There is an art to cooking a perfect duck breast. A perfect chicken breast is a kindergarten finger painting compared to the Mona Lisa that is a medium-rare, juicy breast of duck with skin so perfectly rendered and crisp it makes you want to cry. Hyperbole aside (though after several missed attempts at perfection you might in fact find yourself crying when the goal is achieved) a perfectly prepared piece of duck can ruin you for all other fowl. You can also ruin some perfectly good duck while fumbling around the kitchen as if you’ve never used a pan before trying to make it, duck can be a little…intimidating. It all comes down to patience, trusting the technique and going low and slow. The dry brine idea came from a good friend of ours (Hi Steve!) who dry brined his whole turkey for Thanksgiving and said it was a “must try”, so I did, on a smaller scale and the results were divine. Dry brining basically means using salt and sugar to suck all the juice out of a piece of meat, and then it will re-infuse itself with the juices and flavors of the brine. It’s pretty bad ass.
Dry Brined Pan Roasted Duck Breast
1 large duck breast
1/2 cup of salt
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 whole cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 dried chili (left whole)
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 large ziplock bag
Rinse off the duck in cool running water and then pat dry with paper towel. Place all the ingredients in the large ziplock bag and shake to combine, add the duck breast, seal the bag removing as much air as possible and then squish the brine around until the breast is coated. Put it in the fridge, at least overnight (flipping it over once) or for up to two days (the longer you leave it the stronger the cure). Remove the duck from the bag, rinse off the brine and pat dry. Using a very sharp knife, carefully trim away some of the thicker areas of fat, leaving an even layer of fat across the top of the breast. Using the same knife, score the fat lengthwise and again crosswise, try not to cut down to the meat, but just before the meat. Pre-heat your oven to 425. Put an oven safe, preferably cast iron, pan over medium heat, that’s right, medium. Add your duck breast. This is counterintuitive because we usually want to sear meat on a pre-heated, high heat pan. Not this time. Let the duck slowly sear, you’ll notice that the fat will begin to render and become fragrant after a few minutes. After about 7 minutes, flip the breast over and sear for 1 minute, then flip it again skin side down and place in the oven to roast until the internal temperature reaches 130 (medium-rare). Remove from the heat and wrap the breast in foil to rest for at least five minutes. Slice and serve.
Note: Depending on the cure time you won’t need to season the breast during cooking. If you only cure it overnight, you might want to add a little cracked black pepper to the skin side but take it easy on the salt.