How to cook duck breast
A perfectly cooked, pan-fried duck breast will have a crisp, golden skin and succulent pink flesh. Read our guide on how to properly prepare and cook this meat.
Whether you are cooking duck breasts as a quick meal for two or serving them as part of a Chinese-inspired feast, our guide shows you the perfect technique for pan-frying them. Also see our most popular ideas for how to serve this versatile cut of meat.
What is the best way to cook duck?
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).
Read our guide on the best way to cook duck breasts, then check out our duck breast recipes for more ideas and also read our general guide on how to cook duck. We have plenty more inspiration for other parts of the bird, including duck leg recipes and whole duck recipes.
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.
How long should you cook duck breast for?
How long a duck breast takes to cook will depend on how well you want it cooked and how you choose to cook it. If simply pan-frying as described above then a duck breast will roughly take 15-20 mins to be cooked until still rosy in the middle or 25-30 mins until cooked all the way through.
Can you cook duck breast in the oven?
A duck breast can be roasted but for the best results you should render and crisp the thick layer of fat over a medium heat first. If you do this in a pan that’s also ovenproof the duck breast can simply be flipped onto its flesh side and then roasted at 180C/160 fan/gas 4 for 5-12mins depending on how well you want it cooked.
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Can you use an air fryer to cook duck breasts?
Heat the air fryer 180C. Season the duck breast with salt and pepper and place in the air fryer basket skin-side up. Cook for 5-6 mins until the skin is crisp and golden then flip the breast and continue to cook for another 8-10 mins for medium-rare (rosy in the middle), or longer if you want it cooked more. Let the duck rest for a 5 mins before slicing it 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.
Whip up this speedy duck stir-fry in just 15 minutes. It's low in fat and calories but hoisin sauce provides plenty of flavour.
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