There are usually plenty of ways to cook a piece of meat. Across countries and cultures, you will often find a way of food preparation you have not thought of before. Yet when it comes to duck breast I have to admit I am set in my ways. This instructional guide for how to cook duck breast is in my biased opinion the absolute best way to do it.
Duck breast is one of my favorite cuts of meat. In fact, if I am at a restaurant and they have a duck breast there’s a good chance that is what I am going to get. Yet for many people it seems like this fatty poultry isn’t something they want to make at home. It is very easy! Don’t be intimidated, cooking duck breast is so, so simple.
Duck is also one of my favorite things to cook when hosting dinner parties or simple get togethers with friends. It looks so much more impressive than it actually is. My duck breast in px sauce looks like something from an upscale continental restaurant, yet has about 8 ingredients and takes less than an hour.
Aside from being far tastier than chicken, duck is also considered quite healthy! Learning how to cook duck breast is something most home cooks should have in their repertoire. I’ll be the first to admit it is a great date night dish that looks far more impressive than it actually is.
How Long Does It Take To Cook Duck Breast?
From start to finish you can cook a duck breast perfectly in less than 15 minutes. Let me break that down. You will cook it in the pan from 6-9 minutes, and then in an oven for no more than 6 minutes. Just like with a steak you should let duck rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into it.
Is Duck Breast White Meat Or Red Meat?
Have you ordered duck breast in a restaurant and were surprised at the red/pink color of a perfectly cooked duck breast? This is because a properly cooked breast should be served medium, whereas chicken and turkey should be cooked well-done. However believe it or not, duck breast is considered white meat.
According to the USDA this is because ducks are poultry and all poultry is white meat. However just like geese, ducks are birds of flight. This means their breast muscles work harder and more often than birds like turkey or chicken which spend most of their time on the ground. So while duck breast is considered white meat, be sure not to cook it like most white meats.
What You Will Need
To perfectly cook a duck breast you need a few simple kitchen tools. I’m not going to provide affiliate links because it’s likely you already have them, and there really isn’t anything specific you need that I can recommend.
- A Knife. I recommend using the sharpest chef’s knife you own. If the knife is dull you will have to apply too much pressure to the skin which can result in cutting too deep. And absolutely DO NOT use a serrated knife as it will destroy the duck breast.
- A Pan. You will need a flat bottomed pan to cook duck breast. However it can be steel, aluminum, cast iron, non-stick etc. Use whatever is convenient. I do recommend choosing a size that is just slightly larger than your breast so the fat does not spread out too much. I use either my All-Clad copper core pan (or a non-stick) which is fantastic for cooking duck breast – but it is pricey so a cheaper substitute can just be any 18/10 Stainless.
- A Cooktop. I always use an open fire when I make duck, but that is just because it is what I have. You can use induction if that is more convenient, but it might take some getting used to. The settings on induction cooktops can go quite low – so expect to play around with it in the beginning.
- An Oven. You will need an oven to finish the duck since using the pan 100% of the time is an easy way to overcook it. My timing below is based on a fan-forced oven, if you use a non-convection oven then add 15-20 degrees Celsius to the temps provided below.
- Tongs. These are optional but recommended. That way you aren’t touching the hot duck with your bare hands. I use silicone tipped ones but all metal can work as well provided you aren’t using a non-stick pan.
How To Cook Duck Breast The French Way
In my opinion as a recipe blogger and home cook, the French way is the best way to cook a duck breast. What is this magical French duck breast cooking method? Well, it all starts with a cold pan. Let me break it down step by step.
Step One: Choosing The Correct Duck Breast
Unlike chicken breasts that you will come across at the grocery, duck breasts have ratings. Not only do you have to choose the correct rating, you also have to choose the correct breed of duck, as some breeds are for different purposes.
To choose a duck breast to cook at home you want to find one that says ‘Grade A Skin On’. Grade A is the best quality duck breast, and skin on means you will…well, get skin which is a delicious part of the breast.
As far as breeds you are likely to come across three different ones: Pekin, Barbary, or Moulard. The moulard is a cross between a pekin hen (female) and a barbary drake (male). I would suggest buying either pekin or moulard as they have a decent fat layer under the skin. Barbary is great for whole roasting, but it isn’t great to make a great single breast fillet due to lack of fat.
Step 2: Scoring The Skin
This is an optional step, but one which is recommended for beginners. This is because scoring the duck breast skin allows the fat to render more easily. Thus giving the cook more control over the cook time and crisp level.
To score the skin start with a very sharp knife. Then lightly cut into the skin in a cross hatch pattern. Do not cut the actual meat; You only want to cut down to the fat layer so it renders more easily into the pan.
Step 3: A Cold Pan
The trick when thinking of how to cook duck breast is to start with a cold pan. I know this goes against what you’ve likely been taught with regards to most meats. After all, when you throw a steak down on the grill it should be ‘ripping hot’. Yet duck is different.
Take your scored duck breast and lightly sprinkle salt on the skin side. Don’t bother with the meat side. Then put the breast skin side down in a cold pan. Place the pan on the burner and put it on the lowest heat setting.
Note: I’ve heard some induction cooktops ‘lowest setting’ is basically a warmer. So you might have to practice a bit at finding out what is the actual best starting point for your stove.
Step 4: SLOWLY Raise The Heat
After a couple minutes of nothing really happening, you’ll notice some liquid fat seep out. This is exactly what you want. This rendered fat is what will cook the skin perfectly, and the reason why you don’t need oil or butter when cooking a duck breast.
Once you see a little fat seep out, raise the heat slightly. As more and more fat renders, keep slightly raising the heat. This process takes around 6-9 minutes. Some people recommend tipping the fat away as it renders (save it to use for later) but I don’t. I find having a thick layer of fat on the pan makes the skin extra crackly and delicious.
Step 5: The Flip
After 6 minutes or so, use tongs to check the skin. If it is golden brown and you can’t see a thick layer of fat under it anymore, it is time to flip.
The meat side should still be raw/red, but the skin side will be cooked. At this point flip the duck skin side up and place the pan into the oven at 180C or 350F for 6 minutes exactly. Make sure the pan you are using from start to finish is oven safe – you don’t want to go to pull out your duck and grab a handle of melted plastic.
Step 6: The Rest
Just like with a good steak, you are going to want to let the duck breast rest before cutting into it. Why do we let duck breast rest before cutting into it? Because as the duck rests the meat retains more of the juices inside rather than leaking out.
Move the duck breast to a cutting board and just lay a sheet of foil over it. You don’t need to wrap it tightly, or even at all. Just tent a piece of foil on top. While you wait you can make a pan sauce, finish up your sides, or start cleaning the kitchen! Now you know how to cook duck breast perfectly every time!
As far as plating goes, you can cut a duck breast in two suggested ways:
- In slices and fanned out. This is a great presentation for duck breast which really shows off the medium pink color. Many of my recipes use this plating method but you can choose either style for pretty much any recipe.
- Cut on the bias. This is the easier of the two presentations since it only involves one cut. Just slice the duck breast diagonally with the skin side down and arrange the two pieces on your plate. This method is better to show off that perfectly cooked skin.
What To Do With Extra Duck Fat?
Never, and I repeat NEVER, throw away the rendered duck fat after cooking a breast. This fat is one of my all time favorite ingredients and has so many uses. For starters, you can leave it in the pan and mix it with a little Marsala Wine and Cracked Black Pepper for a super simple pan sauce (title picture). Here are some other ways to use that leftover duck fat:
- Roast Potatoes! Toss your potatoes in some melted duck fat before roasting in an oven for an amazingly flavorful and crispy side dish. I even use duck fat for my fondant potatoes!
- Fried Eggs! You need to use some fat when frying eggs, why not duck fat. It is much more flavorful than boring old vegetable oil. I especially love eggs fried in duck fat sunny side up and then dripped with a bit of my homemade hot sauces.
- Fat Washed Alcohol! This mixology trend has gotten more popular in recent years. It is another use for that extra duck fat. You can fat wash alcohol with any fat, but I make a duck fat washed bourbon with this one, which was specific for the Duck Hunt cocktail.
- Confit! This is the method of slow cooking something in copious amounts of fat. We have all heard of duck confit, which is a duck leg packed and cooked in duck fat. But, I also use the fat to confit things like bell peppers or mushrooms as well!
5 Easy Duck Breast Recipes You Might Like
You might have noticed a lot of the pairings in these duck breast recipes involve fruit. Strangely enough fruit is often a great choice as the tartness and acidity of many fruits helps balance the richness of the fat. I even have a recipe for passionfruit glazed duck breast which is one of my tangiest flavor combos. Yet, it works!
Did You Like This How To Cook Duck Breast Guide?
Try these other instructional How-To-Cook guides and further improve your culinary ability!
- How To Cook Beef Tongue
- How To Break Down A Rabbit
- How To Make Cured Egg Yolks
- How To Roast A Perfect Rack Of Pork
- How To Cook Celeriac
How To Cook Duck Breast
- 1 Pan
- 1 Oven
- 1 Tongs | optional, but useful
- 1 Duck Breast Grade A – Skin On
- Preheat your oven to 180C or 350F
- After buying your proper duck breast, use a sharp knife to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern. Do not cut into the meat, just gently cut through the skin until you get to the fat layer.
- Sprinkle salt on the skin side only, Rub it into the scores.
- Place your duck breast skin side down in a cold pan. Place the pan on a heating element and put on the lowest setting. After a couple minutes you will see the fat begin to render out. Slowly raise the heat over the next 4 -6 minutes until there is plenty of rendered fat in the pan. Use tongs to check the skin. If crisp and golden brown then you can flip.
- Flip the duck skin side up and place the entire pan immediately in the oven. Let sit in the oven for 6 minutes then remove and use tongs to move the duck breast to a cutting board. Tent with a piece of foil and wait 5 minutes.
- Cut the duck breast skin side down either into even slices which will be fanned out, or on the bias using one long fluid slice. Plate and add whatever sauces, sides, or garnishes you will be using.