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Duck with lettuce & peas

For two.

 A landed and seaborne favorite in England at least since the eighteenth century that has fallen from use but deserves revival. It is not springtime in the Editor’s house without it. American eyebrows rise when we recommend boiling turkey or duck, but it is an excellent alternative to roasting and produces tender meat without a stringy texture; nearly foolproof too.


Ducks Lifting Off-a drip of neutral oil

-a duck

-a faggot (or bouquet garni to unbelievers and Francophiles) of two bay leaves some sprigs of fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme

-a package of frozen peas, thawed

-a cored and shredded Boston lettuce

-salt and pepper of course

-2 egg yolks

-2 oz heavy cream

-2 teaspoons lemon juice

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium low heat and, prick the duck universally with a butcher’s fork and slowly brown the duck all over. This is not a process to rush; you want to render as much of the admittedly fabulous fat as possible and may need to reduce the heat to low to prevent burning.
  2. Put the duck breast down in a pot with a scant 1 ½ cups water, cover it--tightly--and simmer for about 1 ½ hours.
  3. Turn the duck over and surround it with the peas; recover the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the lettuce to the pot with some salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes.
  5. Strain the stock from the peas and lettuce. Put the vegetables in a warm, covered dish and keep it warm; the vegetables do require butter or seasoning.
  6. Make the sauce. Return half of the stock to the pot. Whisk together the yolks and cream, then slowly whisk the other half of the stock into the mixture.
  7. Add this liaison to the pot and bring the sauce slowly to a simmer. Do not let it boil or the sauce will curdle.
  8. Whisk in the lemon juice, check for salt and pepper, and serve with the quartered duck and its green companions.


- The Editor’s recipe leans heavily on Jane Grigson’s from English Food (London 1974), but we have substituted frozen for fresh peas due to their superior quality and shortened the cooking time for both them and the lettuce.

- Ideally, as Mrs. Grigson requires, you would make a stock from the duck’s giblets before starting the recipe and then using it instead of water to simmer the duck. If you have duck stock, by all means use it. The duck of course will flavor the water as it simmers but you could further enrich the dish with boxed or canned beef or pork broth. We do not like chicken stock with duck.

- It can be tricky to thicken a sauce with egg and cream; it will curdle if it reaches the boiling point. If you are not confident about using egg yolks, then do as Mrs. Grigson suggests as an alternative and thicken the sauce with flour. Whisk together a Tablespoon each of flour and butter over medium heat and gradually whisk the warm stock into the roux. A much easier method, “but,” as Mrs. Grigson notes, “the yolks and cream are best.”

- Mrs. FitzGibbon always thickens her duck with lettuce and peas by using roux, or, as the English insist on calling it, a beurre manié. Her recipe is a little more complicated than ours, but only a little. She dusts the duck in flour before browning it, cooks the bird for a little less time with the further addition of 3 scallions and a bouquet of basil, marjoram and mint. She also adds a pinch of nutmeg and 3 Tablespoons of “medium sherry” - - go with Amontillado - - at Step 4 with the lettuce, an appealing idea. Quotations are from A Taste of the Sea (London 1977).

- It would be hard to improve on her description of duck with lettuce and peas: “The dish has a remarkably fresh flavour, agreeably sweet but light and sharp at the same time. An ideal summer dish.” (English Food 205)

- Theodora FitzGibbon dates the dish from the onset of the eighteenth century and explicitly links it to ships at sea. It was, she says, “a popular dish on many ocean liners” during the 1880’s and 90s.