This post has been updated for photos and content since it’s original publication in 2014.
Looking for impressive French duck recipes that are actually pretty simple to make? Look no farther than this pate de canard. I know it sounds fancy, however, it’s actually very straightforward and isn’t THAT involved. With a potpourri of herbs, spices and a hit of cognac, aromatic duck rillettes are a perfect hors d’oeuvres with cocktails, delicious starter with a green salad and toasted baguettes or a thoughtful hostess gift. If you’re unfamiliar, you can think of this as potted meat taken to a whole other level. This rillettes recipe needs a few days of resting time, therefore make it a few days before you want to serve it.
Familiar French Duck Recipes
For those who don’t know what rillettes (pronounced ree-yet) are, you’re probably familiar with its country-bumpkin American cousin, potted meat. It’s a similar concept, but the rillettes version has more depth, flavor and is SO MUCH BETTER.
I’m half French (on my Mother’s side) and as a result, I’ve eaten my fair share of French duck recipes. From cassoulet to confit, duck à l’orange to foie gras, I’ve devoured them all and I’d really like to try this Russian version. One of my favorites is this aromatic duck rillettes recipe, which uses a whole slow-roasted duck for the meat, stock and fat that this aromatic duck rillettes recipe demands… and it couldn’t be any simpler to prepare.
Ingredients For Aromatic Duck Rillettes Recipe
- Whole Duck
- Rendered Duck Fat (from the whole duck)
- Rendered Duck Stock (from the whole duck)
- Dried Thyme
- Bay Leaves
- Orange Peel & Zest
- Fresh Thyme
- Whole Peppercorns
- Dijon Mustard
- Cayenne Pepper
I know, it looks like a long list of ingredients, but I’ll bet you have more than half of them already in your pantry and refrigerator. Frankly, it’s all of these aromatics make the difference between a humble potted meat to a real pate de canard.
Sourcing A Duck
The hardest part about this rillettes recipe was finding a duck. They don’t keep them front and center in the meat department and depending on where you live, you may have to order one. This one came from my local market, buried next to the turkeys and cornish game hens. Defrost the duck the day before you begin (and you can toss out that orange sauce packet — you won’t need it for this French duck recipe)!
Preparing Pate De Canard
Making Duck Rillettes
This recipe takes 2 days to make, primarily because the duck takes 7 hours to cook and you want to give the duck fat and stock to separate into two distinct layers in the refrigerator. Trust me, it’s easier this way.
- Mix together the salt, pepper and dried thyme for the duck rub.
- Combine the garlic, ginger, bay leaves, orange rind, fresh thyme and peppercorns for the potpourri.
- Place the duck in a roasting pan and generously season the outside of the duck with the rub.
- Fill the duck cavity with the potpourri.
- Roast in a very low oven for 7 hours or until the duck is very tender and the fat and jus have rendered.
- Remove the flesh from the duck and place the meat in a storage container. Refrigerate overnight.
- Strain the drippings. In order to continue to the next step in the french duck recipe, you’ll need to separate the fat from the jus.
Look at the liquids given off by slow roasting the aromatic duck! The bottom portion is pure duck broth and the top is the separated fat. You need both of them for the pate de canard.
Separating Aromatic Duck Broth From Fat
There are a few ways to accomplish this…
- Pour the juices into a glass measuring cup and spoon the floating fat from the top by dipping the spoon just below the surface and letting it fill with fat. Transfer fat to another container.
- If you have a gravy separator, use it here, it will automatically separate the two layers of aromatic duck jus and fat.
- Refrigerate it. By refrigerating, the fat and jus will solidify. The fat turns solid and milky while the jus is jellied and rich. It’s easy to scoop the fat from the top and because you can actually SEE the difference between the layers, it’s much easier. This is my preferred method.
Assembling Aromatic Duck Rillettes Recipe
- The next day, scoop the solidified duck fat off the top of the stock and transfer to a small bowl.
- Combine the duck meat, cognac, orange zest, butter, parsley, dijon mustard, cayenne pepper with some of the warmed duck fat and duck stock. Mix in a stand mixer or by hand until everything is well combined.
- Transfer the duck rillettes to ramekins or storage jars (makes a great holiday gift).
- Garnish with a bit of parsley or thin orange peel and spoon warm duck fat over the top to seal. Cover and refrigerate for a few days or up to a week.
- Serve with crackers, french bread or crostini with cocktails.
Best Containers For Storing & Gifting Pate De Canard
If you’re making this French potted meat to serve at your own party or get together, use white porcelain ramekins to serve it in. However, if you’re planning on gifting the pate de canard for a holiday present or some other occasion, look for mini Heremes jars or Weck mold jars for a beautiful presentation.
The flavors will deepen over the course of several days, so I like to make this rillettes recipe three to four days, or even up to a week before I’m planning on serving or gifting the French potted meat.
Don’t Serve Rillettes Cold
Let the rillettes sit out for half an hour or so to come to room temperature before digging in. The duck fat will naturally soften to that melt in your mouth consistency and let the flavors really shine through. This aromatic duck is delicious spread on crostini and served with a crisp bubbly wine.
Ideas For Gifting Aromatic Duck Rillettes
If you happen to be gifting a jar or two of these tasty spreads here’s 3 ways to do it:
Inexpensive: Package in a nice jar with a ribbon or bow and give with a sleeve of good crackers.
Moderate: Start with the “Inexpensive” idea, but also include a serving tray and good spreader knife.
The Sky’s The Limit: Start with the “Moderate” option and add a really good bottle of bubbly.
More Pates and Rillettes Recipes:
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Aromatic Duck Rillettes Recipe
- 1 whole duck about 6 pounds
for spice rub
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 generous teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 heaping teaspoons dried thyme
for the aromatics
- 12 cloves garlic crushed and peeled
- 3- inch knob of fresh ginger don't worry about peeling, sliced into quarter inch pieces
- 3-4 bay leaves
- peel from an orange no white pith
- 1 large bunch of fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
to assemble rillettes
- cold duck meat
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
- 2 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
- 2-3 tablespoons warm duck fat from the duck you've roasted
- 2 tablespoons warm duck stock from the duck you've roasted
- 2 teaspoons parsley chopped
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustarad
- dash of cayenne pepper
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
for (optional) garnish
- additional orange zest
- black pepper
- parsley leaves
- 4-6 ramekins canning jars or other half-pint sized crocks
- Heat oven to 250 degrees.
- In a small bowl mix together the kosher salt, black pepper and dried thyme. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl combine the garlic, ginger, bay leaves, orange peel, thyme and peppercorns. Toss to combine with your hands. Set aside.
- Place the duck in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the inside of the duck cavity with 1/3 of the spice rub. Sprinkle 1/3 on the back of the duck. With your hands, insert the potpourri fully into the duck cavity. Sprinkle duck breast with the remaining 1/3 of the spice rub.
- Place the duck in the oven and cook for 7 hours, or until the duck meat is easy to pull away from the bones. Note: this low, slow method of cooking will render copious amounts of duck fat and jellied stock and may fill 1/3 of the baking dish. That's what you want.
- Lift the duck and drain any fluids from it. Transfer to a cutting board. Place a sieve over a quart sized jar or other storage container and pour the drippings and stock through the strainer. Seal with a lid and refrigerate.
- Remove the skin from the duck. Remove the flesh from the duck and transfer it to a sealed storage container and refrigerate overnight. You can discard the skin and bones from the duck (or keep them and make a really good duck stock).
- Remove the stock/fat jar from the refrigerator. They will have separated into two distinct layers. The top is duck fat and the bottom layer is duck stock. Use a spoon to scoop out the top layer of duck fat and transfer to another container. You'll use a little bit of each for this recipe -- the rest can be saved for other uses (plenty of duck fat/stock recipes here).
IF USING A STAND MIXER:
- Transfer the duck meat to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the cognac, softened butter, parsley, orange zest, dijon mustard and cayenne pepper. Add 2-3 tablespoons of duck fat and 2 tablespoons of the broth to the duck meat.
- Attach the paddle attachment on the stand mixer and mix on a low speed until meat breaks apart and is incorporated with the other ingredients. 2-3 minutes.
IF MIXING BY HAND:
- Use a wooden spoon and work the meat mixture into the other ingredients, until it's a fairly smooth consistency and all the ingredients are well combined.
- Fill half-cup ramekins or canning jars with the duck mixture. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon.
- Top the aromatic duck rillettes with optional garnish and seal the rillettes with 1-2 tablespoons of additional duck fat. Cover and refrigerate for several days and up to a week for the flavors to marry.
- Serve with crackers or crostini and a cocktail!