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Duck with Vanilla - an Easy and Gourmet Recipe

Updated on April 14, 2013

One of my favourite duck recipes - Duck in Vanilla Sauce

If you love duck, you'll adore this exotic and fragrant dish which combines duck with the tantalising scent of vanilla beans. It's incredibly easy, doesn't take long to make and is always a crowd pleaser.

This is my go-to recipe for dinner parties, when I want to impress without spending hours in the kitchen. It is based on the traditional dish Canard la Vanille from my adopted home of Runion, where the world's best vanilla is grown.

This recipe was put together based on several traditional cookbooks, as well as personal conversations with locals as to what makes the best vanilla duck. I've even been lucky enough to watch vanilla duck being made the traditional way - in a giant pot over a wood fire by an elderly woman who's been making it for decades. I took plenty of mental notes and can now present to you an authentic, tasty and really simple way of making this local favourite.

Don't worry about the presence of vanilla making the dish too sweet. The vanilla lends its unmistakeable fragrance and taste, but it blends in beautifully without overpowering the meat. It's not a sweet dish at all - rather, it is rich, fragrant and very addictive. You'll love it!

On this page, I'll walk you through my vanilla duck recipe with pictures to help you understand just how easy it is to make. If you're new to cooking duck, know that it's just as simple as cooking chicken. The results are definitely gourmet, but any home cook can manage this dish.

Gather your ingredients for vanilla duck

Premium Madagascar Vanilla Beans 1/4 lb (26-30 beans) JR Mushrooms Brand
Premium Madagascar Vanilla Beans 1/4 lb (26-30 beans) JR Mushrooms Brand

Madagascar, also known as Bourbon vanilla is the only one I use. These plump, flavoursome beans are perfect for sweet as well as savoury recipes and will last for years if stored properly. Although pricier than the industrial stuff, you can reuse the pods again and again once rinsed, or store them in sugar or alcohol to make them go even further.

 
Frontier Thyme Leaf Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag
Frontier Thyme Leaf Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag

You'll need some thyme for this recipe, which adds a nice contrast to the sweetness of the vanilla. There's nothing worse than old, rancid dried thyme that tastes and smells like dust, so stock up on a good quality brand like this one.

 
Indus Organics Turmeric (Curcumin) Powder, 1 Lb Jar, Premium Grade, High Purity, Freshly Packed
Indus Organics Turmeric (Curcumin) Powder, 1 Lb Jar, Premium Grade, High Purity, Freshly Packed

You can buy turmeric at your local store, but in my experience many industrial brands have lost the kick and unique aroma they had when packaged. This brand has excellent reviews, however and I'd feel confident about using it in my duck recipe.

 
Light Grey Celtic Sea Salt 5 Pound Resealable Bag – Additive-Free, Delicious Sea Salt, Perfect for Cooking, Baking and More - Gluten-Free, Non-GMO Verified, Kosher and Paleo-Friendly
Light Grey Celtic Sea Salt 5 Pound Resealable Bag – Additive-Free, Delicious Sea Salt, Perfect for Cooking, Baking and More - Gluten-Free, Non-GMO Verified, Kosher and Paleo-Friendly

Lots of people think that all salt is the same, until they try a proper sea salt. This coarse sea salt is full of minerals and flavour. It's perfect for crushing in a pestle and mortar to make a paste for this duck recipe. Once you've tried it, you won't cook with processed table salt anymore.

 
Starwest Botanicals Organic Malabar Black Pepper Whole, 1 Pound
Starwest Botanicals Organic Malabar Black Pepper Whole, 1 Pound

Black peppercorns give a nice strong kick to vanilla duck, and are an important ingredient in the garlic paste we make in the mortar and pestle. Use nice, fresh black peppercorns for best results.

 

Vanilla - an intriguing spice

It's super important that you choose a good vanilla for this recipe, as its flavour will really shine through. I only use Madagascar Bourbon vanilla pods, and I recommend you do the same. Why?

To find out why this is the best, most versatile vanilla variety you might like to open up this page in another tab. It'll take you through the different varieties of vanilla, and help you choose the right type for every dish. You'll be amazed at how interesting the world of vanilla is.

Bourbon Vanilla - Beans, Paste, Extracts & How to Use Them
Why is Bourbon vanilla considered the world's best, and how is it different to other vanilla varieties? Find out the answer, as well as facts, reviews and ti...

Granite mortar and pestle - bring out the flavours of those spices

Everybody needs one of these. Seriously. You can make curry pastes, crush spices, nuts and herbs, make sauces, pesto and more. A mortar and pestle is my must-have tool and it takes my vanilla duck recipe to new heights.

Crushing garlic and spices magically makes the flavours more intense, and it's really fun to use, too. I like using a granite mortar because it's nice and heavy, easy to clean and will last forever.

Mortar and pestle 101

You might be thinking that mortar and pestles have no place in modern cooking, but you're missing out on a lot of flavour and fun with that attitude.

For an authentic Canard la Vanille, it is indispensable to crush the garlic and spices first into a paste. This brings out the best taste, and the texture of the paste melts better into the sauce than chopped garlic.

If you don't have one of these, go buy one. Right now! It will change your cooking life. But until you get one, there are several DIY techniques you can use that will give a similar result. I've written about them, as well as plenty of mortar and pestle info, reviews and cool ideas in the article below.

Choosing and Using a Mortar and Pestle
The world's top chefs have called it 'the most important tool in the kitchen' , and I agree. Your mortar and pestle will release a spice's most intense flav...

Using a pestle and mortar

The best way to bring out the flavour of garlic and spices is to crush them with a mortar and pestle. My authentic Reunion Island Canard a la Vanille recipe uses this technique to turn garlic, salt and peppercorns into a paste. It's really easy, and the results are fantastic.

If you've never used a pestle before, this video shows you how.

Enamel cast iron - grab a bargain!

I really think there's not better cookware than enamel cast iron. I love cooking vanilla duck in my vintage Le Creuset dutch oven because it browns well, keeps a steady heat and just makes everything taste better. It's really easy to clean, and there's no risk of rust as with uncovered cast iron.

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 50 min
Ready in: 1 hour
Yields: 4

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs or 1.2 kgs duck meat with bones
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs coarse sea salt
  • half tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • half tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 branches fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 fresh tomatoes or half cup tomato puree
  • 1 tsp raw sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil

Instructions

  1. - Cut the duck meat into large pieces. Rinse and pat dry.
  2. - Heat up a large, heavy bottomed dutch oven until very hot. Add the sunflower oil, and brown the meat in batches until deep golden brown.
  3. - While the meat is browning, thinly slice the onion and fresh tomatoes. Using a mortar and pestle or small blender, crush the garlic, salt and peppercorns until they form a paste.
  4. - Once the meat is browned, add the onion and stir well until translucent.
  5. - Add the garlic paste and turmeric, stirring well to coat the meat.
  6. - Add the fresh tomatoes or puree, stirring the meat well to dislodge any pieces stuck to the bottom of the dutch oven.
  7. - Add about a cup of water and bring to a low simmer.
  8. - Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the beans onto the meat and add the split pod as well as thyme branches to the dutch oven.
  9. - Transfer to a very low heat, cover and leave to simmer for 45 minutes. You'll need to check regularly and add more water if it starts to stick.
  10. - When the sauce has become thick and the meat is tender, add the sugar, let dissolve and take off the heat.
  11. - Serve with rice, green lentils and a spicy chilli sauce.
Cast your vote for My authentic vanilla duck recipe

Making duck in vanilla sauce - step by step

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cut the duck into large pieces, then wash and dry it well.Gather the spices, peel the garlic and slice the onion. Split the vanilla bean lengthways.Use a granite mortar and pestle to crush the garlic, salt and pepper.When it forms a paste, scoop it out with a spoon.Brown the meat in batches, until all pieces are a deep golden colour.Pour out the rendered duck fat, leaving a scant tablespoon in the dutch oven.Add the browned meat back to the dutch oven, let heat up then add the sliced onion.Once the onions have softened, add the garlic and turmeric powder. Stir well for about 30 seconds. Add the thyme, and scrape the vanilla seeds onto the meat before adding the split bean.Add the tomato puree or fresh tomatoes, then the water. Turn to the lowest heat, cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.
Cut the duck into large pieces, then wash and dry it well.
Cut the duck into large pieces, then wash and dry it well.
Gather the spices, peel the garlic and slice the onion. Split the vanilla bean lengthways.
Gather the spices, peel the garlic and slice the onion. Split the vanilla bean lengthways.
Use a granite mortar and pestle to crush the garlic, salt and pepper.
Use a granite mortar and pestle to crush the garlic, salt and pepper.
When it forms a paste, scoop it out with a spoon.
When it forms a paste, scoop it out with a spoon.
Brown the meat in batches, until all pieces are a deep golden colour.
Brown the meat in batches, until all pieces are a deep golden colour.
Pour out the rendered duck fat, leaving a scant tablespoon in the dutch oven.
Pour out the rendered duck fat, leaving a scant tablespoon in the dutch oven.
Add the browned meat back to the dutch oven, let heat up then add the sliced onion.
Add the browned meat back to the dutch oven, let heat up then add the sliced onion.
Once the onions have softened, add the garlic and turmeric powder. Stir well for about 30 seconds. Add the thyme, and scrape the vanilla seeds onto the meat before adding the split bean.
Once the onions have softened, add the garlic and turmeric powder. Stir well for about 30 seconds. Add the thyme, and scrape the vanilla seeds onto the meat before adding the split bean.
Add the tomato puree or fresh tomatoes, then the water. Turn to the lowest heat, cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.
Add the tomato puree or fresh tomatoes, then the water. Turn to the lowest heat, cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!
Dinner is served!

Duck Recipe Books

It's really worth learning to cook duck - this rich, delicious meat is so often overcooked which is a shame. In reality, it's no more difficult to cook than chicken but it takes special techniques and knowledge to bring out the best in flavour and texture.

Here are a few great cookbooks that will teach you how to cook duck perfectly.

The Duck CookbookCHECK PRICE

Duck & Goose CookeryCHECK PRICE

Duck, Duck, GooseCHECK PRICE


It's easy to cut up a whole duck

For best results, vanilla duck should use meat as well as bones. Many butcher shops sell either duck breast or a whole duck, and the latter is best for this recipe.

Once you've bought your whole duck, it's quite easy to cut it up. This short video shows you how.

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If you enjoyed this recipe page, you might enjoy reading some of my other food and cooking articles.

I like to write about exotic and tropical foods, kitchen gadgets and ways to use food scraps in genius ways. Here is some of my latest work.

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Thanks for visiting! Would you eat vanilla duck?

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    • profile image

      othellos 

      5 years ago

      Very nice lens. Exotic and unusual recipe for duck. Very interested to make it for a special occasion. Thanks for sharing:=)

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 

      5 years ago from Burbank, CA

      Yum! Cannot wait to try it.

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 

      5 years ago

      This is a wonderful article and very thorough. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Rosetta Slone profile imageAUTHOR

      Rosetta Slone 

      5 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      @Stuwaha: Let me know how it goes!

    • profile image

      Stuwaha 

      5 years ago

      This looks amazing! Have passed to my husband. Thank you for sharing. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Looks intriguing. Great pictures!

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