The first time I tasted magret de canard was at Chez Janou in Paris. We had been invited to someone’s apartment one evening, and I thought we were there for dinner. Turns out it was just for drinks. By about ten pm it became clear that there would be no food served, so we headed over to Chez Janou where I ordered the magret de canard for the first time. It was served medium-rare with roasted potatoes, and a red wine pan sauce.
When I made it this time (I’ve made it several times before, but always forgot to take photos) I served it on greens, but what you don’t see in the photo is the potatoes roasted in duck fat, nor the pan juice I poured over the duck after I took the photo. I also served it with a baguette, which was perfect for mopping up extra juices.
In my opinion the duck breast in the photo is cooked to perfection. You might be thinking to yourself – isn’t that a little too red for poultry? Duck is a red meat, and the breast must not be cooked to well done or it will be dry. I was served a well-done duck breast on a subsequent visit to Chez Janou (they must have thought North Americans liked it this way) and it tasted like liver (ick). Some sources say that rare duck meat is unsafe, but most say it’s fine, and restaurants typically serve it even rarer than the one I have show here.
Here is a quick guide to testing for doneness so you don’t have to poke into the meat with a thermometer, using the feel of the meat compared to the feel of different parts of your face as a guide. When you prod the top of the breast with your finger, you are checking for the following:
- feels like when you prod your cheek = rare
- feels like when you prod your chin=medium rare
- feels like when you prod your forehead=well done
To make the pan sauce you will use the bits of meat that are stuck to the pan acter cooking the breast, along with some wine and a bit of butter. The stuff left in the bottom of the pan is called “fond,” (silent ‘d’) from the French word for bottom. It is concentrated flavour that you don’t want to waste, and makes a really easy and tasty sauce.
You don’t have to eat the skin (but it is crispy and delicious), but you need to cook the breast with the skin on or it will be very dry. And that would be such a shame.
What you need:
- duck breast
- red or white wine for the pan sauce
What you do:
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Remove the duck breast from the fridge at least half an hour before you plan to cook it. Score the fat using a very sharp knife, making sure you don’t cut all the way down to the meat. Salt the fat side quite a bit, then salt the other side a bit.
- Heat an ovenproof pan (I used cast iron) to high, then lower the heat to medium high. Add the duck breast skin side down and cook for 5 minutes – it should sizzle quite a bit. Flip the duck breast.
- Put the breast, still in the pan, in the oven for 4-8 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the size of the breast and how well you like it done. When cooked to the desired doneness remove the breast from the oven and place it on a plate or cutting board to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- While the breast is resting, put the pan on the stove again and add a little wine to loosen up the fond. Let the wine cook down a little, then add a pat of butter to make a glossy sauce.
- I like to slice the breast before serving, and for a small meal the one breast can be shared between two people. After slicing pour some of the pan juice over the top.