Duck breast with golden crisp skin and a deeply rich and rosy interior can be better than a steak. I often wonder we don't cook more of it at home. I admit I often overlook this date-night alternative, but it truly has all the ease of chicken breast and decadence of steak.
You won't need more than a pan and a few simple prep tricks to make a gorgeous duck breast at home that rivals any restaurant prix-fixe entrée.
Why Cook Duck at Home?
Duck breast is one of my favorite dishes to order at restaurants. The crispy skin hides a rich, rosy interior that rivals some of the best steaks. Since we moved last year, my husband has been craving a duck recipe that he could only get in our former home city. For way less than a plane ticket — or even a great steak — cooking duck breast at home can be a romantic meal for two.
The other reason to cook duck breast at home, besides it being delicious, is that duck is a nice poultry alternative for guests who don't eat red meat. It's a little lighter than steak but every bit as succulent.
Buying Duck Breast
Be prepared to spend some money for a couple of duck breasts. They'll often cost you as much as a nice steak. Duck breasts are relatively easy to find in most grocery stores, although it will sometimes come frozen. They can also be ordered online. D'artagnan and Maple Leaf Farms are two brands to consider.
Duck and duckling are used interchangeably when labeling duck, so don't let the nomenclature dissuade you. White Pekin duck is smaller and milder (and easier to find). While Muscovy and Moulard breasts (sometimes called magrets) are larger, they can be quite strong in flavor and be tougher no matter how well they are cooked.
For Your Information
- This recipe calls for two Pekin duck breasts, which are easier to find at most markets. If you can get your hand on wild or magret breast, be prepared for them to take longer in the rendering step, as they have quite a bit more fat.
- The breast will render about 1/2 cup of glorious duck fat. We're using it to crisp potatoes while the duck breasts rest, but you could also sauté greens or soften onions and apples in the pan while it's hot.
Key Steps to Cooking Duck Breast at Home
- Score the skin of the duck breast. Much like a steak, you're going to take the duck out the fridge to warm up a bit before cooking. While it's cold from the fridge, score the skin with a sharp knife. Make shallow diagonal cuts across the width and length, cutting through the skin but not the fat below it. This will help render the fat from the breast and make the skin crispier.
- Start the duck in a cold pan. I like to use a cast iron pan for this, but any wide, heavy-bottomed pan will work well. Add the breasts skin-side down to a cold pan, then turn the heat to medium. The pan will heat slowly, as will the breast's skin and fat, rendering out the fat and making the skin incredibly crispy.
- Cook the duck to temperature. Some cooks like to remove some or all of the fat from the pan before flipping the duck, but I find that cooking the duck meat in the fat makes it that much more succulent. Cooking the breast as though it were a steak makes for more tender breasts. I prefer my duck breasts medium-rare and cook them to 135°F before removing and resting.
Serving Duck Breast
Once the duck breast is cooked and resting before slicing, you'll have this little gift of warm duck fat. Frying potatoes in this fat is a classic French approach to duck that an old friend (and culinary director for Good Eats) taught me. The little potato cubes are irresistible!
But if you're serving the duck for date night, you may find sautéing a little garlic and some greens in the fat is a little more elegant. Either way, be sure to save any extra duck fat. Store it in the fridge and use it within two weeks.
When your potatoes or greens are done, thinly slice the breast and serve immediately.
How To Cook Duck Breast on the Stovetop: The Essential Method
What You Need
skin-on White Pekin duck breasts (about 6 ounces each)
large Yukon gold potato
Measuring cups and measuring spoons
Large cutting board
Sharp chef’s knife
12-inch cast iron skillet
Score the duck breast skin. About an hour before cooking, remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator and their packaging. Use a sharp knife to score the skin: Make 3 to 4 parallel shallow cuts into the skin, but not through it, in one direction, then make 3 to 4 shallow cuts in another direction, making a cross hatch or diamond pattern. Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels.
Season with salt and rest for 15 minutes. Season the breasts on all sides with salt (you might not use all the salt; that’s fine). Set aside and let rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the potato into small 1/2-inch cubes.
Start in a cool pan to render out as much fat as possible. Place the duck breasts skin-side down in a large cast iron skillet and turn the heat to medium. You want to crisp the skin slowly, driving out as much of the fat as possible.
Cook on the first side for 6 to 8 minutes. After 6 to 8 minutes, the pan will have filled with a substantial amount of fat from the skin. The skin should be a very dark golden-brown.
Flip the breasts and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until they reach 135°F. Flip the breasts and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more. Add the potatoes to the pan right after you flip the breast. Cook until the breasts are plump and register 135°F in the thickest part of the breasts for medium-rare.
Rest the duck for 5 minutes and continue to cook the potatoes until crisp. Remove the duck breasts to a clean plate or cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Continue cooking the potatoes, stirring regularly, until they are golden-brown on the outside and tender inside, 5 to 7 minutes.
Slice the duck breasts and serve with the potatoes. Slice the duck breasts on the diagonal and serve over the potatoes with any accumulated juices on the resting plate.
Storage: Leftover duck and potatoes can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.