This duck breast recipe comes together so easily with just a few simple ingredients using a quick pan sear method on the stove top. Learn how to cook duck breast with this impressively elegant yet effortless recipe. Perfect for a special dinner at home or to serve a crowd!
It’s pretty much a guarantee that if a restaurant menu has a duck breast entree on it, I’m ordering it.
Up until recently, duck was something I only enjoyed while dining out.
Then, I went to a farmers market one weekend with a friend, stumbled upon a local duck farm stand and ended up bringing home two duck breasts.
What used to intimidate me to cook at home ended up being one of the easiest meals I’ve made in a long time – a simple pan seared duck breast with a crispy, golden brown skin and perfectly pink and juicy interior.
It felt like a restaurant quality meal and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to pull together.
Duck breast is the kind of dish that’s perfect for when you want a special dinner at home or a meal to impress some guests.
The end result is elegantly stunning but the effort is minimal, the best kind of cooking.
This crispy duck breast recipe utilizes a simple pan-sear method on the stove top using just some kitchen basics – salt, pepper and a hot cast iron skillet. It’s almost the exact same method used on wild woodcock and one to get familiar with if you hunt or cook wild game.
So, let’s learn how to cook a duck breast!
And even better, there’s a simple 10-minute cranberry maple sauce to go with it!
PREPARING THE DUCK BREAST
Part of the beauty of duck breast versus other poultry like chicken or turkey is the gorgeous slab of fat on one side of the breast. It will vary by type of duck but it’s sometimes as thick as the meat itself!
That fat is where all the magic happens when the duck breast is seared.
To prepare the duck breast for pan-searing, the most important step is to score the fat.
As you can see in the picture, this is best done on the diagonal creating a diamond pattern across the fat.
The trick to scoring is to score deep enough to go through the fat but not too deep in that you hit the flesh of the duck breast.
Be sure to use a nice sharp knife when scoring. The difference is quite appreciable from a dull knife.
Scoring the fat like this increases the surface area and allows it to render more easily in the hot skillet.
A scored duck breast will also render more fat. You’ll see why duck fat is such a delicacy below.
After scoring, liberally season both sides of the duck breast with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
HOW TO COOK DUCK BREAST
For this duck breast recipe, we’re simply pan-searing the meat.
To do this, we need just one thing – a hot cast iron skillet!
Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and let it get hot.
Once hot (and I do mean hot, not warm), place the scored and seasoned duck breast into the pan with the fat side down.
Interestingly, there are quite a few seared duck breast recipes out there that call for starting with a cold skillet.
I’ve tried pan seared duck breast both ways and prefer the outcome with a hot skillet.
Once the duck is in the pan, don’t touch it.
Let it sear for about 5 minutes on the fat side until the fat has become crispy and turned a nice deep golden brown color.
Flip the duck over and pan sear on the other side for an additional 3-5 minutes.
The duck should be removed from the pan when the internal temperature reaches 130°F.
This is medium-rare and the best doneness to appreciate a tender delicate duck breast.
You’ll be most accurate using an instant read meat thermometer to determine doneness. But, if you don’t have one on hand, the above mentioned times are pretty on target for most duck breasts based on average thickness.
While duck is a type of poultry, it’s considered red meat when cooking so don’t be worried about eating it medium-rare. If you order it out at a restaurant this will be how it’s served.
Of course, if you prefer your duck more well done, you can cook it in the pan a little bit longer for a paler pink result.
I really don’t suggest cooking beyond medium with duck breast. It’s honestly a waste of the tender meat.
Transfer the cooked duck to a cutting board or plate, cover and let it rest for at least 5-8 minutes before slicing to let the juices settle and redistribute back into the meat.
WHAT TO DO WITH LEFTOVER DUCK FAT
Whatever you do after the duck breasts are finished cooking – do not throw out the duck fat!
I’m sure you’ve heard of duck fat fries or duck fat potatoes before and there’s good reason people specify the fat used in those kind of recipes – its flavor is delicious!
You’ll probably be left with about 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of duck fat in the skillet after pan searing the duck breasts. Transfer it to a glass jar and save it for later use.
The aforementioned duck fat fries or duck fat potatoes are great options for using it up.
Besides its taste, duck fat may actually be one of the healthier fats for you due to its structure of mono and polyunsaturated fats according to this article.
It’s said duck fat is actually very similar to extra virgin olive oil – bonus!
And if all that wasn’t reason enough to get into duck fat, it’s also got a high smoke point compared to other fats making it great for an array of cooking methods.
MAKING THE CRANBERRY MAPLE SAUCE
Often times on a restaurant menu you’ll see some sort of fruit sauce or reduction accompanying a duck entree. There’s good reason for that – it’s a delicious pairing!
So many fruits go well with duck – blueberries, pomegranate, fig, persimmon and pear to name a few.
For this easy pan seared duck breast recipe, we’re making a 10-minute cranberry maple sauce with hints of orange and rosemary.
If you want to skip this, try these simple pickled cranberries on top instead!
But this maple cranberry sauce comes together in the same amount of time the duck pan sears in the skillet and it elevates the perfectly cooked slices of duck in a simple and elegant way.
To make the sauce, combine the cranberries, maple syrup, orange zest, orange juice, salt and minced rosemary in a sauce pot.
Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat then reduce to low.
Use a spatula to stir and break down the cranberries as it cooks until the mixture thickens into a sauce.
Turn off the heat and let it sit until the duck is rested and ready to serve. The cranberry sauce will thicken further as it cools.
It’s a lot like making any other cranberry sauce except with a few additional flavors to add some dimension to the finished dish.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH PAN SEARED DUCK BREAST
Once the pan seared duck breasts have rested, slice them on the diagonal about 1/3″ – 1/2″ thick and serve fanned out on a plate.
Top the sliced duck breast with the cranberry maple sauce and serve with your favorite sides.
For a starch, I always love simply roasted potatoes along with meat, especially duck.
Or, you can make these garlic balsamic roasted potatoes and asparagus for a 2-in-1 vegetable and starch!
Mashed potatoes or something like a carrot parsnip puree would also be delicious with the seared duck breast served on top.
WHAT KIND OF DUCK BREASTS TO USE
It’s worth quickly noting that you may find different types of duck breast in the store or at your local farmers market.
This article gives a great run down on some of the more common ones you’ll see and how best to cook them.
The times and size of these pan seared duck breasts are most representative of Moulard, Muscovy or Mallard duck breast.
If you’re using wild duck which tend to be smaller, you’ll want to cook for a few less minutes per side.
Again, this is why using an instant read meat thermometer is really the best approach with any meat, not just duck.
Hopefully this simple duck breast recipe makes you realize duck doesn’t have to be scary!
It’s amazing actually how just salt, pepper and a hot skillet can create such a delicious result.
While the cranberry maple sauce takes the dish to the next level, even if you were to enjoy this pan seared duck breast by itself, it’d still be an outstanding meal.
Whether it’s a New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s celebration at home, a feast with some friends or, just because you’re in the mood to make a striking dish for the fun of it, a perfectly cooked duck breast will never disappoint!
MORE IMPRESSIVE RECIPES LIKE THIS PAN SEARED DUCK
Pan Seared Duck Breast with Cranberry Maple Sauce
- 1 pound boneless duck breasts
- Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
For the cranberry maple sauce
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem and minced
- pinch of Kosher salt
- Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat
- Score the duck breasts using a sharp knife in a diagonal diamond pattern across the fat side of the breast. Score deeply but don’t cut through the flesh, just the fat. Season both sides of the breasts liberally with the salt and pepper.
- Once hot, place the duck fat side down into the skillet.
- Sear until the fat becomes crispy and turned a deep golden brown color, about 3-5 minutes.
- Flip the breasts over in the pan and sear on the other side for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the duck from the skillet when the internal temperature has reached 130°F (medium-rare). Transfer to a plate or cutting board, cover and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
- To make the cranberry maple sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat.
- Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Stir and help break down the cranberries with a spatula as they cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit (mixture will thicken more as it cools). Serve with the seared duck breasts.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.