How to cook the perfect duck breast
If you know me, you know I love my meat – a good steak, some crispy pork belly and I’m a happy man. But if there’s one meat that I will admit I play favourites with, it’s duck. I love it so much, I once woke my then girlfriend – now wife – in the middle of the night by shouting “Bangkok duck! Duck in brown sauce” in my sleep. You know it’s true love when instead of breaking up with me for that midnight heart-attack, she took me to Bangkok for my birthday to eat that duck. We sadly don’t get enough duck here, and when we do it’s tough, gristly meat. But we do get the occasional duck breast, and when it’s cooked perfectly, let me tell you, it’s a luxury. No other meat even compares.
So why duck breast? It’s actually perfect for Keto because it has that gorgeous layer of fat under the skin. Ducks are migratory birds, and just like us they need a good layer of fat to carry them through their long winter journeys – from their homes to our plates. (I apologise for that fowl joke.) To cook duck breast correctly, you have to render that fat, which helps you get that skin crispy. The end result is three textures in one – crispy skin, melt-in-the-mouth fat and juicy, tender meat underneath. Slather it with a sauce of your choice or just eat it straight off the pan as I do. It’s heaven.
Alright I’m sold. What are the pressure points here?
Honestly, it’s the easiest thing to cook if you just pay a bit of attention. A sharp knife will serve you well to score the fat. A meat thermometer will take the guesswork out of knowing when the duck is perfectly done. Oh and remember to start cooking the duck in a cold pan for the fat to render out properly. A cast iron pan is preferred because it can go straight into the oven, but if you don’t have one, a regular non-stick one will work as well. You’ll just need to take the breast out of the pan and transfer it to a baking tray that has been preheating in the oven. Please do not stick your non-stick pan in the oven unless you enjoy a spot of polymer fumes poisoning.
When it comes to duck you are looking for an internal temperature of 58C to 60C for a medium duck breast. Duck is like a red meat poultry if that makes any sense? The flavors are gamy and meaty which is why it’s not beast when it’s well done. The taste is quite rich and fatty as well because of the skin.
Also remember to let the duck breast rest – if you cut into it too early all the juices will flow out of it and you’ll end up with a dry, unpleasant piece of meat. And DO NOT throw away the rendered duck fat – it’s liquid gold! Use it in place of butter or oil in anything you’re making and you’ll kick the flavour of it up several notches. Duck fat potatoes are a dish of legend. Of course if you are on Keto then maybe duck fat green beans instead?
It’s more a process than a recipe
There is no recipe here. It’s a method or a process. You pat the skin dry with paper towels and score the duck skin before you start. The reason we do this is because we want a dry skin and the scoring allows the fat to render out and then get really nice and crispy. I like to season the skin side with salt only and pepper on the flesh side. This is so the pepper doesn’t burn because we are going to place the breast skin side down on the skillet. The pan must be cold and only after we place the breasts skin side down in the pan do we turn on the heat. We cook it on a medium low heat so that the fat can render out and also sear the skin.
If you don’t do this you’ll find that the duck breast skin can become chewy and we don’t want that. I prefer to use a cast iron skillet for cooking since I can pop it into the oven once the skin side is done cooking. Duck I believe is best eaten medium-rare and that’s what I aim for when cooking. Now duck breast can be used to create many recipes but normally this is how I like to eat it. Of course people love to make sauces with orange juice, blackberry, cranberries and other sweet ingredients. But I’ve always preferred it savoury.
What can I eat the duck breast with?
I just like to keep it real simple and eat it as is, but I’m also partial to sliced duck breast on rice, with my easy chicken gravy. If you’re on Keto, just replace the gravy with some butter and the rice with cauliflower rice.
Seared duck breast can be cut into slices and just eaten on it’s own. You can also use it in many duck breast recipes like tacos, fried rice, sandwiches or even in salads. That golden-brown perfectly pan-seared duck breast is a treat. And the excess fat makes for a perfect cooking tool to flavour your veggies. It’s also great to have shredded duck meat for tacos, rice paper rolls and duck soup.
Duck breast nutritional info
Cooked duck according to the USDA has 337 calories per 100g from which 28g of fat, 19g of protein and of course 0 carbs. Great for those on the Keto diet. It’s also perfect for low carb diets. Frankly speaking with 19g of protein it’s fine for a regular meal as well. Sure it’s not a high protein meat like chicken breast but you get so much more flavour. You can use it to build a great meal.
In the event you somehow have some leftover duck you can store it in the fridge in an airtight container. You can also freeze cooked duck breast no problem.
Perfect Duck Breast
- 1 duck breast
- a pinch Salt
- a pinch Pepper
- The first thing you want to do is score the skin and fat on the duck. Using a very sharp knife, make shallow diagonal cuts on the skin side - you want to be careful to not cut down into the meat.
- Sprinkle salt over the duck breast and then massage it onto the skin and into all the cuts you’ve just made. Flip it over and season the meat side with both salt and pepper.
- Preheat your oven to 200C (395 F). We’ll be starting the duck breast in the pan but we’ll finish it in the oven.
- Meanwhile, place your duck breast skin side down in a cold cast-iron pan. I repeat – skin side down in a cold cast-iron pan. Starting in a cold pan helps the fat render out without burning the skin.
- Get the pan on the stove on medium heat. We won’t need to add any oil because the duck will cook in its own fat.
- Let the duck cook skin side down for 3 to 4 minutes. You’ll see the fat render out and fry the skin in it.
- After 3 to 4 minutes the skin should be golden brown. Flip the breast over and place it meat side down in the pan. Let it cook for exactly 30 to 40 seconds, no more. You literally just want it to kiss the pan.
- Take the pan off the heat, drain off the duck fat and reserve it for later use – this is liquid gold and you don’t want to waste a drop. Drain as much of the fat as you can so the pan doesn’t start smoking when it goes into the oven.
- Flip the breast back onto the skin side in the pan, and put it into your preheated oven. If you’re using a non-stick, or non-oven-safe pan, take the duck out and place it skin side down on a baking tray that’s been preheating in the oven. Set a 6-minute timer.
- After 3 minutes, check the temperature of the meat with your meat thermometer – you’re looking for it to be 58C (137F) when it’s perfectly cooked. If it’s still not up to temp, let it go for the remaining 3 minutes.
- After the 6-minute timer goes off, check the temperature again, it should be done. Take the duck breast out on a plate and let it rest for 6-8 minutes. It’s important to let it rest to keep the juices in the meat.
- After about 8 minutes, slice up the duck breast and serve with a gravy, on rice, or just as is!