Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fat duck

I don't think poultry is properly represented on this blog of mine even though we eat our fair share of it.

We have chicken very often, once, sometimes twice a week, and when I want to be more adventurous and a little bit naughty, I cook duck, goose or quail, particularly for special occasions.

Duck is not a simple little bird, it's not like chicken. It is gamey and delicious and pretty fatty, with its beautiful thick layer of skin that renders and becomes the stuff culinary dreams are made of. Roast potatoes and fried eggs are completely transformed when cooked in duck fat. Try it.

During the holidays, I love to prepare duck confit which is a French dish of duck legs that are first salted and refrigerated for up to thirty-six hours and then slow-cooked, poached really, in their own fat. The result is superb but I don't always have time for such complicated dishes.

The simplest and quickest way for me to enjoy duck is by pan-frying the breast. I usually pair it with roasted vegetables or baked potatoes (in duck fat of course) but recently I discovered a wonderful accompaniment for duck breast. A warm salad of Beluga lentils with cranberries and spinach. Quite festive too.

The pairing is marvelous. The duck breast is crispy crackly on the outside and tender and moist on the inside but it needs something to cut through all that richness and that's where the salad comes in. The earthiness of the lentils and the tangy acidity of the cranberries complement perfectly the sweetness and fattiness of the duck, while the spinach freshens up the whole dish.

It is a complete and utter delight, ideal for a festive dinner or even for an alternative Christmas lunch. Unconventional is the way to go sometimes.

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with a Warm Salad of Beluga Lentils, Spinach and Cranberries
Adapted from Food & Travel

Beluga lentils are small black lentils. They're called beluga because when raw and wet, they glisten and strongly resemble caviar. They are very similar in texture to the French green Puy lentils as they keep their shape when cooked. If you can't find them, substitute with Puy lentils.

Pair the dish with a red Côtes du Rhône.

Yield: 4 main-course servings


for the salad
200 g fresh cranberries
1 Tbsp caster sugar
100 g baby spinach leaves
150 g Beluga lentils
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, mashed
Freshly ground black pepper

for the duck
4 duck breast fillets with skin (about 200g each)
Freshly ground black pepper

Sprouts and garden cress for garnishing

Special equipment: colander, large skillet or sauté pan


for the salad
Rinse the cranberries under cold running water and place them in a small bowl. Sprinkle them with the sugar and mix well with a spoon.
Rinse the spinach under cold running water and drain well.

Rinse the lentils well under cold running water.
In a medium-sized saucepan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until they soften but don't brown. Add the lentils to the pan and sauté them lightly for 1 minute stirring continuously. Then add enough warm water to just cover them. Don't add a lot of water otherwise the salad will be watery. Bring the lentils to the boil and then turn heat down to low and simmer for 13-15 minutes, with the lid half-on, until almost cooked.
Note: if you find that there's too much water, remove the extra liquid with a spoon from the pan.

Add the cranberries to the lentils and cook, stirring often, over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until the cranberries start to burst. Be careful though because you don't want the berries to turn mushy.
Then add the spinach leaves, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well with a spoon. The spinach will wilt from the heat of the lentils and cranberries.
Keep the salad warm and prepare the duck.

for the duck
Take the duck breasts out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before you cook them so they come to room temperature. Rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels.
Using a sharp knife, score the skin all over in a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to cut through the meat but just the skin. The scoring will help to render the fat and make the skin crispy. If there is any skin hanging over the edge of the breast, remove it with your knife.
Season the breast on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper and make sure to rub the seasoning well onto the skin.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (I use a cast-iron skillet) or sauté pan over medium heat. There's no need to add any oil because the duck will render a lot of fat. Add the duck breasts, skin-side down and immediately turn heat down to medium-low. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the fat is rendered and the skin is crispy and brown. Empty the pan from the rendered fat and pour it into a bowl. Once it cools, you can keep it in the fridge, covered tightly and use it to cook potatoes or eggs.
Turn the duck breasts over and cook for 4-7 minutes, depending on how you prefer to eat your duck. If you like it medium-rare then cook it for 4 minutes; if you like it well-done cook for 7 minutes.
If your duck breasts are smaller or bigger than the ones indicated here then you'll need to adjust the cooking times. Also, the layer of fat of your duck breasts might be thinner or fatter so adjust the time of rendering accordingly, otherwise your duck will be too fatty.

Transfer the duck breasts to a clean cutting board and cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil so that they don't get cold. Let the duck breasts rest for 7-9 minutes. Resting the meat is very important because it relaxes and the juices spread equally throughout it. If you cut the meat right after you've taken it off the heat, all the juices will run out instead of staying in and keeping the meat moist.

With a sharp knife, cut the breasts at an angle into thick-ish slices and place on individual plates.
Add the lentil salad next to each duck breast and garnish with the sprouts, the garden cress and some fresh small baby spinach leaves and serve immediately. Enjoy!


  1. I do not cook duck enough! This looks so succulent and perfect. I will definitely be making this very soon.

  2. Your duck looks amazing! It's been years since I've had duck. I might just have a look for it the next time I'm at the meat market. :)

  3. wow! I was just thinking yesterday of how breast of duck is such a great dish to serve; so easy to prepare and its goes with so many things, especially fruit. Love your lentil and cranberry combo, I never would have thought of it, so used to lentils prepared the same way here. Love it. Happy holidays!!!!

  4. That duck looks beautifully juicy and delicious. I love duck and my husband just goes crazy for it, but we also reserve it for special occasions. I've always roasted it, I've never tried pan frying it (partly because I've only seen duck sold whole around these parts). I'll have to try it because it sounds much quicker!

  5. I love duck, and now that I have an outdoor burner it makes searing duck breasts possible! And that salad? Beautiful! When I lived in Europe a million years ago, cranberries were not available at all (I tried to have a Thanksgiving dinner there), in fact, there wasn't even a word for them! Glad they are there now... ~ David

  6. Hi Magda! We have nominated My Little Expat Kitchen for the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award - http://www.honeyandlulu.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/liebster-blog-award-wonderful-team.html
    Congratulations! You really deserve it!

    Have a great day,

    Chloe & Sarah

  7. I'm thrilled you all liked this dish. It's delicious, I do hope you give it a try!

    David — in Greece they're impossible to find fresh but only dried. I discovered them when I moved to Holland where I can find them during the holidays mostly.

    Chloe and Sarah — thanks for the award!!

  8. Oh wow.. this looked delicious!!!!! I haven't tried cooking duck yet but I might have to try now!! Thanks for sharing. :)

    xo - Sheila