Don’t ask why it’s taken me so long to discover how easy it is to cook duck.
I may have associated it with Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, now closed, and those beautiful dinners I could never re-create at home.
But I can attest that duck breast is easy, forgiving and quick.
Duck is a whole different bird from chicken or turkey; it’s actually a red meat, akin in flavor and texture to steak.
You’ll find fresh and frozen duck (whole and parts) at several of our local butcher shops (Lowry Hill Meats and Clancey’s Meats & Fish in Minneapolis and St. Paul Meat Shop in St. Paul). They carry a variety that’s similar to the Pekin duck raised on Wild Acres Farms in Pequot Lakes, Minn. Whole duck and duck breast are also available at our Twin Cities natural food co-ops.
The Pekin duck is, perhaps, the easiest and most satisfying to cook. Its flavor is rich without being gamey and it has just enough fat, not too much. The best thing duck breast has going for it is that combination of skin and fat. The latter bastes the skin perfectly, allowing it to brown with ease, and ensures that the meat stays moist and juicy. Once rendered, the fat can be stored in a glass jar and refrigerated, ready for frying up the most amazing potatoes and eggs.
To pan-roast duck breast, the first step is to score that fat with a sharp knife (lightly, without piercing the meat). Then, unlike most sautés, begin by placing the duck breast skin-side down in a cold, ungreased, pan; a well-seasoned heavy cast iron skillet works best. Cook the duck breast slowly over low heat to allow time for the fat to render and the skin to crisp. Flip, continue cooking and, as with steak, look for the juices to appear on the surface of the meat.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, duck meat is safe to eat at 165 degrees on an instant-read digital meat thermometer. But many chefs prefer to serve it more rare. I like to finish it off in the oven.
The dark, rich nature of duck works beautifully with a wide range of bold flavors — fresh herbs, warm spices, citrus, dried fruit, sharp vinegar, sweet honey or maple syrup. Toss in any number of seasonal vegetables to cook alongside for a one-pan feast that’s pretty enough for a dinner party, simple enough for a weeknight meal.
Maple-Glazed Duck Breasts With Celeriac
Serves 2 to 4.
Note: A perfect combination of flavors, the duck gets a kick of heat from crushed red pepper, a lick of sweet maple syrup, grounded with earthy celeriac that cooks alongside. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. dark maple syrup
• 2 tbsp. fresh squeezed orange juice
• 1 scant tsp. crushed red pepper
• 2 duck breasts (about 6 to 8 oz. each)
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 medium celeriac (also known as celery root), peeled and cut into chunks
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To make glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup, orange juice and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
To prepare the duck: Score the skin of the duck breast in a crisscross pattern, being careful not to cut through the meat. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
Set the duck, skin-side down, in a cold skillet and set over medium-low heat. Brown and crisp the skin, rendering most of the fat, being careful not to burn, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove some of the fat as it renders, leaving about 1/8 inch of it covering the pan. (Strain and save the excess rendered fat in a glass jar, covered and refrigerated, for another use.)
Once the skin is brown and crisp, flip the duck over, toss in the celeriac, and pour the glaze over all. Put the pan into the oven; after 5 minutes, baste the duck and celeriac with the juices and the glaze. Continue cooking until the duck is done to your preference. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but many chefs prefer to serve duck more rare.) Remove from the oven, and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the celeriac.
Nutrition information per serving:
Fat 6 g
Sodium 180 mg
Carbohydrates 28 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Total sugars 21 g
Protein 16 g
Cholesterol 40 mg
Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 carb, 2 medium-fat protein.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.