Cooking duck breast is a very rewarding autumn activity. The richness of the meat lends itself well to the season and duck pairs well with other fall staples like apples and braised red cabbage—a combination we offer on our fall menu at Frog Commissary.
However, many home cooks find the prospect of making duck at home a bit intimidating. It doesn’t have to be! Once this simple technique is learned, it can be a terrific addition for a comforting home dinner or a fancy dinner party.
The most important thing is to source high quality duck breasts. The hearty Moulard duck is the fattiest of the breeds and a staple in the cuisines of Gascony. It’s available locally in high end markets and online from D’Artagnan. The Muscovy duck is my personal favorite—it’s a much leaner and equally flavorful choice, especially if sourced from Griggstown Farm in Somerset County, New Jersey. Peking duck (also known as Long Island duck) can also be substituted but the breasts tend to be smaller and less plump.
Begin by trimming any excess or overhanging fat and gristle from the duck breast while leaving the fat covering intact. The next step could be an overnight brine with some salt, sugar and juniper berries. I prefer to make my own autumn spice mix with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise and a touch of dark chili powder. Simply season the duck breast with the spice and some sea salt.
The next step is to preheat a cast iron or high quality stainless frying pan over very low heat for a few minutes. Then plop the duck breasts in fat side down. No oil is needed. The duck fat will begin to slowly render out as the skin crisps. You may need to adjust the temperature to find a happy medium where the duck is rendering slowly yet browning at the same time—this is the only tricky part! As the fat renders, pour it off and reserve it to cook potatoes, apples or cabbage (see below). After about 7-10 minutes of slow rendering, the skin should be ready. If it doesn’t appear brown or crisp, simply turn the heat up a notch to finish it off…but keep an eye on it.
When the duck looks good, flip it over and turn off the heat. Leave the breast in the pan and baste with any remaining fat. Make sure to turn it a few times so all sides get some heat. Then leave the breast in the pan flesh-side down for about 5-6 minutes. At that point the residual heat of the pan and fat should have cooked it to a juicy medium rare. Remove the duck from the pan and let rest 3 more minutes before slicing. Slice the breast across the width in ¼ to ½ slices and enjoy!
Accompaniments for Fall-Spiced Duck Breast
Braised Red Cabbage
1 onion, sliced thin
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 head cabbage, core and stems removed, sliced ¼ inch
1 cup red wine
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
2 cup chicken stock or broth
kosher salt to taste
Sweat onion and in duck fat until tender (add some salt). Add grated apple and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add cabbage and cook until wilted (add some more salt). Add wine, vinegar, sugar and stock to the pan. Cover with parchment and slowly cook the cabbage until the liquid is 90 percent reduced and the cabbage is tender. Taste and adjust with vinegar, sugar and/or salt as desired.
2 Granny Smith or other firm-fleshed apple, cored and cut in 8 wedges
Heat duck fat in a cast iron or high quality stainless frying pan until hot but not smoking. Add apple wedges and brown on one side. Then flip and brown the other
. Transfer apples to a plate. Turn heat to medium low and add enough sugar to coat the bottom of pan. Cook until the sugar turns a light golden caramel color. Add apples back to the pan with a splash of calvados and cook until well glazed.
Apple Cider Reduction
2 cups fresh apple cider
1 cup maple syrup or honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
pinch of salt
touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove or your favorite fall spices
Combine all ingredients in a stainless saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the mixture has reduced to a syrup-like consistency.
Read other Winter 2016 Newsletter articles