Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts | February 28, 2011

Oh so very long ago, I posted about my first experience with the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  I actually cooked TWO meals from the cookbook that weekend, but those meatballs were just the warmup for my inaugural journey into cooking duck.  That’s right, kids – as much as I love to eat ol’ Daffy and Donald, I had never before attempted to prepare duck in my very own kitchen.

Strangely enough, my biggest problem with this recipe was actually FINDING the duck.  I really need to locate an honest-to-goodness butcher in my neighborhood.  I ended up getting the meat at Whole Foods, and I have no doubt that it was fresh and of reasonable quality, but it was more of the pre-packaged variety, so I didn’t have any choice in terms of the size of the breasts (and they were smaller than the recipe called for).  The good news is, there is a large directory of suppliers in the back of the cookbook, so even if I can’t find a local meatmonger, I can always investigate my mail-order options.

The dish was VERY tasty, and I was proud of my first duck-cooking attempt.  There is certainly room for improvement, though, so I’m sure I’ll try this one again.  Note: I served the duck, as suggested, with butter-braised vegetables (also in the cookbook).  I’ll definitely post that recipe shortly – it was fabulous.

  • Six 10-12 ounce Pekin duck breasts, preferably with tenderloins still attached
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 orange
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Canola oil
  • Grey salt or other course sea salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a sharp knife, cut a 1/4 inch crosshatch pattern in the skin of each breast, being careful not to pierce the meat.  (Do this while the duck is cold, since it’s difficult to make such precise cuts at room temperature.)  Turn the duck breasts skin side down on the baking sheet.  If the tenderloins, the smaller piece of meat that runs along the bottom of the breast, are still attached, leave them on the breasts.  Use a paring knife to remove the small white tendon that runs through each tenderloin.  You will see a vein that runs the length of each breast.  Run your finger down the length of each vein, and if any blood comes out, wipe it away with a paper towel.

Season the flesh side of each breast with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg.  Grate a little orange zest over each breast.  Sprinkle a few drops of vinegar over the meat.  Lay a sprig of thyme running lengthwise down the center of each breast and cover with a bay leaf.  Turn over and season each breast with a generous pinch of salt and a grating of nutmeg.  Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour, or up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Set a metal bowl or other container near the stove.  With a paper towel, blot any moisture from the duck breasts.  Season each side with a pinch of salt.

Pour some canola oil into a large ovenproof frying pan over medium-low heat.  Add the duck skin-side down (in batches, if necessary).  Move the duck breasts every few minutes to help them brown evenly.  As the fat is rendered, carefully remove the excess (leaving about 1/8 inch) from the frying pan; tilt the pan away from the heat, remove the fat with a large kitchen spoon, and transfer it to the metal bowl.  Cook the duck for a total of 20-25 minutes, until the skin is an even rich brown and very crisp; the internal temperature of the breasts should be about 115 degrees.  Flip each breast and just “kiss” the meat side for about 30 seconds.

Put the duck skin side down in the oven and cook for about 5 minutes.  The internal temperature should be about 125 degrees for a rosy medium rare.

Put the duck skin side down on the cooling rack and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.  Sprinkle the sliced meat with gray salt and pepper.

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