Perfecting the art of cooking a duck breast.

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This is the recipe you should use for duck breasts every time. The request for detailed instructions on how to properly cook a duck breast is among the most frequent I receive from readers. Goose breasts, along with those of any dark meat bird, such as pigeons, sharp-tailed grouse, etc., can be prepared using this method.

Here is the procedure to follow  

Finished duck breasts recipe on a cutting board. Original photo by Holly A. Heyser

Some of you are probably thinking, "I know how to do this already, Hank" I am sorry; my approach is probably not the same as yours, but it does the trick. Every time It's no exaggeration to say that I've prepared thousands of duck breasts in my lifetime, and this is the method I've found to yield the best results every time.  

Now, the rest of you can follow along

Here are a few things to note before we get started To begin, a duck breast should be prepared in the same manner as a steak, which is to say, between rare and medium. In other words, after resting, a duck breast should be cooked to an internal temperature of 125 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. No one will kill you if your duck breast is 145 degrees, but if it's any hotter than that, you've pretty much ruined it.  

But shouldn't duck be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit because it's poultry? Certainly, ducks belong to the bird family. However, they are red meat birds and should be prepared similarly to beef. When researching my book, Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Waterfowl, Both Wild and Domesticated, I looked through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) database of food-borne illness reports and found that ducks and geese rarely if ever caused any kind of illness in humans.  

If you really want to, you can even eat duck tartare. And I do  


Therefore, any duck breasts recipe that instructs you to overcook the meat is either outdated (we used to regularly overcook duck) or dishonest. hence the widespread disapproval; either that, or whoever came up with the recipe has something against delicious meat. To put it another way, if you can master duck breast, you have essentially mastered the art of cooking a steak while also giving it a bacon hat.

With reference to the aforementioned "bacon There should always be skin on the breasts. Instructions for skinless breasts are different. If you're interested, I detail the steps in my cookbook; otherwise, a skinless duck breast can be prepared in the same way as a steak of the same size.  

Follow the recipe below for detailed, and I do mean detailed, instructions. (I also made a video of myself cooking these duck breasts. If you stick to these steps, you'll be able to roast a duck breast while you sleep.

But before you go, I'll give you a brief rundown. Allow the duck breasts to come to room temperature before continuing. Remove from fridge, salt, and let sit at room temperature for half an hour. Use some paper towels to dry them off.  

Patting the duck dry. Illustration by Holly A. Heyser

You won't need a lot of fat or oil to start cooking a duck breast like this (it's a fat pintail duck I hunted here in NorCal) or fatter. Rendering duck fat at home (here) is my go-to method, but you can also buy duck fat in stores. Not neccessary in every case Duck breasts can also be started on the stove with some oil, lard, or butter.  

Over medium heat, melt the fat in a steel or iron pan (non-stick won't hold up to the high heat we'll be using to cook the duck breasts). You can spread it all over the skillet with a duck breast.  

Spreading duck fat in a pan with a duck breast. Shot by Holly A. Heyser

I usually get four or five more duck breasts ready to go in the oven. When cooking duck breasts, the skin contracts quickly if the pan is too hot, leaving an unappetizing oval indentation near the lean end of the breast.  

In any case, you should use your tongs to press down on this section for about a minute, allowing it to loosen up and making good contact with the pan. A bacon press can also be useful.  

Pressing down a duck breast in a hot pan. Taking a picture of Holly A. Heyser

If you want to know how to cook perfect duck breast, here's a tip: cook it skin side down for most of the cooking time. This crisps the skin, which acts as a barrier to prevent the meat from cooking further on that side, and renders most of the fat.  

Once the skin is browned and crispy (and yes, you can peek), you flip the breasts and let them finish cooking for a few minutes on the meat side. In the recipe card down below, I've included some suggestions for preparing various duck species.  

The last step is to stand the duck breasts up against each other and kiss the fatty sides. This method, which I honed while preparing the incredibly fatty mallards and pintails that had been squatting in California's rice fields, is just as effective when applied to ducks purchased at the grocery store.  

Standing up two duck breasts to cook the sides. Photographed by Holly a. Heyser

In the end, place the duck breasts skin-side up on a cutting board. You can tent them with foil if they are still a bit underdone, but I rarely do that because it destroys your crispy skin. I do, however, enjoy grinding black pepper over the skin while it rests.  

In summary, this is the duck breast recipe I use almost exclusively: I do not believe a nice fat pintail, mallard, or wood duck needs more than salt, pepper, and a squeeze of citrus or vinegar, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

To counter that, I have a long list of wild game sauces, many of which pair nicely with duck. Here on the site you'll find a number of specific recipes that utilize this method of cooking duck breasts, such as:

Finished duck breasts recipe on a cutting board.
Download Recipe
Learn the basics, and cooking duck breasts will be a breeze. You can use either wild or store-bought duck or goose breasts in this recipe.  
  • The duck breasts should be removed from the refrigerator. Make crosshatch cuts in the skin (not the meat) of a domestic duck or a very fatty wild duck, about 1/2 inch apart; this will help the fat render and produce crispier skin.   Allow the goose breast to rest on the cutting board for at least 15 minutes and up to 45 minutes after you have liberally salted both sides.
  • With paper towels, dry the duck breasts. Put 1 teaspoon of duck fat or cooking oil in a large pan if you're cooking a domestic duck or a very fat wild duck; lay the breasts skin-side down, and use them to spread the fat evenly over the pan's surface. Put the stove on medium heat. I repeat: do not heat the pan. You should begin with a cool pan if you want the most fat to render out.    It depends on the quality of the wild duck breasts you're using. e in 2 tablespoons of duck fat, lard, or another oil and cook them over high heat for 1 minute, skinny ones. Keep in mind that the fat should not smoke as this heats up. The duck breasts go in skin-side down once you've gotten to this point.   Regardless, once the duck breasts enter the oven, the "tails" of skin and fat on both the head and tail sides of the fillet will begin to shrink. Some women experience a small, oval-shaped area at the base of the breast that curls up and doesn't touch the pan as their skin shrinks. For 30 to 60 seconds, apply pressure using the tongs. This allows for a more uniform sear.  
  • Recognize the role of the pan. Rather than an inferno or a trickle, aim for a jovial sizzle when cooking. Just picture the sizzling of bacon in a skillet, and you'll get the picture. How long It depends When it comes to duck, I prefer it cooked to a medium-rare temperature. It takes only about 3 minutes to cook the skin side of small ducks like teal or ruddy ducks, and you may want to keep the heat higher. It takes 3-5 minutes to catch a wigeon, gadwall, or wood duck, all of which are medium-sized ducks. To fully mature, domestic ducks like mallards, pintails, canvasbacks, and the like require 5–8 minutes.   The skin side of a goose breast needs to be cooked for a full 10 to 12 minutes on medium heat. The secret is to cook the breast primarily on this side, as it is the flattest and will produce the most deliciously crisp skin.   I'll say it again: the skin side of a duck breast requires the bulk of the cooking time.
  • The breasts should be flipped over. When Adhere to the aforementioned instructions and use your sense of hearing; the sizzle will alter and eventually die down. When you reach this point, you should make a In an instant, lightly salt the skin that is now exposed. This seems to soak up any excess oil and make your skin even crispier.   Lower the heat and cook the ducks for less time on the meat side. My suggestions are as follows: 1–2 minutes for mallards; 3–4 minutes for muscovies; 4–6 minutes for large wild ducks and domestic ducks; 5–7 minutes for geese.   However, you need The Force more than just time to know when your duck is ready. Misaligned with the Force The finger-prick test is a close second. Take advantage of this to gauge how close you are to completion. If your duck breasts are rare, I would recommend proceeding to step two.
  • Now stand the two halves of the breasts against each other, "kissing" the thick side. Breasts of duck and goose expand and shrink as they cook. Fillets have a wider edge on one side, which means that side will require more cooking time. Turn the breasts over for an additional 30–90 seconds of cooking time, just to get a nice color.
  • Put the duck on a cutting board, skin side up, and remove it from the heat. A dash of black pepper right now would be perfect. While teal only need a couple minutes to recharge, larger birds like Canada geese may need up to 10. A five-minute break is good for everything else. Like with a steak, a duck breast that hasn't rested will cause its juices to spill all over your cutting board rather than trickling gracefully down your chin.   The breast is best sliced horizontally, but either end will do. Starting at the meat end allows for thinner slices at the expense of some of the skin's crispiness. When serving a whole breast, the sauce should be placed under the skin.
You can easily increase the serving size of this recipe.  
  • Here's how to render duck fat at home in case you don't have any already.  
  • Having a warm breast makes it much simpler to regulate body temperature than having one that is freezing cold. This is why it's important to bring the meat to room temperature before cooking it. Exceptions include ducks with unusually small breasts, such as teal. These should be cooked from cold to avoid overcooking.  
  • Avoid using non-stick cookware in favor of steel or cast iron when searing meat, as these materials can withstand higher temperatures.
  • In case you forgot, here it is again: Because this side of the breast is the flattest, it is where you should allow most of the cooking to take place in order to achieve that deliciously crisp skin.  
  • You should take a break and rest your breasts For a minimum of a few minutes, and preferably 10–15 minutes for a large goose breast  
  • At all times, skin side up You earned that crunchy exterior. Keeping it away from the cutting board is an easy way to extend its shelf life.  
Calories: 287 kcal | Protein: 45 g | Fat: 11 g | Animal Fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 174 mg | Sodium: 129 mg | Potassium: 606 mg | Vitamin A: 120 IU | Vitamin C: 14 mg | Calcium: 7 mg | Iron: 10.2 mg
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