Seared Duck Breasts with a Cumberland Pan Sauce

Duck with Cumberland Sauce

I’ve thought a lot about what I would like my last meal to be.  I’m 99% sure that it would be a bowl of noodles topped with my mom’s spaghetti sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.   It’s simple food, but every bite is rich in memories and with a belly full of it, I’m pretty sure I could die happy.  But for all my certainty, I have a little nagging voice that says, “what about duck?”

Seared Duck Breast

You see, when it comes to duck, I’m head over heels for it. When out to eat, duck confit, seared breasts, or even duck pâté will all suit this hungry diner just fine.  At home, I’m equally indulgent; I braise thighs and legs until they literally fall off the bone and drizzle sauces made from port and cherries, honey and lime, and even sliced kumquats over seared duck breasts.  Not wanting to waste one delicious morsel, I even save the fat for frying potatoes or to use in place of butter in popovers and other savory baked goods.

Cumberland Sauce Ingredients

The recipe below is one of my favorite preparations for duck and has a high chance of being the recipe I’d choose if I went with duck as my last meal.  Cumberland sauce traditionally accompanies venison, but the citrus zest and sweet-sour currant jelly make it well-suited for duck. This dish is ideal for a cold winter day and I love serving the duck breasts with salty, pan-seared brussels sprouts and a celery root and potato puree or a rice pilaf.

Crosshatched and Seasoned Duck Breasts

When cooking duck breasts, be sure to crosshatch the fat (be careful not to cut into the flesh) with a paring knife before cooking.  Crosshatching insures that your breast does not become misshapen during cooking and makes for wonderfully crispy skin.

Seared Duck with Cumberland Sauce

Everyone’s techniques for cooking duck breasts are different.  I like to cook duck breasts skin-side down in a cold pan over moderate heat.   After approximately 10 to 12 minutes, you’ll find that most of the fat has rendered and the skin is crisp and nicely browned. At this point, I simply flip the breast over to cook for another 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees for medium rare. I then allow the duck to rest before slicing it on the bias.  From here, it’s just a matter of reminding yourself to slow down to enjoy this meal as if it were your last.  Happy cooking!


Seared Duck Breasts with Cumberland Sauce – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 4 as a main course

This dish is especially good served atop potato and celery root puree. Cumberland sauce is traditionally served cold with cold venison and other cold cuts. This variation features the ingredients of Cumberland sauce in a pan sauce.

4 (8-ounce) duck breasts
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons cold butter
1 medium shallot, minced
½ cup tawny port
Zest and juice from one orange
Zest from one lemon
2 heaping tablespoons of red currant jelly
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Garnish: Handful of fresh red currants (optional)

Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before cooking to allow them to come to room temperature. Use a sharp knife to score the skins of the duck breasts into a diamond pattern. Cutting the skin in this way helps render the fat and keeps the skin crisp during cooking. Pat each duck breast dry with a paper towel then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Add the butter and the duck breasts, skin side down, to a cold pan. Heat the duck breasts and butter over medium heat for about 10 to 12 minutes to render the fat and crisp the skin. Reduce the heat to medium-low and turn the duck breasts over. Cook for another three to five minutes (cook to an internal temperature of 130 to 135 for medium rare) then transfer the duck breasts to a plate and cover with foil while you prepare the sauce

Remove all but 2 teaspoons of fat from the skillet (duck fat can be saved for other purposes). Add the minced shallot and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute or until softened and golden brown. Add the port and the orange juice and bring to a simmer. Stir in the orange zest, lemon zest, red currant jelly, veal demi-glace, dry mustard, and ground ginger. Continue to stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasoning. Remove the sauce from the heat and toss in the fresh currants if using.

Slice the duck breasts on the bias (this helps make them more tender) and serve immediately drizzled with the Cumberland sauce and a few of the fresh currants (if using).

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