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Duck with Vanilla - an Easy and Gourmet Recipe


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 Reunion Island, 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

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
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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.


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.

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Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

50 min

1 hour



  • 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


  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.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Where to buy fresh duck meat

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.

More mouthwatering duck recipes

More from Pitaya

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?

othellos on July 14, 2013:

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

James Jordan from Burbank, CA on April 26, 2013:

Yum! Cannot wait to try it.

Aunt-Mollie on April 14, 2013:

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

Rosetta Slone (author) from Under a coconut tree on April 14, 2013:

@Stuwaha: Let me know how it goes!

Stuwaha on April 14, 2013:

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

anonymous on April 13, 2013:

Looks intriguing. Great pictures!

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