Chef Notes: An Easy Holiday Entree of Duck Breast

Chef Notes: An Easy Holiday Entree of Duck Breast

Nothing says the holidays to me quite like duck.  There’s just something warm and comforting about it. I love duck confit, which is a bit heavy for summer fare, and roast duck makes a fantastic holiday centerpiece but again might be a bit much in warmer temperatures. But even easier and just as delicious is pan seared duck breast. 

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As is true with all meat, duck is a terrific source of protein and amino acids. Duck is also high in iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, B12 and has small amounts of potassium, magnesium, vitamins E, A, C, and folic acid. Depending on how it’s prepared/eaten duck can be fairly high in fat. A whole, skin-on, duck breast has about 350 calories and 30 grams of fat. If you do not eat the skin you’re down to around 200 calories and 10 grams of fat.  I personally love the skin and would rather just have half a breast over a salad or with steamed vegetables than have the whole breast with no skin, but that’s just me. Regardless of if you eat the skin or not you should definitely cook the breast with the skin on.  It protects it from drying out during cooking and adds flavor to the meat.

The basic cooking technique for pan seared duck breasts is as follows:

Heat oven to 350.

Warm a heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-low to medium heat. While warming your skillet, score the skin of the duck breasts (several shallow slices into the fat of the skin, not the meat) and season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Once your pan is warm add just a tiny bit of oil so that the skillet bottom is barely coated. Add your duck, skin side down and cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is a dark, golden brown. This will take at least 10 minutes. If you cook it too fast you will not render out enough of the fat from the skin. If you cook it too slowly you will over cook the breast as you’ll be baking instead of searing. So adjust your heat as necessary.

Once your skin is crisp and brown, flip it over and toss your skillet in the oven for 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. If you are concerned about internal temperature you can always insert a probe thermometer into the thickest portion of the breast before putting it into the oven. Duck breast is typically served (and I think is best) rare, which is 125.  130 is between rare and medium rare. I would pull it at about 125 because the cooking will carry over, and this is important, the breast should rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing or serving. You don’t want all of those juices (the flavor) to run out all over your cutting board and plate by skipping the resting phase.

While your breast is searing, finishing in the oven, and resting you can put together the rest of your meal. I usually plan ½ breast per person and will often serve it over a simple salad of kale with nuts and dried fruit.

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