Cooking duck breast is not as challenging as it sounds, in fact it's quite simple. Every time I cook duck breast, I follow some easy steps and the result is always delicious. I like my pan-seared duck medium to well done, with a divine crunchy skin and a juicy, pinkish, flavorful meat. In order to get this finish I start cooking the breast in a cold cast iron skillet. I brown the breast in its own fat and I finish it in the oven for 6 minutes. After the meat has rested for 5 minutes, I slice it and I serve it with a sweet and sour wine and cherry sauce. It is a wonderful combination!
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Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
For the pan-seared duck breast:
- 2 duck breasts (2 x 200g) - I like to use Muscovy duck breasts
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
For the cherry sauce:
- 1 cup pitted cherries - fresh or frozen (200g)
- 1/3 cup semi dry red wine (75ml)
- 1/3 cup chicken broth (75ml)
- ½ shallot (or red onion)
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp butter (15g)
- 1 Tbsp duck fat (or olive oil)
- ½ tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp honey (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- a cast iron skillet
- a clean paper towel
- a sharp knife
- a bowl
- a saucepan
- a spatula
- tsp = teaspoon
- Tbsp = tablespoon
Step 2: Score the Duck Breasts
One hour before you start cooking remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator and leave it on the counter to reach room temperature. If you use frozen cherries, place them in a strainer, place the strainer in a bowl and leave them on the counter to defrost naturally.
Heat the oven at 375°F/190°C (gas mark 5).
Wash the duck breasts and pat them dry using a clean towel.
Place one duck breast on a cutting board, skin side down. With one hand press the meat down and with the other hand, using a sharp knife, trim the excess fat.
Score the skin and fat in a crosshatch pattern.
Proceed the same with the second breast.
Step 3: Pan-sear the Duck Breast
Place the duck breasts skin-side down in a cold cast iron skillet on medium-high heat (without any oil) and cook until brown (for about 4-5 minutes). The cold skillet allows the fat to render off.
Brown the other side for about 2 minutes.
Step 4: Finish the Duck Breast in the Oven
Place the skillet in the oven with the duck skin-side down and cook for 6 to 10 minutes. After 6 minutes remove the duck from the oven and test it for doneness using your fingers.
I learnt the following trick in culinary school. Touch your cheek, this is how a rare duck breast should feel like. Touch your chin; this is how a medium duck breast should feel like. Touch your forehead; this is how a well-done duck breast should feel like.
When the duck breast is cooked, season it with salt and pepper and let it rest on a plate (uncovered) for 5 minutes. It is very important for the meat to rest uncovered. If you don’t allow it to rest, the juices will run all over your cutting board. If you cover the duck breast, the crispy skin would become soggy.
Step 5: Prepare the Wine and Cherry Sauce
Heat the duck fat (or the olive oil) in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the shallot and cook until translucent (about 3 minutes).
Add the thyme and the wine, simmer over high heat and allow the alcohol to evaporate (about 2 minutes).
Add the broth and the cherry juice (the juice from the cherry bowl) and cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half.
Add the cherries and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add the butter and season with salt, pepper, honey and balsamic vinegar.
Step 6: Slice the Duck Breast and Serve
Slice the duck breast into 0,5 cm (1/4 inch-thick) strips and arrange them on a heated plate. Pour the cherry sauce over the duck slices and garnish with pea and leek sprouts.