Cook on a Whim: Spicy Thai Duck Salad

This spicy Thai duck salad is one of our go-to date-night-at-home dishes. To say I’m obsessed with it is a bit of an understatement. I adore it, crave it and need to have it regularly. It just hits all the right notes and seems like such a special, restaurant-quality (but better) dish.

If Jason wasn’t the sweetest hubby on earth, he’d probably tell me to stop talking about it all the time. Thai flavors are my most-craved flavors in general, but this salad is at the top of the list. The buttery, savory duck is perfectly complemented by all of the sharp, sour, spicy, sweet flavors of the dressing and veggies.

If you frequent Thai restaurants (as we do), you may have had the Thai spicy beef salad that’s on almost every Thai menu. It’s one of our favorites — we order it every time we go out for Thai. Normally, it’s just the right amount of spicy, but one time we ordered it “Thai spicy” and I couldn’t feel my lips for the rest of the meal. Like, my ears were burning!

We also usually get a duck dish, either a curry or a crispy duck with basil (my mouth is watering as I type this). We always order a variety so we can share. Sigh. The best.

What you need for the salad

2 duck breasts

1 head of leafy lettuce, such as red or green leaf (romaine or butter lettuce would be nice, too)

1 English cucumber

1 carrot

2 tomatoes

1 red onion

Fresh mint, basil, green onions, cilantro

Hot chili peppers

Fresh limes

Rice or mung bean noodles (optional)

What you need for the dressing

Fish sauce

Soy sauce

Lime juice

1 tablespoon of sugar, honey or sweetener of your choice (optional)

Ground white pepper

Grated ginger

Grated garlic

Toasted rice power (optional, but very authentic)

Score the duck breasts

You want to score the fat of your duck breasts, which just means taking a very sharp knife and gliding it over the fat. Slice at an angle, making long slashes about 1/4 inch apart in one direction, then rotate the breast and do the same, so that you end up with a diamond or crisscross pattern. Be careful to just slice through the fat, not into the duck breast itself.

Start the duck breasts in a cold pan

Place the breasts fat-side down in a cold pan. Then turn the heat to medium-low and cook almost the entire way — about 10 minutes — before flipping and finishing on the meaty side very briefly. This allows the glorious duck fat to render, leaving a thin layer of lightly crisped fat on top of the succulent meat. Bonus: You get to keep the rendered fat for cooking. May I suggest cooking potatoes in it? Nothing better!

Spicy Thai Duck Salad 


For the salad:

2 domestic duck breasts, with fat scored in a crisscross pattern

1 medium-sized head of leafy lettuce

1 English cucumber, sliced into ribbons with vegetable peeler

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into ribbons or shredded

1 medium red onion, finely sliced

1/2 cup each of fresh mint leaves, cilantro leaves, basil leaves (Thai, if you can find it) and sliced green onions

Hot chili peppers

2 tomatoes, sliced into wedges (not pictured here, but a very good addition)

Fresh lime wedges for serving

Rice or mung bean noodles (optional — just cook one or two servings according to package instructions)

For the dressing:

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce

Juice of 2 fresh limes

1 tablespoon of honey, sugar or sweetener of your choice (optional but it gives a nice balance)

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated

½-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon toasted rice power (optional but very authentic)


To make toasted rice powder, place 1/4 cup rice in a sauté pan over medium heat (I use jasmine, but a glutinous rice is traditional). Toast, stirring and shaking pan almost constantly, until rice is very dark golden but not burnt. Transfer to mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind or pulse until very finely ground.

Mix dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside (see notes for a variation here).

Score duck breasts and place fat-side down in a cold skillet. Set heat to medium-low and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, removing excess duck fat as it renders. Once fat is nicely rendered and golden brown, flip breasts over and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until desired doneness (we like ours quite pink still, so I only cook for about 1 minute on the meaty side).

Remove to plate and let rest while you arrange lettuce, noodles and other ingredients on a large platter.

Slice duck breast thinly, arrange on platter and drizzle dressing over everything just before serving. Serve with extra dressing, lime wedges and toasted rice powder.


  • Sometimes when I make this, I let the tomatoes (not pictured here), onions, chili peppers and cucumbers marinate in the dressing while I prepare the duck. It gives them more flavor and takes the edge off the onions a bit.
  • If you don’t want to make veggie ribbons or shreds, you can just slice the veggies thinly or any way you like. The textures of the ribbons are just really fun and special.

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.



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