When duck breast is cooked and sliced correctly, it is magnificent. When it’s not however, it’s nothing short of disappointing. Here’s how to do it right.
Over two decades ago, I had a chance encounter in my restaurant kitchen with a duck farmer. He was watching me cook duck breast the way that I had learned to do it in France, and shaking his head with disapproval the whole time. After watching me, he suggested that he show me how to do it his way. What I learned that day completely changed the way that I cook duck breast to this day—and now has been taught to literally thousands of culinary students all over the world.
Duck breast is one of my favorite meats. When it is cooked – and sliced – correctly, it is magnificent. When it is not prepared correctly however, it is nothing short of disappointing. And yet, it’s amazing how many restaurants don’t know how to cook duck breast to get a great result. Perhaps they need a lesson from a duck farmer!
Properly cooked duck breast should have medium-cooked flesh, a crispy skin, and minimal fat in the skin. This provides optimal flavor, juiciness and textural contrast. When the duck breast is sliced as thinly as possible after cooking, it literally melts in your mouth. Yet in most restaurants, the duck you get is often too rare or overdone, a layer of fat that is too thick and unappealingly chewy, and a total lack of crispness. And yes, the duck breast is often cut into thick slices unable to be chewed. (Can you tell how much this irritates me?)
While duck breast is often cooked in a sauté pan, it’s also great on the grill. The basic tenant of the technique I learned from my duck farmer is a low and slow approach for most of the cooking, during which the skin is facing down toward the heat. This extended cooking time allows the fat to slowly render out of the skin. This accomplishes two things: it shrinks the thickness of the fatty skin and allows the exterior of the skin to crisp. During this extended time, the meat cooks most of the way through, although it is not obvious due to the simple fact that the meat (which is facing up) still looks completely raw. Once the skin has rendered, flip the duck breast over and on to a higher heat portion of the SABER® grill to brown the meat side of the duck breast. At this point it will cook fast, so be careful not to overcook it! (More on this below.)
Once the duck breast is off the grill, allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This is where my French culinary training takes over. I learned years ago from a prominent French chef that a duck breast needs to be sliced as thinly as possible to tenderize it. Trust me—this makes all the difference in the world. So, grab a sharp knife and take your time to slice it well.
Here are a more detailed step-by-step instructions for grilling the perfect duck breast—the Indiana duck farmer/French chef way.