Duck is yummy. I’ll take it confit-ed, foie gras-ed, roasted, stir-fried and Peking-ed; but there is one way that trumps them all, seared. When you sear duck breast skin-side down until most of the fat had rendered out leaving a super crispy skin and medium-rare juicy meat then serve it with a sauce that’s savory with just a hint of fruity acidity, you have something that is hands down one of the best foods in the world.
It’s a funny thing about duck breast. If it were chicken, we be disgusted that its medium-rare, but it’s duck and we are not at all freaked out by it. Why? Well, duck is considered red meat even though it’s poultry. Because most of us eat it less than well done does not mean that there is zero chance that you can get sick from it though; we’re just taking our chances. There seems to be a few reasons that it is a little safer though. First of all duck is not mass produced in large-scale farms in the same manner as chickens. I am not sure I believe all the hype that duck is free from all animal cruelty and squalid conditions that gives chicken such a bad wrap; but I think there might be some truth in it too. Some also suggest that duck is processed differently, dipping the animal carcass in paraffin to help remove the feathers which helps prevent the spread of salmonella. I have heard this from more than one place and see people suggesting it online, although I cannot find any source to confirm or debunk it. I love my duck breast medium-rare though, so I’ll believe anything that helps me feel safer eating it. If you are very squeamish or conserned about the saftey of undercooked poultry than you may want to try duck prepared in a different way. Duck breast, when fully cooked, can take on a livery flavor which might spoil the meal for you. Duck legs, on the other hand, are at their best when cooked to well-done long and slow (if your lucky) in a vat of duck fat.
My recipe is more about the sauce than how to get the duck cooked perfectly. I do include instructions on how to do it, but if you really want to learn the best practices to get the skin as crispy as possible then Hank Shaw is the man to show you how. He’s the guy behind the amazingly informative Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook blog, and he has a fantastic post on how to get your duck breast (domestic or wild) cooked perfectly. I heavily lean on his tips for the instructions of this recipe.
But the sauce, oh my goodness the sauce. Reducing just a few simple ingredients down to a sauce that thick and silky is something that is as close as you can get to magic in the kitchen. It’s not a speedy recipe, but it also doesn’t require fancy ingredients like duck stock. I call for simple chicken broth and duck fat. You’ll have have the duck fat on hand after you cook the duck breasts, and the only other ingredient you might have to run to the store for is apple cider. (If you are out of shallots, use a quarter cup of thinly sliced onion and a clove of garlic). You can also use whatever herbs sound good to you. I would have thrown a couple juniper berries in if I had any on hand, so let your personal tastes guide your way on the seasonings.
This recipe makes the final recipe in a menu for the perfect German-style October meal. Serving the duck breast with Braised Red Cabbage with Wine and Apples and Sweet Potato Spätzle make one fantastic meal that goes well with any Octoberfest style beer (or Pinot Noir). You can make the spätzle and the cabbage a day in advance and then the duck the day you are serving it and you will have a meal that everyone will remember. Enjoy!