A whole roast duck is as satisfying to eat as it is pretty on the table; while foie gras is a rich man’s food and confit is pure comfort, a delicious seared and crispy-skinned duck breast is one of the real luxuries of eating.
Duck is versatile, but quirky to cook. And when something is unusual, people tend to keep it at an arm’s distance in a that’s my crazy uncle sort of way. But I’m here to say that it is simple to prepare; no matter which cut you’re preparing, cooking duck comes down to two things: rendering off the fat, and getting the skin crispy.
Take a duck breast for example: Sautéing a duck breast is the complete opposite of anything you have ever learned about sautéing. There is no step in the recipe that reads place a sauté pan over high heat, and when it is hot… No. Start with a cold pan, low heat, and don’t coat the pan with oil. Even crazier: Cut a cross-hatch pattern into the skin and let the fat render out.
This is all easy to do once you see how it is done — and besides, it is high time to embrace duck, show it some love, and start a life-long affair at the table.
There are several kinds of duck, and hence different duck breasts. My favorite is the Moulard. It is a 12- to 14-ounce breast that is generally aged and very rich tasting. Second on my list is Muscovy, followed by Pekin. Pekin is by far the easiest to find, and it is very delicious.
Gently score the skin side of the duck in a cross-hatch pattern with a very sharp knife. The fat is pretty much like butter, so it doesn’t take a lot of pressure. Be careful; you don’t want to score the actual breast meat.
It takes a long time to brown the duck breast, so be patient. Place the duck skin-side down in a cold pan, then place the pan over medium-low heat. As the fat begins to render, slowly raise the heat to medium. Often the skin will adhere to the pan in a few places. If it does, gently lift the duck breast, then set the edge back down. Lift from the opposite side, and the breast should release without leaving any skin behind.
Save all of your rendered duck fat. Strain it into a jar and refrigerate it until you want to sauté some potatoes with garlic and parsley — you will be glad you did. I like to use stainless steel or enameled cast iron sauté pans — I usually deglaze the pan with some sort of liquid, which makes me think twice about using old-fashioned cast iron.
Like with steak, you should cook a duck breast one temperature below where you want to eat it, then rewarm it to the temperature where you want it. I find rare duck to be a little too chewy for my taste, but a perfect medium rare/medium will render you speechless upon your first bite. It’s official: Duck is the new steak.
Serves 4 to 6
2 Moulard(or sometimes called Magret) duck breasts, about 12 oz each
1 cup dry sake
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, or you favorite kind
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup scallions, sliced into thin rings
1. Gently score the fat side of the duck breasts into a cross hatch pattern. Be careful not to cut to deeply.
2. Place the duck breast skin side down into a heavy bottomed sauté pan. Place the pan over medium low heat and let the fat begin to render. As the fat weeps out of the breast it will puddle.
3. Turn the heat up a notch. Once the fat begins to bubble at the edge of the breast gently try to lift the breast without tearing the skin. Once the breasts are free from the pan turn the heat up a little more.
4. Saute the breast until they are very brown on the skin side only. It will look as though the meat isn’t cooked at all. This is what you want.
5. Remove the breast from the pan and set them aside. Drain the duck fat into a jar and reserve the fat for another use.
6. Place the pan back onto the heat and add the sake and sugar. Bring the sake to a boil to dissolve the sugar and evaporate the alcohol. Let the sake reduce to 2/3 cup. Add the soy and orange juice and stir. Taste the sauce and if it seems to strong add a splash of water and if it is too weak add a splash of tamari.
7. Add the duck back to the skillet skin side up and simmer the breast while bastion the skin until you have cooked them to the desired temperature. I like rosy pink, somewhere around medium rare to medium.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and move the duck to a cutting board. Add the half the green onions to the sauce. Slice the duck into thin slices.
9. Pour the sauce onto a platter, then arrange the duck nicely on top and garnish with the remaining green onions. Serve.