Whenever we see crispy duck breast on a menu, we for sure order it. When cooked properly, it is ethereal. If you’ve ever wondered how to cook duck breast at home, we’re here to tell you it’s easier than you’d expect!
Today we’re showing you step-by-step how to cook pan seared duck breasts. With a few quick tips from this former restaurant chef, we’ll make sure you are confident from the moment you prep the duck to the time you sit down at the table.
Here’s why we love it so much:
- Crispy duck skin (quite literally the best thing in life!).
- A perfect medium-rare ensures a glorious texture, similar to a really great steak (yes, duck is poultry, but it eats more like red meat!).
- The pan sauce is made with Port and sour cherry jam! (or fresh pitted cherries, if seasonal and available), which pairs beautifully with duck. Sweet and savory is where it’s at!
- When you properly sear and render the duck breasts, you’re left with super delicious duck fat, which can be used to improve practically any dish!
You absolutely must give this duck breast recipe a try, it is a date night game changer!
Magret Duck VS Pekin Duck
The main difference between Pekin and Magret breasts is that the latter are larger, stronger in flavor, and have a much thicker layer of fat. It’s possible you’ll need to trim some back, but in general you can expect that Magret duck breasts will take longer to render the fat than if you were cooking Pekin duck breasts.
We’re using Magret duck breasts in this recipe; they are typically easier to find in our neck of the woods (suburbs of NYC).
There are two parts to this recipe: quick pan seared duck breasts and a killer cherry pan sauce.
You’ll need two duck breasts about 1 lb each, Kosher salt, and black pepper. Next, grab the ingredients for the simple pan sauce.
For the pan sauce:
- Port wine (you can substitute red wine if you don’t have Port) — we’re not talking fancy Port. Inexpensive cooking Port will be fine!
- Chicken stock, low-sodium
- Sour cherry jam or red cherries, pitted
- Fresh thyme
- Unsalted butter
- Olive oil
The Day Before (and why this is necessary)
Duck breasts are not inexpensive. In terms of price, they’re on par with a good steak. Before cooking we recommend that you read through our helpful tips so you can get this right the very first time.
Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels, then score the skin of the duck breast. You have 2 options for scoring the skin. Either use a very sharp knife to score the skin in a crosshatch pattern, being careful to only cut the fat, not going into the duck meat at all.
The second option for scoring duck breasts: use a sausage pricker. By gently pressing down all over the surface of the duck skin and fat, you’re creating lots of tiny holes (without accidentally cutting into the duck meat), which has the same effect as scoring the skin. There’s less error here, so it’s our preferred method.
Why score duck skin? It helps the fat render (since they cook slowly) and create crispy duck skin.
Dry out the skin. Once the skin is scored (or pricked), place duck breasts on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 8-12 hours, or up to 3 days. The cold air from the refrigerator will help to dry out the skin. This is key to getting crispy skin when you render the fat.
How To Cook Duck Breast
Cook the duck breasts. Preheat oven to 350 F. We’re aiming for a perfect medium-rare, which is reached when the internal temperature is 135 F. (Rare = 125 F; Medium = 140 F). Heat a small amount of canola oil (or other high smoke point oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable oil) in a large skillet over medium heat, no higher!
Add duck breast skin side down and cook undisturbed for 5-8 minutes, or until the fat has rendered. You’ll know the duck is ready to flip when it easily pulls away from the pan, the fat has shrunk significantly, and the skin is crispy and golden brown.
Flip the duck. Gently turn the duck breasts over, flesh side down, being careful not to puncture the skin. (If you’re adding any aromatics — garlic, fresh herbs, etc — this is the time to do so). Transfer the pan to a preheated oven and cook for 5-7 minutes (Pekin duck will cook in an additional 3-5 minutes). Check temperature to ensure desired doneness is reached.
We recommend the Thermapen MK4 to check for doneness on all meats!
Make sure to flip the duck breasts away from you so that if any duck fat splatters it doesn’t land on you!
Allow The Duck Breasts To Rest
Let the pan seared duck breast rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. This is a super important step to ensure the juices redistribute into the meat. Don’t skip!!
Make the pan sauce. Sauté garlic cloves, fresh thyme, and cherries in olive oil in a sauce pan, about 1-2 minutes over medium-high heat, breaking up the jam with a spatula. Pour in port (or red wine) and chicken stock, then bring to a boil and reduce by half. Turn off the heat, add 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, then swirl the pan until butter gently melts. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed.
Slice and serve. You did it! Slice duck into ¼ – ½” thick pieces on a diagonal, then serve with pan sauce spooned on top (or served on the side). Don’t forget to sprinkle with flaky sea salt! Just a pinch.
How To Serve
The first thing that always comes to mind? Duck fat potatoes, and we’ve got the perfect recipe for you!
If you’re looking for something creamier, this duck breast recipe would be stellar served on top of creamy polenta with roasted mushrooms. So earthy, and so delicious on a cool fall or winter evening.
Pictured here, we are serving the duck breast with creamed Swiss chard and lemony breadcrumbs — our absolute favorite recipe for Swiss chard, courtesy of Bon Appetit!
Other ideas: roasted shallots with thyme, garlic spinach and white beans, or charred radicchio salad.
Rendered Duck Fat
Quite possibly the best part about cooking duck (other than eating it, obviously) is the rendered duck fat. AKA: liquid gold.
There is not one single savory dish that cannot be improved upon with the addition of rendered duck fat. Each breast should render about ½ cup duck fat. Three cheers for that!
- Each duck breast should weigh about 1 lb. Make sure to grab duck breasts of a similar size, thickness, and weight so they finish cooking in the same amount of time.
- Refrigerate scored, seasoned duck for 8-12 hours, or up to 3 days. This helps to dry out the skin, giving you the crispiest duck skin possible!
- When ready to cook, allow duck to sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure proper doneness. Duck breast is medium rare when an internal temperature of 130 F is reached.
- Allow cooked duck breast to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
- Don’t underestimate the power of salt! Sprinkle pan seared duck breasts with flaky sea salt just before serving. Takes them over the top!
Excited to try more duck recipes? Tackle homemade cassoulet and instantly achieve rockstar status.
If you make this Pan Seared Duck Breast recipe, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
And make sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow along on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, and Facebook for more Well Seasoned recipes! DON’T FORGET to tag us on social channels when you make a recipe at #wellseasonedstudio !! We LOVE seeing what you’re up to in the kitchen!
For more Date Night In recipes, check out the following:
How To Cook Duck Breast Recipe
For the duck
- 2 Magret duck breasts about ~1 lb each
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- Flaky sea salt for serving
For the Port cherry sauce
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves halved
- ¼ cup sour cherry jam can use fresh pitted cherries, if available
- 3 large sprigs of thyme
- ½ cup Port wine or red wine
- ½ cup chicken stock low-sodium
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- The day before: score the skin of the duck breast to help render the fat. Either use a very sharp knife to score the skin in a criss cross, diagonal pattern, being careful to only cut the fat, not going into the duck meat at all. The second option for scoring duck breasts: use a sausage pricker. By gently pressing down all over the surface of the duck skin and fat, you're creating lots of tiny holes.
- Dry out the skin. Once the skin is scored (or pricked), place duck breasts on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 8-12 hours, or up to 3 days. The cold air from the refrigerator will help to dry out the skin. This is key to getting crispy skin when you render the fat.
- Bring the duck breasts to room temperature. About 30 minutes before cooking, take the duck breasts out of the refrigerator. Preheat an oven to 350F. When ready, heat a small amount of canola oil (or other high smoke point oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable oil) in a large skillet over medium heat, no higher!
- Cook the duck breasts. Season the duck on both sides with Kosher salt and black pepper, then add to the pan skin side down. Cook undisturbed for 5-8 minutes, or until the fat has rendered. You'll know the duck is ready to flip when it easily pulls away from the pan, the fat has shrunk significantly, and the skin is crispy and golden brown.
- Flip the duck. Gently turn the duck breasts over, being careful not to puncture the skin. (If you're adding any aromatics — garlic, fresh herbs, etc — this is the time to do so). Transfer the pan to a preheated oven and cook for 5-7 minutes (Pekin duck will only take an additional 3-5 minutes). Check temperature to ensure desired doneness is reached. For medium-rare, look for an internal temperature of 135F.
- Rest before slicing. Allow the duck breasts to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing into ¼-½" thick slices. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
- Make the port cherry sauce. Sauté 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 halved garlic cloves, ¼ cup cherry jam, and 3 sprigs of thyme in a sauce pan, about 1-2 minutes over medium-high heat, breaking up the jam with a spatula. Pour in ½ cup port (or red wine) and ½ cup chicken stock, then bring to a boil and reduce by half. Turn off the heat, add 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, then swirl the pan until butter gently melts. Serve over sliced duck with a generous pinch of flaky sea salt sprinkled on top.
- This recipe is written with a cook time for Magret duck breast. If you plan to cook Pekin duck breast note that they are typically smaller and take less time to cook. Render them, skin side down, for 5-7 minutes, then flip and transfer to a preheated oven. Cook an additional 3-5 minutes, or until 130 F for medium-rare.
- While it is recommended that the duck breasts rest uncovered in a refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours, nothing bad will happen if you go right to cook them. It’s just that the skin will be crispier if you don’t skip the fridge time.
- We’re aiming for a perfect medium-rare, which is reached when the internal temperature is 135 F. (Rare = 125 F; Medium = 140 F).
- Do NOT discard rendered duck fat! Store in a sealed container in your refrigerator and use it in any savory recipe that calls for olive oil. We especially recommend using it to make duck fat potatoes.
David Johnson says
You show many photos the duck being served on something green, but don’t mention what the green IS. So…what is it!?
ari | well seasoned says
Hi David! It’s a side dish that we’ve been enjoying for years from Bon Appetit: creamed swiss chard with lemony breadcrumbs! I’ll link it here, as well as in the post in case anyone else is looking for it too! Honestly you could serve this with any vegetable side dish, but we are head over heels in love with this swiss chard! xo, Ari
Thank you for the tip re: the swiss chard!
ari | well seasoned says
Of course, you’re very welcome! xo, Ari
Duck is such an intimidating thing to cook, but this recipe took all the stress out of it! Who would have thought this would be so simple and so delicious. Thank you so much for the detailed guidance Ari! It turned out great- crispy and juicy- and we’re really excited to cook with our leftover duck fat
Ari Laing says
This makes me so unbelievably happy!! We love cooking duck — that skin! — and I’m grateful you are now a bit more confident as well. xo, Ari
Hi this recipe looks delicious. I’m going to try it but wondered if I can make the sauce ahead of time then reheat in a pot before serving?
Ari Laing says
Absolutely!! The sauce honestly takes no time to make and is just as good on subsequent days. I’m so excited for you to make this recipe, pan seared duck is the best. Let me know what you think! xo, Ari
Delicious…just don’t overcook
Ari Laing says
Yes, agree — timing is everything! xo, Ari
Rosalia Q. Figueroa says
I tried this recipe, and it was perfect, but I have questions I want to ask; how can I reach you?
Ari Laing says
What can I help you with?