Culinary Arts

How to Cook Duck Breast: 5 Ways to Cook Duck Meat

Written by MasterClass

Jun 13, 2019 • 3 min read

Somewhere in the delicious middle ground between white and dark meat, there’s duck: versatile, packed with far richer flavor than chicken or turkey.


What Is Duck?

Duck is a water bird of the Anatidae family (which also includes geese and swans) that has been widely domesticated and raised as livestock in many parts of the world.

Duck Anatomy

Duck meat generally refers to the breast and legs of the bird, though the liver is also enjoyed as foie gras. Ducks have a layer of fat between the outer skin and meat (primarily to insulate in water environments), giving it extra rendering power and soaking the meat with flavor when cooked.

3 Duck Breeds Used For Meat

Try to source fresh duck. If you’re unable to find fresh duck at your local grocery store, check ethnic grocers and local butchers or boutique grocers or online markets. Prioritize freshness and quality over breed.

  1. Pekin: Pekin duck is 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. The breasts of Pekin ducks take well to pan roasting, while their legs are better suited to braising and oven roasting.
  2. Muscovy: Native to South America but widely domesticated in the US, the Muscovy duck—also known as the Barbarie or Barbary duck—is thinner skinned and more intensely flavored than the Pekin. Its breasts are also larger. The meat of a Muscovy duck is deep red, with a gamier taste than Pekin duck. It takes well to roasting and stewing, and is also frequently used for making soups and stock.
  3. Moulard: A cross between a Muscovy and a Pekin, the Moulard is a large duck with a stout constitution, making it the preferred duck for foie gras. It is also commonly used in duck confit.

5 Ways to Prepare Duck

Keep in mind that duck breast is best medium rare: Rare duck tends to be chewy, while duck prepared well-done can take on a livery taste.

  1. Pan-Seared: Air-drying duck breast for three days in the refrigerator removes moisture from the skin so that it can crisp more readily during cooking. Prior to pan-roasting, temper the duck, letting it come to room temperature, and pierce the skin, which will allow the fat to render faster. The faster the duck fat renders, the crispier the skin gets and the easier it is to control the cooking temperature. The crispy duck meat can be served in an umami-packed salad or served with a sweet glaze for a holiday meal-worthy main course.
  2. Braised: Braised duck legs, in anything from red wine to an aromatic stock, will infuse the meat with even more flavor and fall-off-the-bone texture. Throw it in the fridge to cool, and crisp it up in the oven once the skin has set.
  3. Confit: One of the more well-known techniques involving the naturally fatty duck is confit, which requires cooking and preserving in its own fat.
  4. Roasted: Roast duck in a 425ºF oven couldn’t be easier: season the whole duck as you would a chicken and carefully flip halfway through, about 2 hours total. (Dousing it with boiling water before seasoning will help to tighten the skin.)
  5. Grilled: Boneless, skin-on duck breast can be grilled just like a steak; the fat layer will penetrate the meat in a very similar way.

5 Classic Duck Dishes

  1. Peking Duck: A Chinese classic featuring crisp, lacquered skin and tender meat served with pancakes, hoisin sauce, and other garnishes like sliced scallions.
  2. Duck Confit: A French preparation that involves first curing, then marinating and poaching the meat in its own fat, usually with aromatic herbs and spices.
  3. Duck à l'Orange: Nothing cuts through the rich, fatty flavors of roasted duck like a warm, brightly acidic orange sauce.
  4. Foie Gras: The liver of force-fed ducks, which are pan-seared and served with contrasting accompaniments like a tart jam, or incorporated into pastry preparations, like a puff pastry or choux shell.
  5. Thai Duck Stir-Fry: Minced wild duck is wok-fried with spices and chilies and tossed with herbs and fish sauce for a crispy, spicy duck salad.

Cooking With Duck Eggs

Duck eggs can be used any way you might use a chicken’s. Typically ducks have larger, darker yolks and may taste richer, though the differences in flavor are negotiable. Because the whites of duck eggs have even more protein than chicken eggs, you can even also them in baked goods. Duck eggs are also preserved with salt in many Asian cuisines, and then served in rice dishes or baked goods.

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