Aromatic duck

Serves 4-6


a whole duck
Chinese five spice powder – 2 ½ tablespoons
root ginger – 5 large slices
spring onion – 5 roughly chopped
orange zest – 1 tablespoon
salt – 2 tablespoons
oil – 1 litre or enough to crisp your duck at the end


Pat the duck dry with kitchen roll, then rub it inside and out with the salt and five spice powder. Put it in a sealed container and leave it in the fridge overnight. Put the ginger, spring onions and orange zest inside the duck then put the whole duck on a rack and steam it in a wok for 2 to 2 ½ hours. You may need to replenish the water in the wok in this time. Discard the ginger, spring onion and orange zest and let the duck cool and dry for 2 hours.

There will be water and fat in the bottom of the wok. The fat should be kept in the fridge for other cooking. The water should be combined with the duck giblets and kept to combine with the duck bones when the flesh is eaten to make an absolutely delicious stock.

Section the duck into quarters and heat the oil in a pan to crisp the duck in the oil for around five minutes. Pat off the excess oil with kitchen paper, pull the duck off the bone and serve with rice, noodles, vegetables combined with hoi sin sauce or a sweet pickle. The duck meat also tastes great in a sandwich.


Ok, so there is a little bit of frying at the end that makes this aromatic duck seem indulgent. But it is actually very clever, and a lot of that cleverness is focused on enhancing health and digestion.

Duck is a very rich, fatty meat, which is the main reason that it tastes so good. But this means that when we cook it, we should be compensating for this richness from the start. Otherwise it will clog us up when we eat it. We achieve this here with the five spice mixture that is rubbed in and given plenty of time to penetrate the meat. Five spice is typically comprised of star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel, cloves and cinnamon; all highly aromatic spices with a tendency to stimulate gut motility, an essential compensatory influence for the stagnating influence of fat. The ginger and spring onion are similarly aromatic and help to transform the meat from the inside when cooking.

Orange zest is added as it has sour, bitter and aromatic flavours. These stimulate motility and also, significantly, bile release to help break up the fat. To add to this sourness the duck is normally served with a sweet and sour vinegary sauce such as hoi sin. Or for a very British alternative, you could try our spiced damson puree (p000). In addition, there is one more major trick to this dish, the cooking. When meat is conventionally roasted it is effectively baked in its own fat, concentrating it and making it particularly hard to digest. That is not the case here where most of the cooking is by steaming. The steam melts the fat, breaking it down, releasing the impurities and lightening the meat. This enhances the duck’s digestibility.

And the frying? Well, there’s not very much and it does make the skin crispy and delicious, but a simple alternative is to grill the duck to reheat it. This crisps up the duck, not as much as frying, but it still tastes great.


This is a long and precise way to prepare meat and it won’t be for everyone. Parts of it can however be applied to other dishes. For example pork, which is a particularly hard meat to digest, can be blanched, before a mixture of salt, spices and herbs is rubbed into its skin to produce magnificent crackling once it is in the oven.

As for the duck, once delicious meat has been produced like this, it goes a long way, eaten hot and fresh or added to stir fries or sandwiches.