Certain things do not touch my husband’s dinner plate.

Raw oysters come to mind. Braised chicken.

And duck.

This Moulard duck breast is courtesy of D'artagnan.
This Moulard duck breast is courtesy of D’Artagnan.

So when I bought a Moulard duck breast from a specialty food store last month, his duck-hating hackles fired up.

“I don’t like duck,” he said. “Eat it when I’m traveling.”

The husband was out of town this week, so it seemed like a perfect time to thaw that duck breast and get it on the table.

Now, I’ve never cooked duck before (even though it’s one of my go-to date night options). But using Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table as a guide, I decided it couldn’t be too hard. Simply score the fat, sear in an impossibly hot pan, slice and eat.

In truth, it’s a touch more complicated.

A duck breast's layer of fat measures about 1/4 inch.
A duck breast’s layer of fat measures about a quarter of an inch.

First, those-in-the-know aren’t lying when they say duck is fatty. The layer of fat on my Moulard’s breast was at least a quarter of an inch thick. One breast rendered out about 1/3 cup of fat (which I’m saving to use for frying potatoes and the like).

Second, the recommended searing time of 8 minutes on one side and 2 on the other was way too short. I like my meat rare — not bloody.

Finally, every recipe I found for duck breast recommended a sugary side sauce. Duck is rich (all that fat). A honey- or sugar-laden sauce seemed like a gilding this poultry lily simply didn’t need.

Still, those are all easy fixes. I seared the duck in a deep pot, which minimized fat spatters. I placed the way-too-rare duck slices in a warm oven, which cooked them to just the right level of doneness. And I made a spinach and basil pesto as a bracing counterpoint to the meat’s gamey richness.

Seared duck breast on a spinach-basil pesto. Yum!
Seared duck breast on a spinach-basil pesto. Yum!

Both of my sons (even the picky one) ate their dinners.

“This is great,” the little one said. “Can we have duck more often?”

“Sure!” I answered.

“As long as your father is traveling.”

 Seared Duck Breast

Duck has a reputation for being eye-poppingly expensive and, indeed, one breast cost me almost $17. But that one breast fed three people generously and required no other ingredients sans salt and pepper. This cooking method is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

  • 1 duck breast
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Pesto sauce (use the recipe here)

Using a sharp knife, score the thick layer of fat on the duck breast in a diagonal pattern, being careful to cut only the fat — not the meat:

duck scored

Season with salt and pepper.

Place a deep pot over a medium-high flame and heat the pot until a drop of water skittles across its surface.

Turn on your stovetop’s vent fan.

Place the duck breast, fat side down, in the pot. Sear for 8 minutes:

duck searing

Flip the breast and sear the other side for 3 minutes.

Remove the breast from the pan, cover it with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes:

duck done

Slice. If the duck is cooked to your desired level of doneness, add the sauce and eat up! Otherwise, place the slices in a baking pan and warm in a low oven (300 degrees) for about 5 minutes. If it’s still too rare for your liking, keep warming it, checking every minute or so to see if it’s ready. (And keep in mind that duck is best when it isn’t overdone.)

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