Deliciously dumbing down duck curry

Duck curry

Michelle has been revisiting David Thompson’s Thai Food, a cookbook we’ve had for many years. In addition to enjoying the stories about Thai culture and history, she has also been searching for some fresh recipe ideas. The ingredient list in a recipe for “red duck curry” drew her attention, and our first preparation went well in spite of the omission of shrimp paste (we need to visit some bigger city Asian markets again soon) and the addition of some vegetables. While we did bone out the duck legs, we skipped simmering the bones in coconut milk, but still enjoyed the citrusy, spicy and somewhat unusual curry. Not having the recommended steamed salted duck eggs or deep-fried fish about for accompaniments, we made do with duck cracklings, which we made with the reserved duck skin.

Duck curry

We’ve made this dish a few times now, and enjoyed how tender and tasty the coconut milk-simmered duck becomes, and how it stays that way even when reheated. (Liver-flavored, leather-tough leftover duck has been the bane of Steve’s lunch plans many times.) The next time we do this curry, we’re going to make it even easier by using duck breast instead of legs. It may be a little more decadent and a bit dumber than traditional Thai, but we’re guaranteed to get more cracklings—and in Gourmandistan, rendered skin is one way to say “delicious.”

Duck curry


(adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food)


  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1-1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 5 cloves
  • 6 or 7 dried red chilies, deseeded, soaked in hot water and drained
  • 1/2 TB finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
  • large pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 TB chopped lemongrass
  • 2 shallot bulbs, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • several grates of fresh nutmeg

Place peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cloves in a small skillet and toast until fragrant. Place toasted spices in a mini processor and process or pound with a mortar and pestle. Then add remaining ingredients and process or pound until paste-like. (Or, start in the processor and finish by hand with the mortar and pestle.)


  • 4 small or 2 large duck legs (about 2 lbs. total)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 lb. broccolini, chopped
  • 13.5 oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 1 TB soy sauce
  • 1 TB fish sauce
  • 1 TB brown sugar
  • Neutral oil
  • Paste (see above)
  • 1 green chili, sliced thin
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • handful of Thai basil leaves

Remove skin/fat from duck legs. Place in a skillet and render fat over low heat, turning occasionally, until crispy. Drain the cracklings on paper towels. Save the rendered fat in the refrigerator for other uses. When cooled, chop the cracklings.

While duck fat is rendering, cook sweet potato in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside. Then blanch broccolini in salted boiling water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Cut duck meat into small (1/2″ or so) cubes.

Mix together coconut milk, soy and fish sauces and brown sugar.

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a wok. Add paste. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Then add duck meat. Toss until most but not all of pink is gone. Add coconut milk mixture, sweet potatoes, chili and kaffir lime leaves. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until meat is done and vegetables are warmed. Then add broccolini and basil leaves.

Serve with steamed rice. Sprinkle duck cracklings over.


  1. Eha

    Ignorant me does not have David Thompson’s book, but cook a fair amount of Thai and love duck when I can get hold of it here in the country. Shall most certainly try this, especially since shrimp paste is an ‘everyday food item’ Down Under I can add. Have to attempt since for me the usual voluminous Thai ‘heat’ may be missing 🙂 !

    • Yeah, this wasn’t terribly hot. Though I’ve had that book for ages and ages, I never really realized that he was trying to recapture a really specific period in Thai cuisine (late 19th century). Makes it all the more interesting.

  2. How delicious! And a simple delicious, too. I treasure the fat I keep after cooking duck, and use it in so many other dishes. Just recently I cooked some fresh young lima beans in it, along with fennel, sage, and garlic. It was a winner!

    • Thanks! Gosh, I don’t know. I’m rather a novice at Thai curry pastes. But, you know, the seed doesn’t taste anything like the fresh leaves which I know lots of people hate (for genetic reasons or otherwise).

  3. YUM YUM YUM YUM! The sound of tender coconut simmered duck really caught my attention & then you really got me with the crackling.

    Now I have to make this too – my “to make” recipe list grows ever longer.

  4. Yummy, sounds fantastic (and looks it, too!). I like the combination with a little fresh cucumber salad in your picture, would even think of having the green mango salad as a worthy side. And as a great fan of duck with sweet potatoes, I can’t wait to try this out when back home from Spain. Nicole

      • That’s what happened to me the first time! Therefore I swore never to make one again BUT the real green mangoes at the Asian market are a total different thing: they look like miniature green, hard avocados and are totally unripe. Can’t wait to try out your curry but have to go out for dinner again now…in Spain…hard live… I tell you. N.

  5. Oh yes! I’m so glad you posted this recipe. I love duck and your photos are stunning. I need to do this. The curry and the paste here look amazing. I’ve been sort of cheating when it comes to thai and getting the pastes made from the can. They’re better than anything I’ve tried from scratch and I’ve been told it’s not entirely cheating….so…..but I’m going to try this from start to finish. I’m obsessed with duck too. I’m so happy you posted this. Thank you!

    • Thanks, er gracias, Amanda! We love duck around here and are always looking for an excuse to use it. Don’t feel bad about the bought curry paste—that’s what I usually use. But it was fun to try making a paste myself. Although the cookbook called this a “red curry,” it really wasn’t red at all. Maybe that has a meaning beyond the obvious one. Regardless of color, it was delicious!

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