The Barbary Duck’s Extraordinary sex life and why you should marinade them

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we
have at least to consider the possibility that we
have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae
on our hands.”

-Douglas Adams


This recipe was given to me by a friend named Robin. It’s simple and quick (except for the marinating time). He specifies using Barbary duck. Why? What is a Barbary duck anyway? I’d heard the name, but knew nothing about them…

On investigation I found Barbary duck (whose scientific name is in fact the Muscovy duck – Cairina moschata to be precise) to be fascinating on all kinds of levels.

Weighing in at about 7 kg/15 lbs, the drakes are about twice the weight of the ducks, and the domesticated breeds can weigh even more. They don’t quack like other duck – the drake has a low husky call, and the ducks have a quiet trilling coo – sounds rather nice. Things get positively riveting when it comes to their sex life. Drakes have spiralled penises which can extend to 20cm (about eight inches). This erection can occur in just a third of a second! However the female needs to be compliant because their cloakas spiral in the opposite direction….


Drakes have spiralled penises which can extend to 20cm (about eight inches). This erection can occur in just a third of a second!


…. but I digress. We’re interested in the Barbary duck from a culinary point of view. Barbary ducks are less fatty than other breeds. They have thin skin and no layer of fat underneath – the lack of fat resulting in a need for frequent basting to avoid it getting dry. It’s lean and tender, a bit like fillet steak.

So how to cook it? The marinating process is important since all duck can easily be tough. You can freeze the breasts in the marinade.

Serve it with a magnificent mound of mash, and some mange tout.

In the UK you can buy Barbary duck breasts on-line from Scottish butcher, Donald Russell.


How to cook Barbary duck breasts

Three breasts should be enough for four people, but if you have a mighty male beast you would get away with just two.

For the marinade you want:

  • 3 tsp smoked salt
  • 1 banana shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teasp thyme leaves – off the stem
  • 10 Indonesian long black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed under a knife with the smoked salt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

For the gravy you will need:

  • 120ml/½ cup red martini
  • 1 tbsp cranberry jelly
  • 1 tsp chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp herbes de provence


  1. About half an hour before cooking take the marinated breast out of the fridge. Take out the bay leaf. Drain off most of the marinade, and dry the skin of the breast with a bit of kitchen towel.
  2. Turn the grill up to high and organise the rack so that you can get it quite close – about 4”/10 cm away.
  3. Score the skin of the breasts diagonally across, leaving some skin intact at each end.
  4. Put the breasts, skin side DOWN (ie on the opposite side to the grill), and grill the non-skin flesh side.
  5. Then turn over and grill the skin side for about four minutes. It’s very important not to overcook because if you do it will become tough as old shoe leather. You want it rare but not raw! Remember to keep basting, if necessary use a bit of the marinade.
  6. Move the breasts to a wooden carving board, cover with some foil and leave to rest while you make the gravy.
  7. Add the remainder of the marinade to a small saucepan, together with the juices from the grill pan, and the ingredients listed above. It shouldn’t be too fatty as the duck is not fatty (unless you are using ordinary duck) but you could consider serving in a gravy separator.
  8. Slice the breasts diagonally in slices of less than a centimetre (a quarter of an inch) and split between the plates.


This post is dedicated to Robin Eggar.

barbary duck recipe
get the skin caramelised, but don’t overcook



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