From Too Many Chefs -

February 18, 2005
Duck Soup

ducksoup.jpgRoast duck is a dish that I will never ever toy with. I don't do it à l'orange, I won't toss in exotic spices such as star anise or Chinese five spice powder. The most exotic I will ever get with my roast duck is to pop an apple and maybe an onion in its belly. It's a shame, but I just can't. This is because the only reason I ever roast a duck is in order to have a duck carcass for making duck soup.

My Austrian grandmother made the best soups I have ever tasted. And of these soups, her best was cream of mushroom soup made with a duck base. It was sublime. Something about the duck broth brought out the delicate flavour of mushrooms like no other liquid. Salty and creamy and savory and delicious. You can judge how delicious the soup was by the fact that even as a child, I recognized this was pure genius.

And so when I roast a duck it's because I intend to try my best to reproduce my grandmother's best dish. Exotic spices might carry over to the broth and so they are off the menu.

It's a roundabout way to make a soup but it's the best way. I've seen a lot of cookbooks (my beloved Fanny Farmer, for one) and many cooking programs counsel boiling a raw bird with a load of vegetables in order to make a bouillon. Well, if you want watery, bland broth and a lot of soggy meat, please do. I did. Once. And then I remembered my grandmother saving the bones from roast birds and realized that the thrifty way to make chicken or duck broth is also the tasty way. Why don't any cookbooks tell you this?? Is it for fear that no one will ever make soup because it sounds like too much work? Who knows. All I know is that it's worthwhile roasting a duck (which is a nice dish on its own, too) in order to get duck broth.

So, first buy your duck. Rinse it and pat it dry. Cut up an apple and an onion in large chunks and toss them in the cavity of the bird. Sprinkle a little Lawry's salt on the outside of the bird. Prick the skin all over so that the fat will run off more easily. (There will be a lot.) Toss a glass of white wine or sherry over the bird and put it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes (Around 220C/450f). Reduce the heat and continue to roast until a meat thermometer tells you it's done. For a small bird, this will be about an hour and a half, the same as a chicken.

The duck will be fragrant and juicy from all the fat, albeit a pain to carve because of the same. I am always surprised how little meat there is on one bird; it's really only enough for two.

When you are done with the duck, toss all the bones, bits of fat and skin and juices in a large pot and cover with water. If you like, you can add a couple of potatoes and carrots and onions too. I usually do if I have any that are getting towards the end of their shelf life. I don't bother with celery. (Another mystery in my life is why most traditional cookbooks in the US tell you to add celery to soup broth.) Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn down to a slow bubble. Let it simmer for several hours, stirring it and breaking up the bones with a wooden spoon every half hour or so. When the broth has gone nice and brown and nutty and it smells delicious, pour the mixture into a colander or strainer held over a large bowl. Put the strained broth in the refrigerator for several hours, preferably overnight. Once the broth has cooled completely, the fat will rise to the top and you can skim it off with a large spoon.

You can do anything with this nectar, but my favourite thing is to combine it with cream and mushrooms. One bird will probably give you enough broth for four to six bowls of soup. So take about two pounds of mushrooms (either plain white ones or a mix of exotic ones) and sauté them in a knob of butter with a finely chopped onion or six chopped shallots. When they are soft and tasty, add the duck broth. Add a couple of generous spoonfuls of crème fraîche or, if you are in the US, a mixture of cream and sour cream. You want the tang from the sour cream or crème fraîche as it compliments the duck deliciously. Taste for salt and pepper; it will be the better for a generous helping of each.

It really is my favourite soup. It's not overly pretty (cream soups rarely are) but when you smell it you'll understand why it's my favourite soup. Even my Critic, who theoretically doesn't like mushrooms, loves this soup. Quack!

(Does anyone out there have any idea why the Marx brothers called their film Duck Soup??)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at February 18, 2005 5:41 AM | TrackBack

I'd never wondered about the name. According to WordNet, "duck soup" is slang for somethign easy to do - like "piece of cake".

So was it easy?

Posted by barrett on February 18, 2005 at 7:39 AM

To clarify - I didn't actually know what "duck soup" meant, but for some reason I just dismissed it as one of those crazy Marx Brothers names.

Posted by barrett on February 18, 2005 at 9:15 AM

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy as my stepdaughter would say! Time consuming, though.

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 18, 2005 at 11:52 AM

But what about the sanity clause!?

Posted by barrett on February 18, 2005 at 3:24 PM

Oh no, you no a-fool-a me...everybody knows there ain't no sanity clause!

(My deepest thanks, Barrett, for feeding me that line. It's my all time favourite in any Marx Brothers film...though I don't think it's in Duck soup...)

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 18, 2005 at 3:27 PM

Can I use the geese that live at the local pond? I'm thinking major soup to feed the neighborhood to get rid of the waddling poopers.

Posted by Bryan on February 18, 2005 at 3:28 PM

I think it sounds like a great idea! When I was younger my uncle used to go hunting geese. What happened to the good old days when they used to fly OVER the Chicago area, rather than settling in for the winter?

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 18, 2005 at 3:31 PM

"Sanity claus" is in "Night at the Opera" as part of the contract negotiation between Groucho and Chico, I believe.

Posted by barrett on February 18, 2005 at 5:05 PM

A call for help to the food blogging community. I am one of the organisers of the Soil Association Organic Food Festival held in Bristol, UK on the first week of September. It's probably the largest celebration of organic food anywhere with over 200 exhibitors and 40,000 visitors. This year we are planning an Arts Fringe Festival with all the arts themed around food. So far we have the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, Matthew Herbert's Plat du Jour in collaboration with Heston Blumenthal, Attik Dance Co. with Passion Fruit plus film, sculpture and lots of street theatre. Has anybody got an ideas regarding other artists who may like to take part. We would love to hear from you. (

Steve Symons

T/F +44 1934 813 407

Posted by steve symons on February 24, 2005 at 9:45 AM

I run a restaurant from my house and guests can notify me a day or so beforehand and say what they want to eat. You'd be surprised how many people ask for duck! And being a thrifty cook, I always save the bones of anything I cook for stocks, soups, sauces. And so my fridge is often overflowing with duck produce, and so I'm perpetually looking for recipes incorporating duck fat and/ or stock. This is the nicest one I've encounter so far, having searced not only the Internet but also the Larousse Gastronomique and the Cordon Bleu Cook Books...
Thank you!! What would you say to adding a slice of truffle or truffle oil just before serving it?

Posted by cecile mienie on July 7, 2006 at 3:39 PM

Right about "Duck Soup" meaning anything simple or easy, but also a gullible sucker or pushover. It was the director of the film, Leo McCarey, who came up with the name. McCarey borrowed the title from an earlier film he'd made with Laurel and Hardy in 1927 by the same name. Groucho reportedly provided the following recipe to explain the title: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life."

Posted by John Almerigotti on September 10, 2007 at 10:57 AM

My recipe for duck/goose carcase is to pressure cook the carcase for 15 mins with peppercorns, bay leaves & juniper berries and strain, picking off any meaty bits & returning them to the liquid. Fry onion dark brown, pour over the strained liquid, add carrots, and split peas. Pressure cook 20 mins & whizz. can be made fairly concentrated for freezing & subsequent dilution.

Posted by Bernard on July 20, 2009 at 6:06 AM

Interesting, Bernard - I'll have to give that a try. I would never have thought of using the pressure cooker to intensify and shorten the simmering phase!

Posted by Meg in Sussex on July 21, 2009 at 2:29 AM

Hi Meg;

In the movie "Duck Soup" the boys start talking about Roman viaducts, which morphs into "why a duck?". So why not call it "Duck Soup"?

Posted by Michele on October 12, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Sounds like a recipe I can do!! I share your bewilderment about celery. Hate the stuff!

Posted by Jon on March 20, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Excellent soup!! I had Duck soup at a favorite restaurant and have tried to duplicate it several times with no success. After reading your recipe and a few tweaks I have finally made the perfect Cream of Duck Soup.

Posted by RON on August 2, 2010 at 6:30 PM

Celery is added when making stock because it is high in a natural form of MSG and brings out the flavours in the other ingredients.

Posted by Kaz on December 9, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Do you stir the crème fraîche into the broth or add the spoonsful to the top of each served bowl?

Posted by Cindy on December 28, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Cindy, I stir it directly into the pot. That said, a spoonful in each bowl would probably look prettier when you serve it. Just bear in mind that adding cold cream to the bowl will cool the soup, so it needs to be piping hot. If you add the cream to the pot before serving, you can bring it back up to a hot temperature before serving.

Hope you like it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex on December 31, 2010 at 11:19 AM

I should also add that my sister has had great success making stock from confit de canard bones for this soup. As her family loves confit de canard it's a win-win!

Posted by Meg in Sussex on December 31, 2010 at 11:21 AM

I have recently become obsesed with cooking duck since it has been available fresh in our local market for the holidays. After roasting it , I was wondering what I could make with the leftovers. I just made this soup and it is AMAZING!! Thanks for sharing your delicious recipe with a duck novice!

Posted by Jennifer on November 26, 2012 at 8:01 PM