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Princess Di and a famous crispy duck salad recipe

This week, celebrity chef Steven Saunders prepares a special salad that was popular with the royals in The Pink Geranium days.

Steven Saunders' Famous Crispy Duck Salad
Steven Saunders' Famous Crispy Duck Salad

The intense heat has naturally drawn us towards eating more salads and fish this summer. But there is one meat salad that stays in my mind, my heart and in my repertoire always and that is my famous crispy duck salad.

The story of how it was created goes back four decades. I had put some ducks in the oven and forgotten to set a timer. I got carried away with some clients in the bar and when I returned to the kitchen several hours later I could smell the ducks!

I rushed to the oven and saw that they had badly overcooked, albeit I had set the oven low. In despair I pulled the duck meat off the carcass and took a bit to taste. It was tender and delicious. But how can I use overcooked duck? In a salad was the answer, and so all the way back to 1987 we had inadvertently created the crispy duck salad that now appears on menus all over the world.

My recipe for it had some Asian influence, because of the time I had spent in places like Thailand and Hong Kong. It was a sticky chilli sauce and crispy duck shredded with crisp salad and some herbs like basil and coriander. I have to say, it was sensational!

Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell

Jump forward a few years to about 1991 and we had a telephone call that the royals were visiting Cambridge and wanted to have a late lunch with us at The Pink Geranium.

There was security everywhere - in the car park, in the road, in the restaurant. The limousine arrived and out stepped Princess Diana.

I had my best chef’s jacket on and met her at the front door.

“Your royal highness,” I said.

“Please just call me Diana,” she said.

She sat on a table that had an old settle inside an inglenook fireplace. Prince Charles had previously sat there in the days before I owned The Pink Geranium and so it had already been named The Royal Box.

I handed them the menus and Princess Diana said: “What salads do you have?” Immediately I replied: “Crispy duck salad?”

“That sounds adorable,” she said, “and to drink, just a glass of rose wine.”

Suddenly the crispy duck salad had not only been created but endorsed.

So for more than 40 years, clients have enjoyed my crispy duck salad. Other restaurants have created versions, but there is only one original!

Typically as a chef I have tried to evolve it, but it’s difficult to beat and so I have kind of let it be.

The recipe is protected in the sense that I had copyrighted it all those years ago. But it’s impossible to copyright food and so today it’s yours to reproduce and enjoy - and do watch this short video on how to prepare a quick version of it.


Steven’s Famous Crispy Duck salad

Steven Saunders' Famous Crispy Duck Salad
Steven Saunders' Famous Crispy Duck Salad

Ingredients for four

  • Half a slow cooked pre-roasted duck on the carcass
  • 250ml of water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of siracha sauce or tabasco
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick whole
  • 1 star anise whole
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and whole
  • Maldon salt

For the salad

  • Mixed salad leaves
  • Fresh Thai basil leaves
  • Fresh coriander sprigs
  • Some pomegranate seeds if available (optional)
  • Some chopped red onion
  • A little sushi ginger (pickled ginger) optional
  • 2 spring onions chopped to finish


  • Have the duck pre-roasted or buy confit duck legs pre-cooked and broken down into small pieces.
  • Make the sauce by heating the water and then adding the sugar and dissolve.
  • Now add the sweet chilli sauce and then all of the other ingredients.
  • Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes (making the sauce in advance and keeping it in the fridge is the best option).
  • While the sauce is cooking roast the pieces of duck or deep fry (tossed in a little cornflour first). Deep frying makes it crispier but roasting is healthier and keeps the meat dryer.
  • Roast at 190C for 15 minutes or deep fry for about one minute at 190C.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat and remove the whole spices.
  • Put the cooked duck in a bowl with a few chopped spring onions, season with a little salt.
  • Pour a flat tablespoon of sauce on per serving over the duck to coat it.
  • Mix together and serve on the salad.
  • It is better to dress the salad with a house dressing like vinaigrette before tossing it all together.
  • Serve with chopsticks.

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