How-To: Pan-Fried Duck Breast
In her latest book, "The Improvisational Cook," Sally Schneider provides methods of pan-frying duck breasts that are pretty close to ideal, including one in which skin-on breasts sit for 1 hour under the spell of a salt, sugar and black pepper mixture. (In that particular preparation, the resulting crackling skin almost outshines the medium-rare duck meat.)
Schneider advises cooking duck breasts as you would steak. Directions you'll find on some packages of duck breast fillets suggest the same, but their cooking times tend to run longer. Schneider prefers a doneness of medium-rare; cooked longer, she says, the rich meat begins "to taste liver-y."
Here is a take on Schneider's basic methods of pan-frying boneless White Pekin duck breasts, about 6 ounces each:
Place the duck breasts skin side down on a cutting board. Use a thin, sharp knife to remove the tenderloin -- the thin strip of meat that runs lengthwise down the underside of the breast -- if it is present; reserve. Turn the breasts over; make a series of parallel shallow cuts across the fatty skin, about 1/4 apart, then turn 90 degrees and make a second set of cuts, creating a crosshatch pattern. That will allow the fat to melt out of the skin as the breast cooks, making it leaner and crisper.
Arrange the breasts skin side down in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-low heat. After a few minutes, the skin will begin to melt. Cook about 6 to 8 minutes, until the skin becomes crisp and brown and a great deal of the fat has rendered out. Turn them over, increase the heat to medium and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until the bottom is brown and the breasts feel springy to the touch. Add the reserved tenderloins, if any, and cook for 1 minute on each side. Transfer all the duck to a cutting board to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting the breasts on the diagonal into 1/8 -inch-thick slices.
WITHOUT THE SKIN
Remove the skin by prying an edge of it away from the flesh with your fingers. Then use a sharp knife to release the membrane that attaches it to the flesh. Peel off the skin in one sheet. Discard.
To cook the breasts, heat 2 teaspoons grapeseed, peanut or olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, until browned. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for several minutes before cutting into thin slices.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick