How to cook duck breasts

Master the art of cooking the perfect duck breasts...
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  • From prep to cooking, from serving suggestions to top tips, cooking duck breasts got a whole lot easier with our guide.

    Duck is a wonderful, flavoursome meat that can be used in so many different ways. Its richness means that it can stand out on any plate, but is also robust enough to take on some serious flavours too.

    Commonly associated with Asian cuisine, it pairs beautifully with punchy spices like cinnamon, anise, and Sichuan pepper, however, duck can also hold its own among some other less typical pairings, particularly sharp fruits like cherry or rhubarb.

    *How to prepare duck breasts
    *How to remove the skin from duck breasts
    *How to prepare skinless duck breasts
    *How to cook duck breasts: pan-fried
    *How to cook duck breasts: oven
    *How to cook duck breasts: grill
    *When are duck breasts cooked?
    *Top tips for cooking duck breasts
    *How to store raw and cooked duck breasts
    *What to serve with duck breasts
    *Our favourite duck breasts recipes

    How to cook duck breasts

    How to prepare duck breasts

    To make sure you cook perfect duck breasts every time you’ll need to prepare the meat correctly. Preparing duck breast is simple:

    1. To help give that wonderful crispy skin, pat the breast dry with a paper towel and score the skin with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern or diagonally along with the breast – this is a crucial step as it stops the breast from tightening up and becoming tough. Season with salt or a fragrant spice rub.
    2. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight if possible. This will dry the skin out making for crispy skin and if using a dry rub, impart more flavour.
    3. Before cooking, bring the duck breasts out of the fridge for around 30 mins to come to room temperature.

    How to remove the skin from duck breasts

    You can always ask your butcher to do this, but removing the skin from the breast is easy to do at home.

    1. Place the breast skin-side up on a chopping board, using a small sharp knife, make a small incision at the thinner end of the breast between the skin and the meat.
    2. Gently pull the skin away, ensuring not to damage any of the meat. Carefully use the knife in one hand to cut the sinew, while pulling the skin away with the other. 

    How to prepare skinless duck breasts

    Without the skin, duck can easily dry out so it’s best to cook quickly – you can do this by butterflying the breasts.

    1. To butterfly duck breasts, cut each end of the breast off.
    2. Cut down the center of the breast lengthways. Then slice again in the center of each piece, without cutting all the way through the meat.
    3. You can then open the meat out and flatten it a little with your fingertips to make sure the breast is a similar thickness all around.

    This method will also cut the cooking time in half. For pan-frying, it will take about 2-3 minutes per side.

    We’d recommend keeping any duck skin cut-offs as it can quickly be transformed into a delicious crackling which is perfect for snacking or adding a little crunch to your salad.

    To make the crackling, trim the skin of any excess fat then slice into thin strips. Fry in a hot pan for a couple of minutes until crisp and golden. Transfer to a sheet of kitchen roll to absorb any excess grease and moisture and sprinkle with a little sea salt

    How to cook duck breasts: pan-fried

    Ingredients

    • 2 Duck breasts, seasoned

    Method

    How to cook duck breasts: Step 1

    How to cook duck breasts

    Score the skin with a sharp knife and leave to come to room temperature (30 mins)

    How to cook duck breasts: Step 2

    How to cook duck breasts

    Place the breasts skin-side down in a cold frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Placing in a cold pan and gradually heating ensures that the fat will render down well and the skin will crisp up nicely without burning.

    How to cook duck breasts: Step 3

    Cook skin-side down for 6-8 mins until the skin is crisp and brown. Turn the breast over, sealing the meat on all sides. Cook for a further 4-5 mins.

    How to cook duck breasts: Step 4

    How to cook duck breasts

    Remove the breasts and place them on a board to rest for 10 mins before serving.

    How to cook duck breasts: oven

    When cooking duck breasts in the oven, we’d recommend searing the skin in a hot frying pan first. If you are cooking skinless duck breasts in the oven you can skip this step.

    Once the meat is sealed and the skin is golden, transfer to a preheated oven set to 190C/Gas 5 and cook for 6-8mins for medium or 10-12mins for well-cooked.

    We’d recommend using a meat thermometer to be certain the meat is at your desired cooking state.

    Once again, rest the duck breasts for 10mins before serving to allow the meat to relax.

    How to cook duck breasts: grill

    Prepare the duck breasts as you could for pan or oven cooking. Bring to room temp and heat the grill to high.

    Cook skin side up for 5-8mins then flip over and cook for 5 more mins. To be certain it’s cooked through, we recommend checking the internal temperature. Continue reading for the correct internal temperatures.

    When are duck breasts cooked?

    how to cook duck breasts

    The most accurate way to tell if your duck breast is cooked is to use a meat thermometer. If you need tips on how to use a meat thermometer we’ve got a useful guide including some recommendations.

    Below are the internal temperatures you should look for depending on how you like your duck breasts cooked.

    Rare 55C
    Medium 60C
    Well done 65C

    If you don’t have a thermometer, you can also compare the feel of different parts of your face to the meat for an estimate on the cooking. If the hot meat feels like your cheek it is rare, like your chin and its medium, and for well done it should feel like your forehead.

    Top tips for cooking duck breasts

    Duck fat helps to make the most sensational roast potatoes. Keep the rendered fat from the skin in a jar in the fridge and use it for your next roast instead of using oil. It’s a delicious way to add flavour to any roasted veg.

    Senior Food Writer Jessica Ransom likes to slice duck breasts thinly and serve in a stir-fry with hoisin sauce. Make sure the wok is hot before adding the duck as it will cook very quickly when cut into strips.

    Deputy Food Editor Rose Fooks recommends choosing a plump fatty breast and rendering it skin side down in a pan on a low heat before increasing the temperature.

    How to store raw and cooked duck breasts

    As with all raw meat, uncooked duck breasts should be kept in the fridge. You can also freeze them but you should defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight before cooking.

    Cooked duck breast can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container. Leftovers are delicious shredded into a salad or a wrap filled with shredded spring onions, cucumber, crispy lettuce, and hoisin sauce.

    You should consume the leftovers within a couple of days.

    What to serve with duck breasts

    how to cook duck breasts

    Duck breasts are incredibly versatile and choosing what to serve with them depends on the recipe. You can treat a marinated duck breast very similarly to a chicken breast. Serve it with a side of stir-fried or roasted veggies, rice, and noodles, or even with a crunchy salad.

    Duck and hoisin is a popular classic flavour combination, as is a plum sauce or the French signature dish of duck a l’Orange pairs duck with citrus and spices.

    Deputy Food Editor Rose notes that duck is especially delicious with sweet sauces and explains that in France it is often cooked with honey and a lingonberry sauce which is ‘sensational’.

    Food Editor Samuel Goldsmith likes to combine duck breasts and cherries in a comforting warm salad.

    As we already mentioned, duck is fantastic with spices including cinnamon, anise, and allspice. However, when you browse our duck recipes you’ll see some less obvious pairings including grapefruit, basil, and asparagus.

    Our favourite duck breasts recipes

    Duck Ramen

    citrus ginger duck ramen

    Restore yourself with our flavourful duck ramen. A delicious broth served with noodles, green veggies, and succulent deck breast.

    Get the recipe: Duck Ramen

    Spicy Duck with Rhubarb

    Duck with rhubarb

    The sweet and sour rhubarb in this dish cuts through the richness of the duck, making it one of our absolute favourites.

    Get the recipe: Spicy Duck with Rhubarb

    Hot Smoked Duck Breasts

    Hot Smoked Duck Breast

    Smoked duck breasts are much easier to make at home than you may think. Try this restaurant favourite at home.

    Get the recipe: Hot Smoked Duck Breasts

    Duck with Crispy Noodles

    Duck with Crispy Noodles

    Beautifully balanced with 5-spice, this classic duck and noodles will definitely hit the spot.

    Get the recipe: Duck with Crispy Noodles

    Duck Salad

    A healthy and satisfying salad and that packed full of flavour.

    Get the recipe: Duck Salad with soy and ginger

    Crispy Duck Pancakes

    Crispy duck pancakes

    A Chinese takeaway must that you can now make yourself. The tender pieces of duck breast pair perfectly with the sweet, sticky hoisin sauce.

    Get the recipe: Crispy Duck Pancakes

    Duck breasts with redcurrant relish

    how to cook duck breasts

    Homemade redcurrant relish is very easy to make and it’s the perfect partner to some plump duck breasts. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and some steamed greens for balance.

    Get the recipe: Duck breasts with redcurrant relish

    Roasted duck breast in red wine sauce

    how to cook duck breasts

    Rich and flavoursome, this recipe calls for the duck breasts to be seared in a hot pan for that addictive crispy skin. Serve with a glass of red wine.

    Get the recipe: Roasted duck breast in red wine sauce

    Malaysian duck in lettuce cups

    how to cook duck breasts

    Incredibly easy to cook and assemble. You could serve these as a starter recipe or add some rice and veggies on the side for the main meal.

    Get the recipe: Malaysian duck in lettuce cups

    Roast duck with grapefruit and green bean salad

    This recipe swaps the classic zesty orange pairing for grapefruit instead. Grapefruit has a sharp, acidic flavour which works wonders with the tender duck. Ready in just 25 minutes.

    Get the recipe: Roast duck with grapefruit and green bean salad

    Oriental duck salad

    how to cook duck breasts

    Our quick oriental dressing transforms this salad into a flavour-packed meal that you can serve for lunch or dinner.

    Get the recipe: Oriental duck salad

    Roast duck with ginger wine jus

    how to cook duck breasts

    Sticky, spicy ginger and citrus pair together so beautifully with duck breasts. We’ve served with roasted vegetables but you could opt for rice, noodles or stir-fried vegetables if you prefer.

    Get the recipe: Roast duck with ginger wine jus

    Duck with Pomegranate Chestnut Sauce

    how to cook duck breasts

    This is a brilliant recipe for the festive season and a good alternative to chicken but you can source the ingredients all year round.

    Get the recipe: Duck with Pomegranate Chestnut Sauce

    Ed Baines’ duck breast with blackberry sauce

    how to cook duck breasts

    Sophisticated but simple to make, this dish is ready in just 30 mins and is perfect for a special dinner for two.

    Get the recipe: Ed Baines’ duck breast with blackberry sauce

    Sticky plum and duck stir-fry

    how to cook duck breasts

    This recipe uses a readymade plum sauce for the ultimate convenience. It will no doubt be cheaper and healthier than a takeaway and quicker than ordering too.

    Get the recipe: Sticky plum and duck stir-fry

    Duck and orange spiced leek

    A classic flavour combination that will never get old. The sweet potato mash with leeks could easily become a new staple.

    Get the recipe: Duck and orange spiced leek

    Pan fried duck with sweet and sour sauce

    how to cook duck breasts

    This is a lovely dish if you’re planning a romantic meal for two. The sauce is also delicious with chicken breast or thighs.

    Get the recipe: Pan fried duck with sweet and sour sauce

    Spicy duck with basil and asparagus

    This speedy recipe is so easy to cook. You can use whatever noodles you like or serve them with steamed rice if you prefer.

    Get the recipe: Spicy duck with basil and asparagus

    Stir-Fried Duck with Orange

    Duck and orange is a match made in culinary heaven, usually associated with the French classic Duck l’orange,

    Get the recipe: Stir-Fried Duck with Orange