Duck or goose is a popular dish prepared all over Europe during the winter holiday season, (with the exception of the Mediterranean coastal regions where fish entrees, such as the Feast of Seven Fishes, are enjoyed). They are especially popular in Germany, France, and England. In the United States, duck and goose are overlooked for the holiday table but have been appreciated for generations by certain ethnic groups. Both ducks and geese are non-flying waterfowl animals and are domesticated for culinary purposes. They are perfect for whole roasting because they yield meats that have a very mild flavor. Wild duck or geese have a flavor similar to a pheasant and are too “gamey” for many pallets. Frozen goose or duck can be purchased in most grocery stores or ordered ahead from a local farmer specializing in raising them and especially reviving the heritage breeds.  

The Peking Duck

In the United States, perhaps the most popular duck preparation is Peking Duck. This dish dates back to Imperial China of the 1300s. The dish is named after the city Peking, modern-day Beijing. This preparation is characterized by its thin crispy skin. The duck is first marinated in Five Spices, then steamed until tender, deep-fried until crispy, and served with a sweet bean sauce. They are available pre-made and hanging for purchase in Chinese grocery stores. “Peking” is also a breed of duck, originally brought from China to Long Island. White Peking accounts for 95% of duck consumption in the United States, but other heritage breeds are popular once again. The most popular domesticated breeds are Muscovy or Mallard ducks, popular for their juicy, tender, rose-colored meat and a mild taste. Mallard ducks are larger animals and are the variety used for the famous and controversial delicacy foie gras. Muscovy duck is leaner, but the meat is tougher. 

Similarly, goose is often an alternative to turkey on the European Christmas table. For the European cultures, roasted goose is traditionally eaten on St. Martin’s Day, November 11th. Named for a Roman saint who lived around 300 BCE, St. Martin is said to have arrived on a “white horse,” bringing the first snow of the season. This is also the day when the first wine of the new harvest is released, called Beaujolais Nouveau. A Duck or a goose is also usually the centerpiece on St. Stephan’s day on December 26. (Read more about European winter holiday traditions find here). There is an old belief that no “birds of a feather” should be eaten on New Year’s Day, or luck in the upcoming year may just fly away. Instead, the European and American tradition of serving lentils and peas on New Year’s Day is intended to bring us all good luck!  

You can tell from the elongated shape and the meat color that this is a different breed of duck than the one pictured above. This is a Muscovy duck and is seasoned with caraway seeds and salt. The recipes and preparation style for duck or goose vary from region to region. Some parts of Germany and France stuff the birds with apples, sweet chestnuts, prunes, or onions. They are almost always served with red or green braised cabbage. Avoid using herbs such as sage and rosemary with these birds; their strong flavor easily overpowers the delicate meat.  

Even though the flavor or domesticated duck and geese taste differ little, it is often the size of the family and taste preferences that determine which bird will be cooked for a holiday. Goose meat is tougher, while duck is very tender. A goose can be the size of a turkey and is slowly roasted in the oven, often overnight. Each feeds eight people generously. Ducks are much smaller, and one feeds only 2-3 people.The whole turkey is uncommon in Europe, and the whole turkey is almost never sold, maybe for the simple reason that European ovens would not accommodate the whole animal for roasting. It is also said that turkey has nine different types of meat, and each is used for a different preparation or various dishes. 

Whole roasted duck in a pan

Roasting a Duck

Magda Born


  • Defrost the frozen duck a few days prior
  • Heat the oven to 275-300F

The animal:

  • Check the inside of the cavity for giblets or sauces.
  • Remove the giblets from the package and place them in the baking dish or safe for later use, such as soup or liver pate.
  • Remove excess fat from the cavity.
  • Salt the bird on the outside and inside.
  • Add spices such as caraway seeds, Chinese five-spice, or add onion, prunes, or apples to the cavity.
  • Place the bird into a baking dish of an appropriate size (washing the bird is not necessary as it promotes the spread of bacteria).
  • Add water to the baking dish, about 1-2 inches. The dish will start filling up with grease and drippings.
  • Roast uncovered at low temperature (270-300F) for 3-4 hours.
  • If the skin starts to brown too quickly, cover the pot with a lid or the bird with aluminum foil.
  • Pierce the fattiest part of the bird, usually around the wing area, to let the fat render.
  • Remove the fat from the roasting pan as it accumulates, using a baster or a ladle. DO NOT discard the fat!! This is the gold byproduct of baking a duck or a goose. Their fat can be saved in the refrigerator or freezer and can be used as a foundation of many dishes (including French fries) or eaten plainly with bread and salt. It is delicious!
  • To test for doneness, prick the thickest part with a fork. The juices should be clean. You can also try to wiggle the wing. It should be easy to move.
  • When the bird is cooked, turn up the oven temperature to high to crisp the skin. Roast at high heat until the skin is nice and golden. Remove from the oven and let sit covered for 20 minutes longer before carving.
  • Enjoy!

The duck is cut into portions with poultry scissors or carved with a knife, like a turkey. In my family, the duck is enjoyed with dumplings or gnocchi, cooked sauerkraut, and cranberry relish or fruit compotes. The meal is simply drizzled with drippings from the sauce.  



The New York Times cooking. No-recipe recipes by Sam Sifton

Book Call Number 641.5 SIFTON

The French chef with Julia Child vol. 2


Call Number  DVD 641.5944 FRENCH CHEF V.2 D.1-3

Beard on Birds by James Beard


Magda Born

Adult Services Librarian

Kansas City KS Public Library

625 Minnesota Ave

Kansas City KS 66101