Think of a duck breast (in French, magret de canard) as a good steak with a crisp crust of fat. Like a good steak, it is best served medium-rare. As the duck breast cooks, it renders its fat, which bastes the lean breast meat. You need a good layer of fat between the skin and the meat to achieve the perfect combination of crisp skin and juicy meat. The duck breasts will spit and sputter, so I recommend using a splatter screen, which will minimize cleanup and keep all the fat in the pan.
Duck is often paired with fruit, and although this combination is often too sweet, the acidity of blackberries strikes a perfect balance with the rich duck meat. Fat Fat-Cooked Fries (page 152) and a green vegetable would go well with this dish.
- 2 boneless duck breast halves, about 8 to 10 ounces / 225 to 285 g each
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large orange
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup / 125 ml port
- 11/3 cups / 6 ounces / 175 g blackberries
Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Score the skin in a crosshatch pattern, cutting through the skin and fat but not cutting the meat. Season both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.
Finely grate the zest of the orange and set aside. Squeeze enough juice to measure 1/4 cup / 60 ml.
Place a heavy frying pan over high heat. When it is hot, add the breasts, skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan with a splatter screen, and cook for 5 minutes. Pour off the fat, set aside, and continue to cook the breasts, skin side down, for another 5 minutes.
Pour off any excess fat, turn the breasts over, and cook for another 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breasts. To test doneness, press the meat side of the breast with your finger; it should feel soft and spongy. Transfer the cooked breasts to a plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan. Add the shallot and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened. Add the port and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the orange zest, juice, and blackberries, lower the heat, and simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries are warm and softened. Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the duck breasts into thick slices and serve with the sauce.
Variation To serve the duck breast as a warm salad, replace half the orange juice with 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Toss together some frisée and watercress, top with the sliced duck breast, and pour over the warm sauce.