Many people get cooking duck wrong, and it’s even worse when it comes to wild duck. Wild duck has very little fat and cooks very fast, which makes it easy to ruin.
The best method to cook wild duck breast is to fry it over medium heat in a stainless steel or cast iron pan.
How to Cook Wild Duck Breast
Wild duck breasts need a little different handling and cooking than farmed duck breasts.
The reason for this is mostly because of the fat content. Farmed ducks contain a much higher fat percentage than wild ducks in general.
Wild duck breasts are best cooked on a pan due to their lower fat content. This allows you to manage the cooking better and reduces the risk of overcooking or drying out the meat.
The first thing to do with the duck breast before cooking is to bring it to room temperature.
This ensures an even cook and gets the fat to start melting as soon as the heat begins to build.
Duck breast will cook fast, and if you skip this part, you may end up with fat and grizzly skin on the duck.
Type of Pan
There are a couple of options when it comes to choosing a pan for your wild duck breast. However, I find the best pan is stainless steel; however, it is also the most difficult to work with.
When I first started working with stainless steel pans, I hated them, everything stuck to them, and whatever didn’t got burnt. How was it all the tv show chefs were using them?
After trial and error, I came to a revelation and finally figured them out, basically letting the pan do the work.
For duck breast in a stainless steel pan, expect a deliciously crisp skin. This is why the stainless steel pan is also the king of fish.
Add the duck to a cold ungreased stainless steel pan skin side down. Then increase the heat to medium and be patient, it’s tempting to move the breasts but let the pan do the work, and it will release them when it’s ready.
I love cooking with cast iron; frankly, I’m usually torn between cast iron and stainless steel.
Cast iron is also fantastic for getting a beautiful crisp. However, for duck breast, I generally don’t use cast iron for a couple of reasons.
- Flavor – A well-seasoned cast iron pan is great for adding flavor to anything you add to it. However, for wild duck breast, I would rather not add this flavor. I like to relish in the taste of the duck with the ingredients (usually simple) that I put with it.
- Less crisp – I did say cast iron is great for adding a crisp, especially so skin, but stainless steel does it that little bit better.
- Longer to heat – When cooking duck breast it should be a quick ordeal; start with a cold pan, increase heat, and done. With cast iron, it takes too long to heat, and if it gets too hot it takes too long to cool down.
A non-stick pan is a great option for a beginner to duck breast. You can easily render the fat without fear of the breast sticking. However, the big drawback is that it’s very difficult to get crisp.
To get the skin on a wild duck breast crispy, you need a high temperature, and non-sticks usually can’t do this, and if you try, you may ruin your pan.
However, you can get the crisp later under the grill.
Cooking duck breast is all about fat, duck fat in particular. This is where wild ducks may cause some problems.
If you are lucky enough, you will have a nice fat duck, but if you don’t, you will have to improvise.
As mentioned above, wild ducks generally have less fat than farmed ducks.
If you happen to have one of these, you have a few options:
- Rendered duck fat – The best choice, if you have, it is duck fat you have rendered from another duck. This will give you the best flavor and crisp and essentially is how it’s supposed to be.
- Avocado Oil – The second best option is avocado oil. This oil has an extreme smoking point and can reach 520F. It also has a neutral flavor, so it won’t interfere with the flavor of the duck.
- Grapeseed Oil – This oil is readily available in most grocery stores and almost matches the smoking point of avocado oil, reaching 485F. It also has a neutral flavor.
Score and Season
Before doing anything with your duck breast, it needs to be scored. This is easier done on a cold breast, so do it before letting the breast rest at room temperature.
The term scoring means to make shallow cuts. With duck, this allows for the fat to render. It also prevents the skin from shrinking.
The finished product will be a nice crispy skin across the whole breast.
Without scoring the breast, it’s likely you will be left with a shriveled and fatty skin.
To score the breast, start at the very end and make slits in the skin about 1/8 inch apart diagonally.
It’s very important only to score the skin and not the meat. After you have a row of slits, turn the breast around and to the same, coming diagonally across the slits you just made.
After you have scored the breast, season it with salt generously, making sure to rub it into the scoring cuts you just made. You can also use other seasonings like pepper, but I like to keep it simple.
Now leave the breast to come to room temperature. This should be around 20-30 minutes.
When you are ready to cook the breasts, pat them dry with a paper towel.
There are two types of people when it comes to cooking duck; those who flip the breast and those who don’t. I fall into the latter.
If you do prefer to flip the breast, use the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the cooking should be done on the skin side.
However, the method I prefer is to baste the breast, like cooking a fried egg sunny side up.
Place the breast on a cold pan skin side down; as soon as the fat starts to release, use a tablespoon to spoon it over the meat side of the breast.
I find this method provides a better cook, prevents overcooking, and is easy.
However, it may be more difficult if the duck you are using doesn’t have much fat.
You could use some extra of one of the oils mentioned above, or you could finish it in the oven. This is a good technique for larger duck breasts.
Finish in Oven
Sometimes with larger duck breasts, you risk overcooking the skin or meat side of the bird by trying to get a full cook on the pan.
For larger duck breasts, you can finish them in the oven. This is not necessary, and I generally try to avoid this way as I prefer my wild duck breast on the rarer side.
To do this, preheat the oven to about 400F before you start frying the duck breast.
Cook the breast as above and when the skin is nice and crisp, remove skillet from heat and set in the oven uncovered skin side up for 5 minutes.
Leave to Rest
The last thing to do is let the duck breast rest just like a steak; in fact, the whole manner of cooking a duck breast is much like a steak.
The rest period depends on the size; for larger duck breasts, 5-7 minutes is ideal.
Smaller duck breasts could get away with less, but I generally leave them all for 5 minutes. This is enough time to let the meat relax and the juices drain.
After the duck breasts have rested, cut into slices and serve.
Wild duck breast is a prime cut of meat, in my opinion, and should be treated like one.
To me, that means minimal cooking and seasoning so you can enjoy the full flavor of the meat.
To do this, prepare the duck properly by scoring and getting the pan temperature right. After that is a short cooking period with a similar resting period.
Duck isn’t complicated; it’s tasty.
Can you eat wild duck breast rare?
It used to be a common belief that wild duck had to be cooked well done. However, we now know that rare or medium rare is ok to eat. Although it should be noted that the USDA recommends 165F which would be well done.
What is the best way to cook wild duck breast?
Without a doubt, the best way to cook wild duck breast is to pan fry it.
Should you soak wild duck?
People have become accustomed to soaking wild game meat in liquids such as buttermilk to help make it tender and remove the “gamey” taste. However, with wild ducks, this is not necessary. The meat is already tender, and although wild duck tastes different from farmed duck, it’s not gamey.
Are wild ducks good to eat?
Wild ducks are good to eat and are actually more nutritious than farmed ducks. The taste of wild duck is an acquired taste but most people prefer it to farmed ducks.
How long to cook wild duck breast?
Cooking times depend on the degree of cook you are looking for and the size of the duck breast. On average, a medium size duck breast will take 3-4 minutes for a medium rare cook.
Rusty enjoys connecting food and nature and has done so since a child. He was fortunate enough to explore cuisine worldwide and work at great European restaurants. He now enjoys thinking up new recipes that he can find around him in nature in North America.