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November 22, 2021

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Rhubarb Sauce

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Rhubarb Sauce

Duck might just be my favorite meat there is. Granted, I know I haven’t tried them all, but from the mainstream meats you consistently find in restaurants and stores, duck tops my charts.

As a young cook, I had the privilege of being taught how to cook duck breast correctly and I made it a point not to forget it. During my “Certified Culinary Apprentice Exam” where we were allowed to create our own menu, I chose to cook duck breast. I still remember one of my mentors suggesting I chose a more “forgiving” protein, but I knew what I wanted and was adamant that it was going to be duck. Months later, I stuck with duck and passed my exam with flying colors.


Ingredients for pan roasted duck breast with rhubarb sauce

This one is an easy one! To pan roast the duck all you need is salt and pepper. Yep, that's it! Using just salt and pepper will bring out the flavor in the duck and allow you to taste duck as it is. We will also be creating a rhubarb sauce that will add more complementary flavors.

You want go minimal here with the spices because there is something special about duck that is different from other proteins. Duck has richly-flavored fat that is similar to pork fat when cooked and when the fat is rendered off, it will naturally baste the meat under the skin during the entire cooking process, leaving you with a moist and full-flavored cut of meat.

Before you season it, just make sure you make four to eight thin slices diagonally through the skin. This will help later on to prevent the skin from shrinking too much

How does duck compare to other meats?

You might be a duck lover but if you're not, here's a few notes on how it compares to other meats.

Duck is similar to beef in that you can enjoy it cooked to any temperature you would like and it's similar to chicken in that it is easy to roast whole but can be broken down into smaller cuts to be cooked with similar ease.

It's  a great hybrid meat that straddles the line of game-meats and domesticated meats. It has just the right amount of “gamey-funk” that comes from the development of muscles and fibers from wild animals that oftentimes do not appear in domesticated animals (think about the taste of venison versus beef). While that “funk” can be off putting to some, in duck, it is subtle and almost sweet, serving as the perfect “gateway meat” for those looking to be introduced to wild game.


Speaking of wild game meats, while I was working at Market Table Bistro, I had the privilege of meeting a group of men who were avid hunters whose passion for hunting was rivaled only by their passion for eating. While some people may turn their nose to those who hunt for sport, this group of men lived by a code that ensured that the animals they hunted did not go to waste.

They would come into the restaurant weekly and ask all sorts of questions about cooking, preserving and utilizing their bounties. They made everything from confits, to sausages, to jerky, paying homage to the old-school style of cooking and preservation that was present before the existence of refrigeration and modern-day preservation chemicals and techniques.

They knew how much work and care was required of someone in order to produce the numerous charcuterie items we made at the restaurant and it was always relayed back to the kitchen directly. I can still hear the sound of Shawn’s booming voice saying “Jamie! That ****ing duck was so damn good!”. Shawn, a local who was a member of the group of hunters/avid foodies, always made sure to come back into the kitchen and let us know when something we made was especially good.

Cooking for Shawn and his friends always put things in perspective for me. Even during those days that seemed frantically endless and rushed, that had me questioning why I took the extra three hours to make a Summer Sausage as opposed to simply grinding everything up and making a burger, were converted into periods of triumph through those few moments of appreciation where I knew that even if it was only Shawn who knew how much work that sausage took, it was worth it because of how much he enjoyed it. It was the simple things like that that motivated me daily.

Tips for pan roasting the duck breast

When cooking duck breast, we're not going to lie, it can be deceptively tricky. The reason is that the skin on the topside of the breast is very thick and rubbery and requires a low and slow cooking process, while the actual duck breast cooks very quickly and becomes rather dry and chewy when cooked past medium-well.

  • Slowly render the fat: The key to successfully cooking the duck breast is to slowly render the fat out of the skin by cooking it skin-side down for about 14-18 minutes until all the white skin is rendered out and only the crispy, brown skin remains.
  • How to render the fat: This can be tricky because it requires constant heat adjustments and the straining off of some of the rendered duck fat so I recommend you keep an eye out. Once the skin is completely rendered, you'll want to flip the duck over in the pan, turn off the heat, and let the duck sit in the pan for about 1-2 minutes to very gently finish cooking from the residual heat in the pan.
  • The resting time: Then take the duck out of the pan, setting it on my cutting board to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting. During this rest period, is when you'll want make the sauce using the same pan that you cooked the duck. This way, it captures all that flavor built up on the bottom of the pan.

The perfect pan roasted duck breast wouldn't be complete without a wonderful rhubarb sauce!

The pan roasted duck breast pairs so well with rhubarb because of rhubarbs natural sweet & sour flavor profile. There's a reason why there are so many recipes in Asian and French Cuisines that consist of duck being paired with gastriques. If you think about it, “duck sauce” is quite literally a sweet and sour sauce, or gastrique. To create the sauce, you'll use a rhubarb gastrique and mix that in with stock, lemon juice, salt, butter and thyme.

  • The sour notes from the rhubarb gastrique we pair the duck with cut through the fatty-richness of the duck
  • The sugar promotes the hints of sweetness from the duck's meat
  • The butter and stock added to the sauce round everything out

If you're looking for something to pair the pan roasted duck breast with recommend pairing it with whole roasted sweet potatoes!

Cheers and eat well!

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Rhubarb Sauce

A perfectly crispy, rich and tender pan roasted duck breast paired with a rhubarb sauce for hints of sweet and sour. It's great for those special occasion dinners or simply when you're looking to venture out from your typical meats!

Author:

Jamie Imlah

Prep:

5

min

cook:

25

min

total:

30

min

serves:

2

Ingredients

  • 2 each duck breast
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (picked)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (unpicked)
  • ¼ cup stock
  • ⅓ cup rhubarb gastrique
  • 2 teaspoons butter (diced + cold)
  • The juice of ½ lemon
  • Instructions

    Pan Searing the Duck Breast

    1. Lay each duck breast down on your cutting board and using a sharp knife, make 4 thin slices, diagonally through the skin, ensuring not to cut the breast meat.
    2. Season each side of the breasts with salt and also season the meat side of the breast with pepper.
    3. Put your saute pan or skillet on the stove and turn it on to medium heat.
    4. After about 30 seconds, add each breast to the pan skin side down. Press each breast down into the pan to ensure the entire skinside surface area touches the pan. Turn the heat down to low and cook slowly for 5 minutes.
    5. During this process, you will want to constantly check the heat to ensure the fat is rendering low and slow. The goal is to have the entire skin side be a dark golden-brown color with no white rubbery fat remaining.
    6. After 5 minutes, check to make sure the skin is cooking evenly, if the coloration is darker in certain places, turn down the heat. Carefully pour out the duck fat that has rendered from the skin and set aside. You will want to leave about ¼ teaspoon of fat in the pan with the duck.
    7. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, pouring out the fat in the pan again after the 5 minutes.
    8. Continue cooking for another 4-8 minutes or until the duck skin is a dark brown color and feels very crispy.
    9. At this point, turn the heat off in the pan, add 1 teaspoon of butter to the pan and flip the duck so that the skin side is facing up.
    10. Once the butter has melted add the 2 unpicked sprigs of thyme and swirl the butter around in the pan gently to coat the bottom of the duck with the infused butter.
    11. Let the duck sit in the pan for 30 seconds then transfer to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

    For the Rhubarb Sauce

    1. While the duck is resting, pour out the grease, melted butter and thyme from the pan you cooked the duck in and turn the heat on to medium heat.
    2. Once the pan is hot, add the stock to the pan and swirl to release all the bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook on medium heat to reduce by half.
    3. Once reduced by half, add the rhubarb gastrique to the pan and swirl to combine.
    4. Continue to cook for 1 minute.
    5. Once the sauce has reduced slightly and is evenly combined, add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt to season.
    6. Turn off the heat and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of cold butter to the sauce along with the picked thyme and swirl constantly until the butter is melted into the sauce and forms a stable emulsion. Make sure the sauce is not too hot or the butter will separate from the sauce.
    7. Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust accordingly.

    Finishing the Duck Breast

    1. To finish the duck, slice each breast with a very sharp knife into thin slices, starting on one side and working across the breast.
    2. To plate, put a spoonful of the pan sauce on the base of the plate, then put each slice of duck on your plate, along with your desired sides, followed by another healthy spoonful of sauce on top of the duck slices. Enjoy!

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