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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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