Traditionally, we poach duck legs in duck fat, then store them in the fat to make confit. But here I poach the breasts in oil. This is a rather unorthodox way cooking duck breast, but I’ve discovered it’s the best way. Duck breast is so juicy and rosy because (and this is admittedly my theory!) ducks use those muscles to control their wings. Chickens are flightless, hence the light color of the meat in their breasts, whereas ducks fly and so have much more developed breast muscles. Duck meat has a lot of myoglobin, a protein loaded with iron. I believe that when it’s overcooked, duck meat can take on that nasty, metallic flavor I associate with awful diner plates of liver and onions.
It occurred to me that if I cook the breast gently, controlling the temperature, I can maintain that rosy color, keep the breast juicy and delectable, and make sure it’s properly cooked. To do this, it’s important that the flesh side of the breast never directly touch the hot pan. I transfer the duck from the skin side in the hot pan directly into the infused olive oil.
This recipe appears in: Seamus Mullen’s Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better
- 2 cups farro
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 1 onion, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 2 guindilla peppers
- 1 bay leaf
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup fontina cheese, cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 head radicchio
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 duck breasts, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 1/2 cups olive oil
- 1 orange peel for garnish
- 2 guindilla peppers
- 2 branches fresh thyme
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- For the farro, thoroughly rinse it in a large colander under running water. Transfer to a large heavy-bottomed pot and add the carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, bay leaf, and 4 cups of water.
- Add enough kosher salt so the water tastes like sea water. Cover, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20–25 minutes, until the grain is soft and cooked through. Once the farro is fully cooked, drain, and discard the aromatics.
- Fold the fontina cheese, butter, and radicchio into the cooked farro. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- For the duck, in a skillet large enough to fit all four pieces of the duck breasts, combine the olive oil, orange peel, peppers, thyme, and garlic clove. Place the skillet on the burner on the lowest heat you can manage and gently heat the oil until it registers 150° on a meat thermometer. If you have trouble setting your stove low enough, use a cast iron trivet or heat diffuser. I like to leave
- the thermometer in the oil so I can regulate the heat as necessary and maintain 150°. When you add the duck, the temperature will drop a bit, so you may need to increase the heat slightly.
- Score the skin of the duck breasts and season thoroughly with salt and pepper. Heat up another skillet (roughly the same size) over medium-low heat and sear the duck breasts, skin-side down, without moving them at all, until they are crispy and golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Once the skin is golden brown, remove from the pan and now place skin-side up in the 150° olive oil. Poach the duck breasts in the olive oil for 7–10 minutes, until the breasts are firm, medium rare, and just cooked through. Remove from the heat, slice, and serve with the farro.