One of my favorite proteins to cook as well as to eat is a perfectly medium-rare duck breast with a tantalizingly crispy skin.
I feel that duck is a protein that often intimidates home cooks, but it is actually no more difficult to cook than a piece of steak.
I like my duck medium-rare, which is made possible by the fact that ducks are genetically unable to harbor salmonella, so there is no risk of having a “undercooked” duck.
The key to a perfect duck breast is curing it in salt for a couple of hours before cooking it to pull out any excess moisture. After that, starting skin side down in a cold pan of cast iron makes all the difference.
During the cooking process we are going to baste the duck with a homemade herb and chili butter that adds much intense flavor.
Fifteen or so minutes after starting you will be eating restaurant-quality duck in the comfort of your home.
I would suggest serving this with either a salad of spring greens with a nice vinaigrette or simple steamed spring vegetables. There are no wrong answers, but duck is excellent when accompanied by bright and fresh flavors.
Pan-seared duck breast with chili herb butter
Serves 4, with the possibility of leftovers
For the chili herb butter
- This recipe will make a lot more than you need, but I suggest freezing it in an ice cube tray and then transferring the cubes to a bag in the freezer so you can add a cube to anything you might be making.
- 2 sticks softened, unsalted butter
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, well-washed, with the bottom inch of the stems removed (We are using leaves and stems in this.)
- 1/3 cup chili paste (I used the Huy Fung chili garlic sauce, it is the same brand that makes sriracha.)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the duck
- 1 cup kosher salt (for the curing of the duck)
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper (for the curing of the duck)
- 2 duck breasts, with as much excess fat and silver skin trimmed away as possible. There are a number of helpful videos online of how to do this, but it is similar in principle to trimming any other piece of meat.
- 2 tablespoons chili herb butter
For the chili herb butter
- Combine all of the ingredients except for half of the water, salt and pepper in a blender.
- Add more water as necessary to help the mixture blend properly.
- Depending on the power of your blender you may need to add more water than the recipe calls for; that is fine, just be sure to taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper when it is properly mixed.
- After the butter is properly seasoned (feel free to add more or less chili, vinegar, citrus, herbs, etc., depending on your taste), remove the butter from the blender and store it in a plastic container in the fridge for up to a week or follow my freezer method described earlier and it will keep for three to six months.
For the duck
- Mix the kosher salt and ground black pepper together in a bowl.
- Liberally coat the duck breasts in the mixture. They should be completely covered.
- Let the duck breasts sit on a plate in the refrigerator uncovered for 2 hours. The purpose of this is to allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat as well as extract moisture from the duck; this further concentrates the flavor.
- After 2 hours, rinse the salt and pepper mixture off the duck. Pat the breasts dry.
- In a cold pan (cast iron is preferable), place the duck breasts skin side down. Put the stove on medium-low heat. Have a metal spoon nearby because once the duck fat starts rendering we are going to spoon it over the flesh side to start the cooking process from both ends.
- Let the skin side cook for about 10 minutes, while continuously basting the flesh side. After 10 minutes flip the duck breast to the flesh side for 2 or so minutes, then flip back to the skin side for the last 3 minutes to maintain even cooking.
- At the last 3-minute stage add the 2 tablespoons of chili herb butter to the pan, spoon it all over the duck as it melts, being sure to steadily baste it over the meat.
- The overall cooking time is going to be approximately 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the duck breast. For supreme accuracy I would suggest using a meat thermometer. The magic number you are looking for is between 125 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature will continue to rise by about 5 degrees after you remove the duck, so keep that in mind.
- Remove the duck and let it rest on a cutting board skin side up for 10 minutes. At that point you can slice it and serve it with your preferred accompaniments.
In Recipe of the Month, food writer Steven DeSalvo shares a recipe Montclairians might enjoy making. DeSalvo has a degree in hospitality business management from the University of Delaware and has worked extensively in restaurants and hotels. If there is something you want to know how to make, or if you’ve eaten a dish at a local restaurant that you are dying to make at home, drop us a note at [email protected]