Dust generously all over with the Chinese 5-spice.

Select a roasting pan in which the duck will fit snugly, then flip over the bird so it’s sitting breast-side down. Roast for 2 hours in total, flipping the duck over every 30 minutes, finishing breast-side up.

Rest for 15 minutes, then use two forks to pull the meat away from the carcass, shredding into chunks.

To serve, pile some meat and vegetables into either a lettuce cup or tortilla with a smear of hoisin. Wrap up and devour.

P.S. – Check out some of my other first forays into cooking intimidating or unusual things.

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