Adapted from the Le Creuset cookbook (pronounced l’uh • cru • say)
A few notes:
This summer I invested in a good instant-read thermometer: a Thermapen. I can’t recommend this tool enough. Duck breasts in particular have been a challenge for me to cook — so many times I’ve pulled them from the heat, let them rest, only to cut into them to find flesh too rare or way overcooked. What is hard about cooking meat like steaks or duck breast is that when you get that good sear, it’s misleading — the meat may feel firm to the touch, but you might only be feeling your nice sear … what lies beneath is a guess. The Thermapen takes the guesswork out.
I do not use the star anise, because the first time I made this, I didn’t have any on hand, and I absolutely loved the flavor of the sauce as it was, so I’ve since omitted it. I imagine a single star anise would impart a very nice, subtle spice to the sauce, so absolutely use it if you have one on hand.
Finally, if you have a hard time finding duck, D’artagnan is a great source. I’ve sampled all of the duck varieties they sell. The Muscovy is the tastiest. It’s pricey, but if you think about what it costs to eat duck breast out at a restaurant, it’s not so bad.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup Banylus vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup Banylus fortified wine or ruby port
- 1 star anise pod, optional
- 4 boneless duck breast halves with skin
- kosher salt to taste
- fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 1.5 cups halved red seedless grapes
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or a few sprigs if you are lazy)
- 1 cup loosely packed mâche or watercress leaves, optional
For the gastrique:
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the sugar and water, swirling gently until the sugar dissolves and the mixture turns a pale golden color, 8 to 10 minutes. Lift the pan from the heat and pour in the vinegar. The caramel will bubble vigorously and possibly seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and cook until the caramel is melted and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and star anise, if using. Simmer until the liquid reduces to thin syrup, about 10 minutes. Discard the star anise. Keep the gastrique warm over very low heat until ready to use.
For the duck breasts:
- Blot the duck breasts dry. Use a sharp knife to score the fat of each in a diamond pattern, taking care not to cut into the meat. Season both sides of each breast generously with salt and pepper, then place them skin side down in a large, cold skillet. Place the skillet over low heat and cook for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, and continue cooking until the duck begins to sizzle. Continue cooking undisturbed until the skin is browned, crisp, and has rendered most of its fat, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Heat oven to 350ºF.
- Spoon off and reserve the fat from the skillet. Flip over the breasts and transfer the skillet to the oven. Alternatively, flip the breast and cook stovetop until the breast registers 125ºF-130ºF. I prefer finishing the breasts stovetop as I feel I have more control/vision on when the breasts look done, at which point I test with my instant-read thermometer. For me it’s been about 2 minutes on the second side. If you place pan in oven, roast for 2 to 4 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 125ºF-135ºF — Note: I find 125ºF-130ºF to be about right for medium rare. Transfer breasts to a plate to rest.
- Add the grapes to the skillet and toss with the thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the grapes are hot and wrinkled in spots, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Transfer breasts to plate, spoon grapes over top. Spoon sauce over top. Top with a small handful of mâche, if using, and serve immediately.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: stovetop
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: duck, breast, gastrique, pan-seared, Le Creuset, grapes, thyme, Port, gastrique