Here, Michael Mina continues to layer flavors by using the aromatic poaching liquid from the apples to glaze the duck.
The sweet and spicy glaze complements the gamey decadence of the duck. Crunchy, slightly bitter and peppery watermelon radishes balance the dish. The radishes are added to the pan after the duck to pick up the rich flavor of the meat.
- Zero shades of gray. To ensure that your duck has been fed properly and remains fresh, its skin should look yellow, clean and tight. If the duck meat looks gray, stay away.
- The cure. By curing the skin-side of the duck breast with a sugar and salt mixture, you’re drawing out water, which promotes a crispy skin. When cooking, be sure to press the duck down in the pan to make sure that the skin browns evenly.
- Start low. Since duck breasts have a thicker, fattier layer of skin than other birds, you should begin cooking them at a slightly lower temperature than you’d use to brown chicken. This helps to render the fat.
- Don’t multitask. While you’re cooking the duck, the sugar glaze will bubble and burn quickly. Stay focused and use a wet pastry brush to wipe away any specks of liquid that splash up the sides of your pan.
- Think pink. Unlike chicken, duck is at its best when it’s slightly pink in the center – like a burger that’s medium rare.
- Test for doneness. When the glaze is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon (nappe), the duck should be ready. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the duck breast should register at 140°F when cooking is complete.
These tools are the ones we find especially helpful when making this dish.
- Cooling Rack. When the duck breasts come out of the pan, rest them on a cooling rack. This promotes air circulation around the duck breasts and prevents them from overcooking on a hot plate.
The list below includes all the equipment you’ll want to make this dish.
Small baking sheet with rack
Medium sauté pan
For Duck Breasts:
- 4 duck breasts (8 ounces each)
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- Salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Thyme sprig
- ½ cup apple glaze (from Poached Apples & Glaze recipe)
- ½ cup crushed gingersnap crumbs (from pre-purchased gingersnap cookies)
For Watermelon Radishes:
- 2 medium watermelon radishes, sliced thinly on a mandolin (about the thickness of a quarter)
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Total time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Active time: 30 minutes
For Duck Breasts:
- Mix salt and sugar on a small baking sheet. Pat duck dry with paper towels and place the fat side (not the flesh side) down on cure and place in refrigerator for 4 hours.
- Remove duck from cure and season the flesh side with salt and pepper. Place the breasts on a baking sheet tray with a rack and brush excess salt and sugar off with a damp paper towel or pastry brush. Only pepper the cured side since some salt might remain from the cure.
- Heat medium sauté pan over low heat. Add just enough grapeseed oil to form a thin coat. Place duck breasts skin side down in sauté pan and press down on duck with fingers to push the skin into the pan. Sear slowly for approximately 7 minutes, or until the fat renders and the skin crisps up and turns golden brown.
- Remove duck from pan with tongs and place back on rack. Duck will still be rare. Pour rendered duck fat into bowl and place the pan back over heat.
- Return duck to pan on the flesh side (meat side), for 2 minutes on low heat, or just until the flesh starts to brown slightly. Increase to medium-high heat and add butter and thyme to the pan.
- Once the butter is foamy, use a large spoon to baste the duck breasts with the foamy butter, focusing on the thicker parts of the breast.
- Reduce heat to low and add apple glaze. Turn duck back over to skin side down. Continue to baste the duck as the liquid bubbles and darkens in color (done at 140°F).
- Turn off heat and transfer the breasts to a rack using tongs.
- When ready to serve, dip duck breasts in gingersnap crumbs to finish off the crust.
For Watermelon Radishes:
- Immediately after removing the duck from the pan, add sherry vinegar and radish slices and slightly increase the heat from low to medium heat. Cook until glazed and slightly softened, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
Lentil soup with apple-glazed duck
For a warming meal, serve with lentils cooked in stock with very small diced carrots and parsnips.