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Oct 5, 2007 03:39 PM

Duck Breasts: How to get fat layer crispy?

When you cook duck breasts, how do you get the fat layer on top crispy?

My grocery store now carries incredibly good duck breasts cryovac'd 4 to a package. I buy 2 packages, cook all 8, and vacuum-pack all the extras.

I cook them:
- In my Big Green Egg
- Indirect, with a cast iron skillet (for 4) or cast iron pizza pan (for 8) underneath to catch the duck fat drippings and prevent flare-ups
- at 375 degrees F
- till the Thermopen reads 145 degrees F

First time: Fat side up, another cast iron skillet on top of the fat, meat side down. The skin got nice and crispy. (used a skillet on top of the fat because the recipe called for foil-wrapped bricks on top


Last night: Fat side down, nothing on top. The meat was *perfectly* cooked, really delicious, but the fat on top was still undone.

I was OK with that becuase I was cooking them all in advance to have for breakfast for relatives coming in this weekend. Am going to try a "Fried Poached Egg with Smoked Duck Breast" recipe. (yes, you actually poach the egg, bread it w/ Panko bread crumbs, and then fry it!) I'll remove the fat layer before I slice the duck for breakfast.


1) When you cook duck breasts, how do you get the fat layer on top crispy? (whether in oven, or skillet, or grill)

2) What should I do with the extra duck fat?

I sprinkled a healthy amount of John Henry Cherry Chipotle rub on it, so the fat layer is lots spicier than I thought it would be! (but it definitely made the meat taste incredible!)

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  1. Meant to add the pics!

    This was from the first cook where they did turn out crispy enough (hard to tell cos the first pic shows the honey-ginger-garlic-soy sauce on it too.

    2'nd pic shows the onions I sauteed in the cast iron skillet after cooking the duck. They took on that color from the cherry chipotle rub.

    1. You must score the fat in order for it to render out. When I make duck breasts, I usually rely on a sauce to add additional flavor, because I save the rendered fat for use in everything else I cook, and I don't want it to be flavored by anything but the duck. Caramelized onions in duck fat, diced potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts... everything.

      So, I make a score about 1/4 inch in one direction, then same width in the opposite direction, leading to a hatch pattern. Then cook fat side down to start.

      4 Replies
      1. re: cheesemonger

        Hi cheesemonger,

        I always score them with lots of cross-hatch marks (see un-cooked pic)

        This past time it didn't matter - the fat was still un-rendered.

        One pic shows uncooked, scored, breasts, and the other is them cooking on my egg after taking off the bricks from the first time.

        1. re: sweet100s

          I've not cooked these v. often, but had great success recently with a recipe from Patricia Wells. Will try to post tomorrow.

          1. re: sweet100s

            I was trying to tell from the pics if they were scored, but I couldn't- thanks for the clarification. How deep was the scoring? I usually go down to a millimeter of the meat, so that it's really deep, and the scores are close together.

            I've never had a problem with getting crispy fat side with my duck, as long as I have ample heat and scoring. Sorry I coudn't be of more help.

            And I'm not familar with the Green egg thing- I just use a cast iron skillet.

            1. re: cheesemonger

              I score it just above where the meet starts - or try to. In 4 duck breasts I'll nick the meat in 1 of them.

              What temp does fat render?

              Maybe if I take the grill to a temp just above that, then the meat won't get done before all the fat renders.

        2. Pricking the skin before cooking really helps get the top crispy, but it also doesn't drain moisture from the flesh.

          And I really like duck fat in omelets. Yum!

          1. Cook (scored or well pricked breasts) fat side down on medium-low to get a longer slower rendering of the fat without burning the skin, then when the skin is crispy, flip it over and cook the meat as much more as it needs. Save the fat for confit and/or cooking potatoes in.