Culinary Arts

Chef Thomas Keller’s Pan-Roasted Duck Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Jun 6, 2019 • 5 min read

“Gentle cooking is the ticket for pan-roasting.” Pan-roasting, like sautéeing, is a stovetop cooking technique that involves lower temperatures and longer cooking times. Here, Chef Keller pan-roasts a boneless breast of Pekin duck.


What Is Pan-Roasted Duck?

Pan-roasting is a more gentle, slower cooking process than sautéing that allows you to crisp up the skin and render the fat of a duck breast while gently cooking the meat. To pan-roast duck breast, cook skin side down until the skin is crisp and the fat has rendered out, then briefly cook the meat side until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Keller prefers his duck breast medium-rare. Rare duck tends to be chewy, he says, while duck prepared well done can take on a liver-y taste.

How to Source Duck for Cooking

Chef Keller recommends that you always try to source fresh duck. If you’re unable to find fresh duck at your local grocery story, check ethnic grocers and local butchers or boutique grocers or online markets. Prioritize freshness and quality over breed.

The type of duck used in this recipe is Pekin, the most commonly available in the United States. Also known as Long Island duck, it is mild-flavored, meaty, and an all-around great choice. It’s also relatively easy to source. The breasts of Pekin ducks take well to pan-roasting, while their legs are better suited to braising and oven roasting.

How to Prep Duck Breast

Before pan-roasting duck breast, air-dry the breast for three days in the refrigerator, which removes moisture from the skin so that it can crisp more readily during cooking. Prior to pan-roasting, Chef Keller tempers the duck, letting it come to room temperature, and pierces the skin, which allows the fat to render faster. The faster the fat renders, the crispier the skin gets and the easier it is to control the cooking temperature.

If you don’t have a sausage pricker (a pronged tool that looks like a fork made of pushpins), carefully use a sharp knife to score the skin in parallel slashes against the grain or in a crosshatch diamond pattern. Make sure your slashes only go through the skin and fat, avoiding cutting into the meat.

How to Pan-Roast Duck Breast

Since duck breast has a thick layer of fat, you’ll want to cook the breast long enough to allow all the fat to render, but not to the point of overcooking the breast meat. Cooking duck skin side down allows you to crisp up the skin and render the fat while preventing the meat from drying out. Use your hands, a spoon, or a palette knife to move the breast around the pan. Do not use tongs, which Chef Keller says tend to squeeze and potentially damage the breast. If the skin pulls away from the pan, you can press the breast down with a weight or bacon press. And don’t toss the leftover rendered duck fat—use it as a cooking oil for roasting potatoes or sautéing mushrooms.

What to Serve With Pan-Seared Duck Breast

Chef Keller serves the duck with braised endive and a honey-orange gastrique, or sweet-and-sour sauce, a combination that he loves for its wonderfully contrasting flavors and Textures. Pan-roasted duck breast also goes well with:

  • Sautéed sweet potatoes or sweet potato purée
  • Puréed or mashed potatoes
  • Glazed carrots
  • Plum sauce and raw veggies
  • Peking duck rolls: slice duck breast and serve in pancakes with hoisin sauce and thinly sliced raw cucumber and red onion
  • Sautéed dark leafy greens in olive oil
  • Red wine pan sauce

4 Additional Ways to Cook Duck Breast

  1. Chinese Style: Marinate duck with hoisin sauce, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, Chinese five spice powder, garlic, and fresh ginger uncovered in the refrigerator overnight, then score and cook using your preferred method: pan-roast, grill, sear, sous vide, or oven-roast.
  2. Sous Vide: Use an immersion circulator to heat a water bath to 136°F for medium rare or 144°F for medium. Prepare duck breast by poking or scoring skin, then pre-sear in a well seasoned cast-iron skillet skin side down until skin is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add a garlic clove and thyme or other aromatics to the pan. Flip to sear the meat side, about 1 minute. Season with salt and black pepper and add breast and aromatics to a freezer bag. Let breast cook in water bath 90 minutes. When breast is cooked, sear a second time skin side down in a cast iron skillet until skin is brown, about 2 minutes, then serve, slicing against the grain.
  3. Grill: Marinate duck breast with Chinese-style marinade (or try miso, soy sauce, sake, orange juice, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil) and grill skin side down until fat has rendered and skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook meat side down until internal temperature registers 123°F.
  4. Oven-roast: In a well seasoned cast-iron skillet, sear duck breasts skin side down over high heat and then transfer to a 375°F oven to finish cooking. Use this method to make Gordon Ramsay’s Five-Spice Crispy Duck Recipe With Black Cherry Glaze.

Watch Chef Keller’s pan-roasting technique:

Chef Thomas Keller's Pan-Roasted Duck Breast Recipe

Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
30 min
  • 1 skin-on Pekin duck breast
  • Canola oil, to taste
  1. Rinse and pat the duck breast dry and set on a baking sheet or plate skin side up. Set uncovered in the refrigerator to allow the surface of the skin to dry for three days.
  2. Begin by trimming the silverskin off the duck breast, taking care to not trim too close to the meat. Then prick the skin of the duck using a sausage pricker to allow the fat to render out. (You could also score the skin using a knife, but Chef Keller advises that this is more difficult. Take care not to pierce the flesh.)
  3. Heat sauté pan over medium heat and pour in a thin layer of canola oil. Lay the duck breast into the pan skin side down, starting with the end of the breast nearest to you and laying away from you to avoid splashing. Since pan-roasting is a more gentle, slower cooking process than sautéing, there will only be a subtle sizzle when the duck breast hits the oil. Give the pan a little shake to keep the skin from sticking.
  4. Continue cooking, pressing down on the duck with palette knife anywhere that the skin needs more contact with the pan in order to crisp—but not moving the breasts around.
  5. When the duck breast is about 80% done, baste with the rendered fat. Cook until medium rare, or an internal temperature of 123°F.
  6. When the duck breast is 90% done, pour off excess fat from the pan, and flip the duck breast to “kiss” the meat side.
  7. Increase the heat slightly and cook the duck breast just long enough to color it. Transfer the duck breast to a rack or paper towel-lined tray skin side down to drain. Let rest at least 5 minutes.

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