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.
Seared duck breast is one of those entrees you typically find on fancy restaurant menus, and you would think it was a complex recipe. But cooking duck breast in a skillet is easy.
I don't usually add a sauce. I'd much rather appreciate the flavors of the duck itself. It's fatty and marvelous and deserves my full attention. But if you'd like a sauce, I give you that option too.
You'll only need four ingredients to make this duck breast 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 me 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: I use kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. The addition of garlic is nontraditional, but since I don't add any sauce, the garlic enhances the flavor of the meat.
Seared Duck Breast Instructions
As mentioned above, this recipe is surprisingly easy. The detailed instructions for making it are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of the steps:
You start by scoring the skin. Use a very sharp knife to score it in a tight but shallow diamond pattern.
Season the skin side with salt and pepper. Season the flesh side with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a cold pan. I use a cast-iron skillet. Place another heavy pan on top. This will ensure the skin has full contact with the pan and 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 the fat being rendered. The fat will bubble in the pan - you want it to gently bubble throughout the cooking process. Listen to the short video clip below to get an idea of the gentle bubbling you're aiming for:
Cook the duck breasts until the skin is browned, about 15 minutes. Flip them and cook them for about 2 minutes on the other side. Then, cook the edges for 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. My duck breasts reached a temperature of about 135°F when I removed them from the pan. (Please note that the USDA recommends cooking duck to an internal temperature of 165°F.)
Remove the duck breasts from the pan onto a cutting board. Let them rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly and serve.
If you'd like to serve the duck breast with sauce, here's a 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 prefer not to use wine, you can use chicken broth instead and add a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar.
Add one minced garlic clove, two tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens slightly (1-2 minutes), and serve it alongside the duck.
- When scoring the skin, be careful not to nick the flesh. Make a tight but shallow diamond pattern. This will ensure the fat is rendered and the skin crisps up, but some tasty fat remains. The deeper you score, the less fat will remain.
- While cooking, ensure 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 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. Don't pour it down the drain; it will clog your sink.
Pekin duck is the most popular breed. It's mild-flavored and has a thick layer of fat.
But I typically buy the Moulard duck, a cross between Pekin and Muscovy (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 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 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 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. So there's no need for the extra step of placing the pan in the oven.
Since this recipe requires constant vigilance to ensure the pan maintains a gentle bubble of the fat, I prefer to serve duck breast with a side that I can make ahead and serve cold. So, I often serve it with one of the following salads:
Last night, as shown in the photo below, I served it with a simple salad made with tomatoes, olives, sliced hearts of palm, and cilantro. The dressing consisted of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.
You can keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days. Reheat them gently in the microwave at 50% power.
More Poultry Recipes
Seared Duck Breast
- Remove the duck breasts from the fridge an hour before cooking. This is not mandatory but 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 powder, too.
- Place the duck pieces, skin side down, in a large, cold skillet. I use a cast-iron skillet. There's no need to add oil to the pan. The duck will release plenty of fat as it cooks.
- Place a heavy, smaller skillet on top. This will help prevent the edges from curling and ensure 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. Ensure the fat keeps its gentle bubble and adjust the heat accordingly. You don't want the fat to splatter. That would mean the pan is too hot. But you also don't want it to go silent because that would mean the pan is too cold.
- 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 cooking. (See notes).
- 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 slicing and serving.
- 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; it will clog your sink.
- The nutrition info is approximate and based on calorieking.com.
- The USDA recommends cooking duck to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- You can keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days. Reheat them gently in the microwave at 50% power.
- Optional sauce: 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. Add one minced garlic clove, two tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens slightly (1-2 minutes), and serve it alongside the duck.
Add Your Own Notes
Nutrition per Serving
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