With beautifully browned skin, a nice layer of fat, and juicy meat, pan-seared duck breast is a restaurant-level delicacy that's surprisingly easy to cook at home.
Ready in just under an hour (and this includes resting the cooked meat), this recipe is quite suitable for a weeknight dinner.
This is one of those entrees that you typically find on fancy restaurant menus, and you would think it was a complex recipe to make.
But in fact, cooking duck breast in a skillet is easy, especially since I don't bother with a sauce.
I don't like the sweet sauces that are typically served with this dish and I'd much rather appreciate the flavors of the meat itself. It's fatty and marvelous and deserves my full attention.
You'll only need four ingredients to make this recipe. The exact measurements are listed in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
Duck breasts: I make this recipe for two, so I use two of them. You can order them online, or if you're lucky like I am and your supermarket carries them, you should be able to find them at the butcher's counter. This is the brand I use:
To season: Kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic granules. The addition of garlic is nontraditional, but since I don't add a sauce, I feel that it enhances the flavor of the meat.
As I said, cooking duck breast at home is surprisingly easy. The detailed instructions are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of the steps:
You start by scoring the skin. You'll want to use a very sharp knife, and score it in a tight but shallow diamond pattern.
Now, season the skin side with salt and pepper. Season the flesh side with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Place the duck, skin side down, in a cold pan. I use a cast-iron skillet. Place another heavy pan on top. This will ensure that the skin has full contact with the pan and will also help prevent the edges from curling.
Heat the pan over medium-low heat. It should take about five minutes to heat, and then you'll see that the fat is being rendered. The fat will bubble in the pan - you want it to gently bubble throughout the cooking process.
Cook the duck pieces until the skin is browned, about 15 minutes.
Flip them to the other side and cook them for about 2 minutes, then cook the edges, 30 seconds on each edge.
Check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. It should read 130°F for medium-rare or 140°F for medium.
I don't know if you can see it in the video, but my duck breasts reached a temperature of about 135°F when I removed them from the pan. (It should probably be noted that the USDA recommends cooking duck to an internal temperature of 165°F.)
Remove the duck pieces from the pan onto a cutting board. Let them rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly and serve.
- When scoring the skin, be careful not to nick the flesh. Make a tight but shallow diamond pattern, as shown in the video below. This will ensure that fat is rendered and the skin crisps up, but it will also ensure that some tasty fat remains. The deeper you score, the less fat will remain.
- While cooking, make sure that the fat keeps its gentle bubble and adjust the heat accordingly as needed. You don't want the fat to splatter. That would mean the pan is too hot. You also don't want it to go silent - that means the pan is too cold. In other words, this is one of those recipes that requires constant vigilance and monitoring.
- Twice during the process of cooking, carefully pour the rendered fat into a measuring cup, strain it, and save it in the fridge for later use, or discard it in the trash once it's cooled off. Don't pour it down the drain or it will clog your sink.
Frequently asked questions
Pekin duck is the most popular breed to eat. It's mild-flavored and has a thick layer of fat.
But the duck I typically buy is Moulard duck, which is a cross between Pekin and Muscovy (which is a large, lean, and bold-flavored breed).
Moulard duck has dark red meat and a nice layer of fat. As I cook it, I make sure to leave some of that tasty fat on.
Scoring the skin ensures that the fat will be rendered out and the skin will crisp up. Deeper scoring will render more fat, while shallow scoring (my preferred method) will keep more fat on the duck after it's cooked.
There's no need to add oil to the pan. The duck will release plenty of fat as it cooks, so much of it in fact that you'll need to periodically pour some of it out.
Starting with a cold pan and then cooking the duck on medium-low heat allows the fat to render.
If you start with a hot pan, it will seal in the fat, and while that's often a good thing, in this particular recipe, it's not. You want the fat to slowly render out and crisp up the skin.
Some recipes do instruct you to finish cooking this dish in the oven. But the method outlined here, of cooking low and slow, ensures that the duck is evenly cooked. I find that there's no need for the extra step of placing the pan in the oven.
If you'd like to serve the duck with sauce, here's a very simple pan sauce that I sometimes make:
Once the duck is cooked and resting, pour the remaining fat out of the skillet. Add ¼ cup of your favorite wine (white or red), increase the heat to medium, and use the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
If you'd rather not use wine, you can use chicken broth instead and add a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar.
Add a minced garlic clove, two tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce over medium heat, whisking, until it slightly thickens (1-2 minutes), then serve it alongside the duck.
You can keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days. Reheat them very gently, in the microwave at 50% power.
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Seared Duck Breast Recipe
- Remove the duck breasts from the fridge an hour before cooking. This is not mandatory, but it helps ensure the duck cooks evenly.
- With a sharp knife, gently score the skin in a tight but shallow diamond pattern, making sure not to nick the flesh. Keeping the cuts shallow will ensure there's some tasty fat left after cooking.
- Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper on both sides. Season the flesh side with garlic granules too.
- Place the duck pieces, skin side down, in a large, cold skillet. I use a cast-iron skillet. Place a heavy smaller skillet on top. This will help prevent the edges from curling and will also ensure that the skin has full contact with the pan's surface.
- Heat the pan over medium-low heat. After about 5 minutes, the fat should begin to render and gently bubble.
- Cook the duck over medium-low heat until the skin is browned, about 15 minutes. Pour out the excess rendered fat 2-3 times throughout the cooking process.*
- Flip the duck pieces and cook the flesh side for 2 minutes, then cook the edges for about 30 seconds each.
- Using an instant-read thermometer, check the internal temperature. For medium-rare it should read 130°F. For medium, it should read 140°F.
- Remove the duck from the pan and let it rest for ten minutes before thinly slicing and serving.