No one wants to mess up a pricey cut of meat, but duck breast can be tricky: dry when overcooked and gummy when undercooked. But when done just right—medium with perfectly rendered fat and crispy skin—it’s beautiful. “Duck has a sweetness and tender, meaty flavor that’s comparable to a steak,” says Noble Fin’s chef de cuisine, Jeb Aldrich, who explains how to get perfect results every time.
How to saute a duck breast
1 Pat dry 2 boneless, skin-on duck breasts, whether fresh or thawed. Aldrich sources his from Maple Leaf Farms.
2 Score the skin by making parallel diagonal slashes, about 1/8 inch apart. Be careful not to cut through the flesh. This allows the duck to cook more evenly and the fat to render more quickly.
3 Place breasts in a bowl with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. salt, several grindings of black pepper, and 2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil. Turn to coat evenly; let marinate about 1 hour.
4 Set breasts skin-side down in a cold saute pan. Over medium-low heat, allow duck to render its fat, about 5 minutes.
5 When the thick cap of fat has melted down to a crisp, golden-brown sheath, about 1/8 inch thick (lift edge up with a spatula to check), add 2 Tbsp. butter to the pan and baste with pan drippings for 1 minute to ensure even cooking.
6 Flip and cook on the other side, basting constantly, about 2 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 130°F.
7 Remove duck to a cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice.
Complete the meal with a white bean puree and a quick cassoulet-like vegetable stew.
Quick Vegetable “Cassoulet”
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté 1 tsp minced garlic and 2 Tbsp minced shallots in a little butter and olive oil until tender. Stir in mixed fresh herbs (5 minced basil leaves, plus the leaves of 4 thyme sprigs and ½ rosemary sprig) and 2 cups fresh, blanched legumes (field peas, butter beans, English peas etc.), along with 1½ cups chicken broth. Add 4 quartered, oven-dried (or sun-dried) tomatoes and 3 to 4 cipollini onions (or 6 to 8 peeled pearl onions) that have been tossed in olive oil and roasted in a 450°F oven until tender and slightly blistered, about 30 minutes. Simmer about 5 minutes until peas are tender. Add another 1 to 2 Tbsp butter before serving.
White Bean Puree
Melt 2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbsp minced shallot and 1 tsp chopped garlic. Saute 1 to 2 minutes or until tender. Add 1½ to 2 cups drained cannellini beans and heat through. Puree in a food processor, then transfer back to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. If needed, thin with a little chicken broth.
About Jeb Aldrich
Inspired by his dad, the veteran Atlanta chef Jay Swift, Aldrich started out washing dishes as a teenager before earning his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston. In 2006 he moved to Atlanta, landing kitchen gigs at Canoe and Jöel, then traveled to work in Austria and Italy before returning stateside in 2009. Today Aldrich runs the kitchen at his father’s new restaurant in Peachtree Corners, Noble Fin.
A version of this article originally appeared in our October 2016 issue.