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duck breast...hard to make?? any suggestions??

I'm pondering what to make for our next dinner party..I've never made duck, but I do enjoy it and know at least several of our guests would eat duck. I have a few weeks to practice some recipes. Is duck a challenge? Is it a challenge for serving 14? I called our butcher and their breasts are boneless, 1 lb. each. so most likely I would make 7, and then slice/fan on the plates for portioning.

Thanks! Lovely fall recipes appreciated...I'm guessing cranberry reduction would go beautifully.

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  1. The boneless duck breasts I buy are about 1/2 lb. each, my husband and I share a half. How many to buy is going to depend on the appetites of your guests.

    They are quite simple to prepare. Score the fat with a sharp knife, season with S&P. Cook skin side down in a hot skillet then turn. You do not want well done duck, med rare is best and yes it is safe. As the breasts cook remove them to a platter and keep warm. When all cooked, deglaze the pan, I use a very fruity vinegar made from raspberries. Slice the breasts and arrange on plates, pour the pan juices, dividing it equally among the plates and scatter fresh raspberries over each serving. You can also arrange all the slices on a warm platter top with pan sauce and raspberries and pass the platter.

    1. The two things that Candy doesn't mention is that you don't want to cut through the skin to the underlying meat, and as you're cooking you're going to have to pour off the rendered fat from time to time. Apart from that, it's pretty much the straightforward method for doing magret.

      The sauce can be anything. If you can find autumn raspberries, then fine. Cranberries work, apple, peach, fig etc etc.

      1. Candy nailed it.

        The only potential problem is guests who do not realize it is supposed to be cooked like steak - medium rare or on the rarer side of medium - at any rate, undoubtedly pink.

        1. You could buy a different variety of duck to get smaller breasts. Slicing, fanning, and all that rigamarole for 14 seems like you'd get pretty cold breasts at the table.

          The skin has a lot of fat, and I hate spattering inside the house. I would probably do it in a cast iron dutch oven if you have one.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jaykayen

            what type would be smaller? do you have a source? i looked at Dartagnan, and we have a local butcher and his are the 1 lb size.

            1. re: mrsgreer

              I think your butcher means the whole breast, both halves. 1 lb. would be about right.

          2. What others have said- score the fat (don't hit the meat), pour off the fat when necessary, and MOST IMPORTANT... save the fat! Pop it in the freezer when cooled, nothing better for homefries.... crabcakes.....

            1. You are not a short order cook, and preparing this sort of quick cooked item and plating it for 14 people before it gets cold is going to be tricky.

              I have a couple of alternative suggestions. First, Paula Wolfert has a great recipe for grilled, marinated duck breasts in her SW france boo. its a snap and extremely flavorful. - you could do it on your grill. I will try to pull it and post for you..

              Secod, we also recently went to dinner with friends who served duck in orange sauce - the classic, probably from julia child. This was baked in the oven for the last stage, and since it was made with legs, there was not the same timing sensitivity as with the breasts - so it could stay in the oven until it was brought to table. Legs are cheaper than breasts and you could just make a couple of pans of these for your group. And did I mention it was absolutely delicious? Something I never would have thought of.,

              2 Replies
              1. re: jen kalb

                Yes, two frying pans are definitely in order, a second person to help plate.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Great suggestion on the legs...I was wondering how to pull off doing the duck breasts at the stove. I do have several large fry pans, and my husband and best friend always help plate/run. Most of my dinner parties have been dishes which are finished in the oven after initial searing, though one I did tenderloins and so many guests seemed really happy to watch...can I sear the breasts to rare, tent and hold and finish in the oven??

                2. I've done duck breasts for about 25 for lunch at work (we happen to have a full kitchen), so it is definitely doable. In addition to the excellent advice above, I generally cook about 75% of the time required skin side down - really want to render that fat and crisp up the skin. Note you do want the breasts to rest a good bit so they don't spill out all their juices when cut. But I wouldn't tent with foil, because the condensation will uncrsip the skin somewhat. You can be very inventive with saucing. I've done fig jam, thyme, lime, lemongrass and sriracha, for example. I recently bought some Turkish sour cherry juice (comes in a can like soda) and it would be perfect to reduce as a pan sauce.

                  PS: Absolutely a must, especially when you're making say 7 breasts at once - use a probe thermometer. You don't want to go over about 120-125, if I recall correctly, so that carryover cooking takes it to 130 max..

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: sbp

                    Duck breasts too small to show carryover effect.

                    1. re: jaykayen

                      Guess I cook with bigger ones (the ones I get from D'Artagnan are noticeably thicker than the ones at Fairway), but there is definitely about 5 degree carryover.

                      1. re: sbp

                        looked at Dartagnan last nite, do you get peking or magret?

                          1. re: sbp

                            Wow, I'm really excited now! I don't live far from Hudson Valley Foie Gras...I called & can pick up the Magret there! If I'm not mistaken, Dartagnan says their magret is farm raised in NY, so I'm pretty sure this may be the same source...Plus it is less money. Maybe you would like to try ordering from their web site.

                    2. re: sbp

                      Lots of good advice. Agreed cook skin side down the vast majority of the time. Flabby duck skin is a big turn off and I've been presented with just that at far too my restaurants

                    3. I actually like to start the duck breast on a cold pan... oddly enough... i find it helps to render out the fat better. once the pan gets hot enough, the duck breast will release itself from the pan.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: darrentran87

                        The cold pan method is the best! I learned it from this board and will never go back. Start with cold pan, low heat. As fat renders pour it off and gradually increase heat as you go. This lets you render all the fat without overcooking the meat. jameshig's suggestions are also good: do ahead, reheat in oven and do a practice run ahead of time.

                      2. You can render off the skin ahead of time and pull them and refrigerate. The breasts don't take any time at all once the skin has been rendered. If you think you are done rendering, give it another 5 to 7 minutes, seriously. No one wants flabby pieces of skin. Make sure to go low on the heat.

                        Once the skin is rendered, you can refrigerate and right before service, pull them out and finish them on a rack in the oven.

                        Please make sure you try this before your party though, this is not something you do for the first time for a group.

                        Sweet potato mash with roasted root veg is a good accompaniment.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: jameshig

                          Yes! the answer I was looking for. I was hoping to pre-prep. and I plan to practice. I saw a sweet potato gnocchi on Epi, as a first course....

                          1. re: jameshig

                            I tried cold pan, then holding and finishing in the oven. I have to say they were a tad less tender than cooking start to finish...However I pulled the "oven finished" at 130. Do you think this was from the holdover period? They were still medium, but def not midrare...I don't want to compromise flavor or texture! My oven was at 400, and at 4 mins. they were 118 so I checked again in 3 more and oops, 130.

                            1. re: mrsgreer

                              I would suggest holding at a much lower temp. It seems to me one cookbook had me sear them then wrap in foil and hold at 250 to rest and finish.

                          2. I recently made 5-hour duck for a friend. I did not try it but my friend said it was the best duck she ever had. It rendered about cup-and-a-half of beautiful fat in the low oven and then duck crisped for the last hour in a hot oven. Very simple and you would have legs and breasts for people to choose from. Sour cherry reduction would be so yummy with it and sweet potato mash too as someone up-thread suggested.