Sautéed Duck Breast with Currant Sauce Is a Real Treat

Sauteed duck breast with red currant sauce on a bed of freshly picked lettuce.

Sauteed duck breast with red currant sauce on a bed of freshly picked lettuce.


Cooking the duck breast put me squarely in the Department of Don’t Believe Everything You Read. Either that or I have to buy a new instant-read thermometer.

I don’t cook duck often. Actually hardly ever, or at least I don’t remember doing it before, though I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of having done it least once before in my life. It was one of those things that I was mildly intimidated by, because duck, unless you have a hunter friend dropping by with the fruits of a fowling trip, is a bit on the pricey side. Apparently stores sell it seldom enough that they keep it in the frozen meat department.

Duck, like goose, is a fatty little number, and the chunk of skin that comes attached to a duck breast is partly the reason we enjoy eating it, providing you cook it so that much of the oily part is rendered out, and the skin crisps up nicely. The other thing to keep in mind about duck is that, like steak, little pink in the flesh is a good thing. It is best if cooked medium rare.

Cross-hatched skin, cooked until crisp.

Cross-hatched skin, cooked until crisp.

For some reason, I fixed on the idea of duck sliced and laid on a bed of lightly dressed salad greens, though Toby reminds me that some would enjoy rice or potatoes with it, and their salad off in its own bowl. It needs a sauce and a little research showed that fruit based sauces, sometimes sweet and sour ones, are the standard, like sour cherry, or orange, or other citrus fruits in the mix. I have red currant preserves that I made, and decided that would do.

I rooted around on the web, and found that the duck breast producer’s website contained cooking instructions. Those instructions, though, recommended an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but also recommended a cooking time that simply, as far I could tell, would never produce such a temperature, especially when they said that you could cook it ahead, refrigerate it, and then flash heat it in a 400 degree oven for a matter of three or four minutes. I don’t think so.

Barely pink, cooked duck meat is still moist and very flavorful.

Barely pink, cooked duck meat is still moist and very flavorful.

So I just used common sense, and decided to adhere to the cooking times they recommended, and ended up with 120 on my thermometer, and very slightly pink, perfectly delicious duck meat. Like I said, maybe I need a new thermometer. If I had cooked that poor little breast to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it would have been dry, tough, and terrible. Some instructions say to start the breast skin side down on the stove top, then finish it off on the grill. You really have to get the fat rendered out of the skin first. Doing that would make an awful mess on the grill, maybe start a stinky little fire.

You can do what you like about the sauce. Since I raise currants, that’s what I use, and most of you won’t have recourse to them. I think any bitter orange or lemon marmalade, used with garlic and shallots, should give you the requisite sour element, though I saw apricots, peaches, and cherries mentioned in other recipes.

Sautéed Duck Breast with Fruit Sauce

1 duck breast

1 shallot chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced finely

3-4 tablespoons of tart fruit preserve

Score the duck breast skin in a cross-hatched pattern, avoiding cutting into the meat. Preheat a heavy fry pan or griddle, and lay the breast on it, skin side down, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for eight to twelve minutes. Turn the breast over, and cook for two to three minutes. If you want to finish it on the grill, preheat the grill, and put the breast on it for about three to four minutes, otherwise cook the breast for another three minutes in the pan, then set it aside to rest while you make the sauce.

Drain most of the duck fat from the sauté pan, but retain a tablespoon or two in the pan. Add the shallots and garlic to the fat and cook for a minute or two, then add the preserves, stirring to mix the shallots and garlic with the melting preserve. Set aside.

Slice the duck breast thinly, and arrange on the plate, and dribble the sauce over it. Serve warm to room temperature.

Serves two.

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Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.