In her newest cookbook, author Molly Stevens writes: "The rich, rosy red meat of a perfectly cooked duck breast delivers the same sort of primal satisfaction that you get from a good, thick steak. The key phrase in that sentence is 'rosy red.' Overcook duck breast and you'll miss much of what makes it so wonderful. Despite its thick layer of fat, the actual meat is quite lean (leaner, in fact, than either chicken or turkey).
"Sear-roasting -- browning and crisping the duck on the stove before transferring it to a very low oven to gently finish cooking -- is nearly foolproof for turning out perfectly cooked duck breast. Not only is this method much less nerve-wracking than the high-heat, fast-paced stovetop method often used for duck breast, but the hands-off finish also gives you time to prepare the rest of the meal.
"Another benefit of searing the breast before roasting is that you wind up with a few tablespoons of marvelous rendered duck fat. Reserve it right in the skillet and use it to saute greens -- spinach and watercress are my favorites -- to serve alongside the duck. (Or reserve the fat to use later; just don't throw it away.)"
Servings: 4 - 6
- 2 Moulard duck breasts (magrets), about 12 ounces each
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels. Use a sharp paring knife or boning knife to score the skin and fat in a crosshatch pattern, making the cuts about 1/2 inch apart. The key here is to cut down through the fat without exposing the meat. Go slowly at first, until you get a sense of how deeply you can cut while leaving a thin layer of the fat (about 1/8 inch) uncut. Season the breasts well all over with salt and pepper. Leave the seasoned duck at room temperature while the oven preheats.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (175 degrees for a convection oven). Have a small roasting pan or small heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet outfitted with a flat roasting rack at hand.
Heat a large, heavy skillet (10 to 12 inches, preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts skin side down and cook for about 6 minutes without moving them, until the skin is deeply browned. The duck should sizzle, but it shouldn't splatter wildly or smoke. If the skin appears to be browning too fast and there is a risk of burning, reduce the heat slightly.
Transfer the duck, skin side up, to the rack on the roasting pan or baking sheet. A good amount of duck fat will be left behind in the skillet. Reserve the fat in the pan to saute greens to go along with the duck, as described in the headnote, or pour it into a heatproof container (leave any solids behind in the pan) for another use.
Slide the duck into the oven and roast until medium-rare (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 145 to 150 degrees), about 50 minutes. (If you like your duck seriously rare, you can take it out when it reaches 135 degrees; begin checking after 25 minutes.)
Transfer to a cutting board and let the duck rest for about 5 minutes before carving. Cut each breast crosswise into 1/4-to-1/3-inch thick slices and serve.
Adapted from Stevens's "All About Roasting" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011).
Tested by Dean Felten.
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