How to Cook a Crispy-Skinned Pan-Seared Duck Breast Fillet

People can get a little bit weird about duck, and for a couple of reasons.

Some people assume that it’s a luxury ingredient, an expensive piece of protein whose cooking and care is best left to professionals in elaborate Thai or Chinese kitchens, and which doesn’t make any sense for a quick weeknight meal.

Others might be put off by the “hybrid” nature of a perfectly cooked duck breast. This is, after all, a bird that miraculously manages to yield a rare, red meat. And for a culture that’s taught from a young age to fear the unbridled horror that can be unleashed by allowing a salmonella-tainted chicken breast to touch a Formica countertop*, that pink fillet can be a tad unsettling.

*I once suspected that I might have cross-contaminated a kitchen sponge, so naturally, I burned my house down.

You know what key point those folks are missing about duck, however? It’s frikkin’ amazing. A duck breast is the gift that keeps on giving; cooking it in a skillet renders the fat, which you can filter and save for later use (it’s perfect for frying potatoes in…just ask these guys). The skin crisps into a thick, crunchy slab of awesome that’s more similar to a layer of salty bacon, than ordinary chicken skin.


The whole process only take about 15 minutes, and then you’ve got a beautiful fillet that you can serve as-is with salt and pepper, or a fruit glaze or fruit salsa. A properly crisped duck breast dials up your 33-cent ramen noodle bowl to previously unheard of levels, or you can fold the sliced meat (as we have here) into bao-style steamed buns with a dab of hoisin and a quick daikon, carrot, and cucumber slaw.

Here in Midcoast Maine, the supermarkets aren’t exactly stuffed to overflowing with options, when it comes to duck. I like these half-pound duck breast “fillets,” which have just as much skin and fat as a full breast (which yields an even better crispy-skin-to-meat ratio), and is enough for two people, depending on how you use it. Let’s get started, shall we?

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Determine which side of the fillet is the skin-side. This will be easy, since one side of your duck breast fillet will look like chicken, and the other side will look like a steak. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then place skin-side up on a cutting board.

Using a sharp knife, cut a crosshatch into the skin, being careful not to cut into the meat below. This mostly just looks fancy, and also ensures that the fat under the skin will render quickly.

Place duck breast fillet skin-side down in a cool skillet, then bring the heat up to medium high. When the duck breast fillet starts to sizzle, set a timer for 7 minutes. Peek under the corner and see how the skin is crisping up. You want it to be golden brown and very crispy, which may take another minute or two.

When you’re happy with how the skin is coming, flip the duck breast fillet, and cook meat-side down for about two minutes. Flip again so that the skin is facing back down, and transfer to the oven to finish cooking, about 2-3 minutes more. Remove from oven, and finish with a sprinkle of coarse salt.

Notice how much the shape of the fillet changed? It started large and flat, and compressed as it cooked into a thick, sliceable piece of poultry poetry. As with any meat, the duck breast needs to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing, so tent it with foil while you make the rest of your preparations, which could be as simple as “grabbing a fork” or as elaborate as “making a huge steaming hot bowl of Thai curry soup.” It’s up to you, but with this crispy duck breast in your new arsenal, the possibilities are endless.


Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road." He currently owns and operates the Ancho Honey restaurant in Maine.

1 Comment

  1. I wish I had realized it was so easy!

    Assuming my local Shop ‘n Save® has it on hand (and if yours does, I’ll assume mine does), I’ll be picking some up tonight!

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