The typical recipe for seared duck breast calls for the duck skin to be scored and the duck seared skin side down. Rendered duck fat is skimmed out constantly. The breast is then flipped to cook the flesh side. Sometimes the duck is finished in the oven.
What if there is a more foolproof way? One that doesn’t require you to constantly skim the fat. Easier, fewer steps, fewer points of error.
There are three characteristics that make for a great tasting duck breast. Let’s look at each in detail.
- Fat rendered
- Crispy skin
- Medium rare cook
Rendered Fat – Ducks are very fatty beneath their skin. Unrendered fat is chewy and not pleasant to eat. How do we get the fat off the duck? Heat renders the fat out and scoring the duck skin allows the fat to drain out evenly.
The longer the heat can be applied to skin, the more fat can be rendered. But we also have to make sure the skin does not burn. Therefore the lower the heat the better.
Most recipes instruct us to score the duck skin in a crosshatch pattern to form big diamonds. Taking this to the next logical step, the more cuts that are made into the skin, the more pathways the fat has a place to leave.
Crispy Skin – Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. Assuring the skin is dry before cooking is a major step towards crispy skin. Also, while I haven’t done any real tests, I have found that straining the fat helps.
Medium Rare – The temp of the meat is an individual preference but let’s be real, medium rare is the way to go. The temp can be a hard thing to nail down but if we can minimize the steps, there will be less chance of error.
Let’s put all of this into practice. I prefer using a petite duck breast, around 8oz. Its a great portion size and its easy to cook.
- The day before cooking the duck, use a sharp knife to score the skin in a crosshatch pattern with cuts about 1/8″ inch apart. Be sure not to cut into the meat.
- Refrigerate the breast skin side up, uncovered, overnight. This allows for the skin to dry.
- Prop a pan over the stove with the pan handle raised so that the pan is slightly tilted. I like using cast iron because it delivers heat more evenly across the pan.
- Season the duck liberally and place at the top of the pan. Cook on low heat.
- Eventually, you will see fat coming off the duck and dripping to the bottom of the pan.
- Check the skin occasionally and rotate if the duck is not browning evenly. In about 10 minutes, the skin should be golden brown and the layer of fat should be rendered to just a thin layer.
- With a spoon, baste the flesh side of the duck with the fat at the bottom of the pan. Do so until all of the raw is cooked off and then baste for an additional minute. It helps to rotate the duck so the duck fat cooks the flesh evenly.
- Remove the duck from the pan and let it rest for at least five minutes skin side up.
- When slicing the duck, slice it skin side down for the cleanest cuts but make sure it is presented skin up.