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Nov 23

Traditional Welsh salt duck

Illustration for salt duck recipeI was visiting the lovely town of Ironbridge and, as usual, found myself drifting into a charity shop on the hunt for unusual cookery books. As luck would have it, there was a small room in the back of the shop with jam-packed bookshelves and I came across First Catch Your Peacock: The Classic Guide to Welsh Food.

This book is an amazing resource for rustic, earthy recipes, including many versions of the classic Welsh stew: cawl. However, the one I was particularly intrigued to try was a traditional Welsh recipe for salt-boiled duck.

Like salt-baked fish, the duck is packed with salt but instead of cooking in the oven the meat is left to rest in the salt for up to 3 days before being rinsed and boiled in fresh water.

The method was originally recorded by Lady Llanover in 1867 and she claimed that ‘Salt boiled duck, with white onion sauce, is much better than roast duck’. In for a penny in for a pound, as they say, so despite the onion sauce sounding a bit like peasant food (no butter!!?) I rustled some up to go with the duck. It was surprisingly creamy and we ended up eating the entire lot between the two of us.

If you are looking for an accompaniment for your salt duck, the author of First Catch Your Peacock recommends orange and watercress salad. Since both my husband and I are starch fanatics we enjoyed a variation of rumbledethumps: mashed potato with kale and spring onions which also went very well with the onion sauce.

There are many types of duck – we had mallard which was delicious cooked in this way, very tender, and tasted quite game-y. The stock was amazing. I’m not sure if salt duck tastes better than roast duck but it is certainly it’s equal. With the bonus of a pan full of full-flavoured stock to enhance another meal, however, the balance falls in the favour of salt boiled duck every time.

Recipe: Welsh salt-boiled duck

  • 1 duck – any variety
  • 100g / 4oz good quality sea salt
  • Water

Place the duck in a small tray or container and rub in the salt. Turn the duck over and repeat on the underside. Turn the duck over again, make a little salt bed around the underside, and then pack salt around the duck as tightly as possible. Cover the container with clingfilm, or a lid, and put in the fridge to rest for two to three days.

After the resting time, rinse the duck thoroughly in cold water.

Transfer the duck into the smallest saucepan that will hold it snugly and add enough water to just cover.

Bring the water to the boil, cover the pan, and simmer gently for around 2 hours.

To follow tradition, serve with white onion sauce.

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