Duck has a thicker skin, higher fat content and a stronger, meatier flavour than chicken. The breasts are covered in a thick layer of fat, which needs to be melted (rendered) during cooking to ensure the skin crisps up.
The most efficient way to melt the fat is to score dry duck breasts through to the fat layer, then cook skin-side down in a frying pan.
Once the fat has melted, you can finish cooking the duck breast in the oven, if you like, or add it to dishes such as our Thai curry or wok-fried duck & oyster sauce (below). Don’t be tempted to roast or grill duck breast from raw, as you're likely to overcook the meat before the fat has melted. You could also fry duck breasts until browned, then cook them slowly in liquid, as in our pappardelle recipe (below).
How to prepare a duck breast for cooking
- Season the duck breast, then leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight to dry out; this will help it crisp up.
- Remove from the fridge and set aside for 30 mins to bring the meat to room temperature.
- Score the skin in a criss-cross pattern or in parallel lines (restaurants often use close parallel lines as they look neater); the idea is to expose as much of the fat to the hot pan as possible.
How to prepare skinless duck breasts
For a less fatty outcome, you can remove the skin and fat before cooking. However, you'll need to make sure the meat doesn’t dry out. Opening the breast out and bashing it with a meat mallet or rolling pin, as in this barbecue recipe, will help. Skinless duck breasts can also be cooked on a griddle pan or on skewers, as in this duck satay canapé recipe.
Pan-fried duck breast recipe
- 2 duck breasts
- a knob of butter
- Score the duck breasts with a criss-cross pattern or parallel cuts through the skin, being careful not to cut all the way to the flesh. Season well, then set aside to bring the meat to room temperature.
- Put the breasts skin-side down in a cold frying pan and slowly heat the pan. This will melt the fat and help the skin to crisp up without burning.
- Fry the breasts, letting the fat melt out and the skin crisp up. Keep frying until the skin is crisp and brown and you've melted out as much of the visible white fat as possible. This can take up to 10-15 mins.
- Pour the excess fat into a ceramic or glass dish (reserve it for roasting potatoes).
- At this stage, you have a couple of options for cooking the meat: turn the breasts, add the butter and swirl the pan, then cook for 5 mins until the meat is browned all over (the meat should feel soft but spring back slightly when pressed); alternatively, heat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4 and cook for 5-6 mins for a rosy pink flesh or 10-12 mins if you’d like it well cooked. If you have a meat thermometer, it should read 54C for rare, 61C for medium and 65C for medium/well done.
- Rest the duck breast for 10 mins before slicing to serve.
5 duck breast recipes
Plum is a classic flavour to serve with duck; the sweet sharpness of the fruit goes well with the rich meat.
Duck makes for a rich, delicious Thai curry.
Cook everything in one pan to really take advantage of duck fat's strong flavour.
Duck makes a rich ragu for pasta, and this recipe cleverly swaps in some swede ribbons to up the veg content.
This easy four-ingredient recipe is ready in under 30 mins.
Find more delicious duck recipes...
What is your favourite duck breast recipe? Leave a comment below...