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Duck Breast with Caramelized Onions

Yes, you read that right.  Duck.

If you know me… you’re probably puzzled right about now.

You see, I’m not the biggest meat lover.  I don’t tend to crave meat, experiment with it, cook it often, etc.  I can go at least a week without noticing I haven’t eaten it once.

But there’s also a side of me that’s always wanted to try duck.  Every food show I’ve ever seen just worships duck as being so exotic, luscious, rich, and special.  I see it on menus and just have to wonder if I’ve been missing out on something great these last 24 years.  (I felt the same way about blue cheese though, and in case you’re wondering… I tried it recently and I was NOT missing out.  It tastes like it smells.  Ick.  Have you lost foodie-respect for me?  So be it then.)

So when our good friend Matt called us up Saturday morning after a little hunting excursion and asked me if I’d like to try cooking duck, I thought to myself, “What the hey?  Sure.  I’m up for a little Iron Chef.”  And today, DUCK was the secret ingredient.

When I’ve got a hankering to cook something I’ve never made before.  I always turn to the King… Alton Brown.  If anyone knows food, its him.  He’s got it down to a science.  Literally.

So armed with Alton’s “Mighty Duck” recipe, plus a little of my own tweaking, and about a pound of boneless skinless duck breasts, I dove right in!  And so can you!

(And of course if you don’t have any intention of cooking duck, you can still come along for my first try.  You never know when a hunter will come knocking on your door with a bloody ziplock full of meat!  Mmmm.  You’re welcome for that image.)

According to Alton, we should start by brining.  So assemble this very simple brine using a gallon-sized ziploc bag inside of a pot or bowl.

For the brine, we’ll need the following:

-2 (6 oz.) cans of pineapple juice

-1/4 C. kosher salt

-1/2 T. dried thyme

-1 T. pepper (or a handfull of dried peppercorns)

-2 cloves of garlic, smashed

And for later, you’ll also need:

-3-4 T. butter

-3-4 T. olive oil

-a sprinkling of brown sugar

-balsamic vinegar

-1/2 an onion


And OF COURSE… the star ingredient!


These are boneless, skinless breasts and pieces.  But if you have the opportunity to leave the skin on, do so.  It adds lots of tenderness.


Start by pouring the salt, pepper, garlic and thyme into the brining bag.


Then add in the pineapple juice!  One whole can and half of the other.


Slosh the bag around and get everything all mixed up…


And add in the duck pieces.


Seal the bag and allow the meat to brine in the fridge for 2 – 2 1/2 hours.


(Two Hours Later…)

You’ll need some sort of a heat-proof colander.  I happen to have a steamer!  I never use it because I rarely steam things… so this was a treat!

Pour a few inches of water into a stock pot and place your steamer or colander inside.

(You don’t want the water to touch the steamer.  Fill it to right below.)


Meanwhile… place a cast-iron skillet into the oven and begin pre-heating it to 475.


Lay the duck pieces in the colander.  Try not to overcrowd or lay them on top of each other.


Place a lid on the pot and allow the breast pieces to steam over medium low heat for 16 minutes.  (If you’re working with a whole duck, you’ll want to leave them in there closer to half an hour.)


You can use this time to assemble a nice little side dish if you want.  Alton recommends sauteed chard… but as I had no chard on hand, I went with a red potato/sweet potato mash.  It was especially delicious with the sweet and tangy onion glaze I made with the duck.  I also think wild rice, risotto, or couscous would be quite nice.  Whatever you wish!

How’s your oven looking?


Mine’s reached 475 and my duck has finished steaming!

It looks gray now… but it’ll look luscious later!


Throw the duck breasts into the screaming hot cast iron pan that you’ve had heating up in the oven.


And put it immediately back into the oven.

Let the duck finish in there for about 5 minutes.  And while its baking… chop up half an onion into thin strips.  (Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of that step.  Oopsies.)


Pull the duck pieces out of the oven and place them onto a large sheet of foil…


And wrap it into a little pouch and let it rest while you make the pan sauce.



Drizzle some olive oil into the skillet.

Throw in a few tablespoons of butter too, and let it all get bubbly and hot over medium/high heat.


Now toss in the onion strips!


Stir them a few minutes over medium/high heat… then reduce the heat to medium.

Add in a good pinch of both salt and pepper… and a sprinkling of brown sugar to help the caramelization process along.


Let the onions cook and get soft and brown.  This’ll take at least 8 more minutes over medium heat.


Once the onions have browned… pour in the remaining pineapple juice from your second can…


And a splash of balsamic vinegar!  SO good.


Stir and simmer and add in a few more tablespoons of butter for richness and shine!


Remove the duck breasts from the foil pouch and transfer them to a cutting board.

Cut each breast across the grain into medallions.

(Normally you’d serve these more rare but my husband’s a “well-done” kind of guy.  Steam these less if you like your duck rare.  As for me?  What do I know about how I like my duck?  This is my first time eating it!)


Add the duck medallions back into the pan and let them get coated in the steamy, rich sauce!



Scoop a nice mound of potato mash onto a plate!  (Or couscous or risotto… whatever side you chose.)

And line a few medallions up around it for a fancy presentation…

then drizzle it all with a big spoonful of the onion glaze from the pan.


Serve this to your happy hunter!

The flavor is really dynamite… but I will say it’s a “like it or don’t” kind of dish.  Not because of the preparation, but because duck is a very distinctive flavor.  My husband LOVES chicken livers and he said that duck has a subtle lingering flavor that reminded him of chicken livers.

That said, if you’re like me you probably don’t order chicken livers when you see them on a menu.  So just know that I’m not telling you to go to your butcher shop and buy duck.  What I am telling you that if you happen to have some on hand (either from a hunting husband or friend) here’s a great way to cook it up!  Nothing’s too big a challenge. :)

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