Boneless Pekin (otherwise known as Long Island) duck breasts are readily available frozen, although you might find a poultry provider in your town with access to fresh ducks. Muscovy ducks are larger, and the meat is more gamey with less fat. A Moulard duck is a cross between a Muscovy drake and a Pekin hen, and has a hefty breast. I have not had the opportunity to try a Moulard duck, but I know that D’artagnan https://www.dartagnan.com sells Muscovy, Moulard, and Rohan (a cross between Mallard and Pekin) breasts.
When I see duck on the menu of a relatively upscale restaurant, it is often a presentation of medium rare duck breast and a confit of duck leg, which is my favorite way to have duck. I often find that restaurants that serve duck are more typically presenting a half duck, usually overcooked, with well done meat and flabby skin. What a shame. Half the fun of eating duck is to crunch through the beautiful crispy duck skin!
Maple Leaf farms is a very common source in many supermarkets for half ducks and duck breasts https://shopmapleleaffarms.com/ , and I have had their half duck from the supermarket (and occasionally Costco). The half duck is vacuum packed after being cooked, so all you are doing is rewarming the duck. It is not bad, but the meat comes out well done and can be dry (but tasting good). I will use this as a shortcut for a quick meal, but it is no where close to what one can achieve with cooking a duck from scratch.
There are many recipes for duck leg confit, cooking the leg quarter by poaching in duck fat, and I am not going to talk about that now. Let’s spend some time discussing cooking duck breasts, which can be easily accomplished.
I watched Thomas Keller’s Masterclasses, and he had a segment on pan roasting duck breasts. I also watched a bunch of YouTube on cooking duck breast. My technique is an amalgam and is very easy.
If the duck breast are frozen, put them in the refrigerator to defrost. After they are defrosted, remove any packing material and dry the breasts with a paper towel. Let the breasts sit uncovered skin side up in the refrigerator for several hours to allow the skin to dry. Keller has his sit for 3 days! Remove any silver skin from the breasts. With a very sharp knife, score the skin in a diagonal cross hatch pattern, with the knife cutting down to but not into the meat. Keller’s alternative is to prick the skin with a “sausage pricker.” Either way, this will allow the fat to render from the skin more readily.
The various techniques fall in two categories: a hot pan or a cold pan.
Keller tells you to start with a pan on medium heat with a thin layer of oil (canola, grapeseed, etc not olive oil). Cook skin side down until about 80% done, then baste the top of the breasts with the rendered duck fat in the pan. Cook until medium rare (temp of 123o F), turn over the breasts and cook the meat side just long enough to color it.
I like the cold pan start. Season both sides of the duck breast with salt and pepper. Place skin side down in the pan (I used a non-stick pan), and turn the heat to medium. Cook without turning the breast for 8 minutes. The fat will render and the skin will not stick. Using tongs, turn the breast 90 degrees to cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the side, then an equal amount on the other side and finally 1 1/2 minutes on the flat meat side. The goal is an internal temperature of 125o F for medium rare. Remove to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut through the meat side down to the crispy skin in 3/8 inch thick slices. This method is adapted from Douglass Williams, the chef/owner of Mida in Boston. He suggests placing a pyrex dish to act as a weigh on top of the duck breast while cooking on the skin side to help force out the rendered fat from under the skin, with draining the excess fat from the pan periodically.
You can make an orange sauce gastrique to go with the duck very easily. Dice one shallot and saute with 20 grams of unsalted butter. Add 30 grams of sugar and 1 tablespoon of honey. Then add 80 milliliters of red wine vinegar and 20 milliliters of cognac. Zest one orange into the pot, and then add the juice of the orange. Reduce and remove from the heat. Mount the sauce with 20 grams of unsalted cold butter. Serve on the side of the duck breast.
Thomas Keller’s orange gastrique:
50 grams honey
150 grams orange juice
150 grams roasted veal stock
10 to 15 grams lemon juice
A couple of scrapes of orange zest
5 to 10 grams butter (optional)
Put orange juice and honey into a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce until the orange juice and honey reach a syrupy consistency. As the bubbles
increase in size, the gastrique becomes more viscous. Increase the heat slightly to speed up the cooking process, looking for large bubbles around the edges of the pot and light caramelization. Swirl the gastrique to check the changing consistency. Be careful not to let it caramelize or burn.
Slowly add the veal stock, swirl to mix, and return to simmer, cooking until the sauce is reduced to your desired flavor (by about one third). Add in orange zest, adjust with lemon juice or vinegar if you find that the gastrique needs more acid, and season with salt to taste. To finish the gastrique, remove from heat and stir in the cold-cubed butter, which will soften the flavors (if desired) and provide a velvety texture and mouth feel.
Try this cold pan start roasting technique. It is a quick way to prepare an elegant and very tasty entree.