Read on for my go-to duck recipe, and step by step photos of cooking duck breast. Duck breast can be every bit as expensive as steak, and it has a juicy richness to match a good steak's luxury. But it's a little lighter, and, done right, not quite so fatty and overwhelmingly rich. I adore a few slices of duck breast for dinner — its robust flavor and tender texture make it a treat. I especially like it when brushed with this simple, quick glaze — a mix of intensely tangy pomegranate molasses (found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern grocery stores), fresh citrus, and spices. It adds some tangy brightness that plays nicely with duck's rich flavor.When cooking duck, the first step is the most important: Render off the fat. Duck breast comes with a pillow of fat, deep and chewy, that cushions the meat and must be rendered off slowly before the meat is done. The finished piece of meat should have a crisp, melting outer strip of caramelized fat. It shouldn't be chewy or thick by this point (nothing quite so unpleasant as biting into a rubbery layer of fat on top of a nice piece of duck breast!). After this you will have a little pot of liquid gold: Duck fat. This will keep for days in the refrigerator (or months, frozen) and it's the most ridiculously delicious stuff for frying potatoes and turnips, or adding to roasted vegetables. Don't waste it — it's half the reason to make yourself a handsome duck breast for Valentine's Day.
Duck Breast with Pomegranate Citrus GlazeServes 2 with leftovers. Glaze adapted from SpiceLines
2 duck breasts, about 12 to 16 ounces total (split into two pieces if sold still joined by the skin, as pictured)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons white vermouth
1 large orange, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon honey
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
Heat the oven to 400°F. Place the duck breasts fat side up on a cutting board and use a small sharp knife to crosshatch them, cutting just through the layer of fat but not into the meat itself. Sprinkle thoroughly with salt and pepper.
Place them fat side down in a large skillet. Turn the heat on to low. Cook the duck breasts over very low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, letting the fat render out. The fat shouldn't spit or flare up; the heat should be low as possible. The goal here is to avoid cooking the duck breasts too much, and just to render off the fat.
While the fat is rendering, mix the pomegranate molasses, vermouth, orange juice, honey, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes or until it reaches a temperature of 210°F. Turn off the heat and set aside.
When the fat on the duck breasts looks cooked through and crisp (see photos above), turn off the heat and remove the duck breasts. Carefully pour off all the liquid fat into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate, unless you plan to use some right away (as I did with the sautéed turnips you see on the plate above). Return the duck breasts to the pan, fat side up now, and brush lightly with the pomegranate syrup. Put the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches your goal.
Personally, I like to cook my duck breast to medium rare, so I shoot for about 130°F. (The photos here notwithstanding — I left the duck breast on the stove for much longer than usual in order to get the photos I needed for this recipe. The hazards of cooking and writing at the same time!) This should give you duck breast that is dark pink or magenta inside.
If you prefer to cook to USDA standards, then cook for a few minutes longer, to 160°F. This will produce duck breasts that are brown throughout, with a hint of pink in the center. This is way too done for my personal taste, but it is still tasty.
Remove the duck breasts from the oven, place on a cutting board, and tent with foil to rest for a few minutes. Brush again with the glaze (rewarm the glaze if necessary) and slice very thinly. Serve immediately. I liked to serve thin slices of duck breast fanned out over wilted greens or radicchio, with sautéed turnips or root vegetables on the side.
I love leftover duck sliced very thin, served cold with a little mustard and a salad. It's almost better than it is hot out of the oven.
(Images: Faith Durand)