Seared duck breast and Boston red-leaf salad with duck fat vinaigrette

If you've ever watched Chopped or Top Chef or any of those chef-driven cooking shows, you know that duck causes problems. It's typically because someone tried to cook the duck too quickly and at a temperature that was too high and the delicious layer of fat was done poorly. It was under-rendered; it was rubbery; and, worst of all, it wasn't crispy. (For feelings on crispy chicken skin, click here.)

I have a fool-proof method though, inspired by a chef who made me a much better cook and possibly a better person. Via the following method, the duck fat ends up tasting like duck fat bacon, and you end with a perfect medium- rare duck. And you don't really have to do too much, if that's what you're worried about.

The duck itself requires two ingredients: kosher salt and a duck breast. This whole recipe requires four ingredients: duck, Boston red-leaf lettuce, kosher salt and balsamic vinegar. I really like to dress lettuce with a drizzle of duck fat vinaigrette - so, sue me. I know it sounds a little weird, but I promise you'll enjoy it if you like duck. The sweet balsamic enhances the gamey, salty duck.

This serves two people. Other delightful sides if you need to go beyond the salad are as follows: potato hash, macaroni and cheese, roasted carrots and ratatouille.

What you need

Duck breast

1 3/4-pound duck breast (D'Artagnan brand is typically what you'll find)

2 tsp kosher salt

Red-leaf salad with duck fat vinaigrette

1 small head Boston red-leaf lettuce

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp duck fat, reserved from cooking the duck

How to do it

Duck breast

Before turning on the heat, place a medium-sized saute pan over your burner and scatter kosher salt over the base of the pan. Place duck skin-side down into the cool pan.

Turn the burner to low heat (Like a 2 out 10 type of low heat if you have electric burners).

Sear the duck over low heat for 25-minutes – do not move or adjust the duck breast, except to tilt out and collect the duck fat, holding the duck breast firmly in place with tongs, in a small bowl every 5 minutes or so.

After 25 minutes, grab a pair of tongs.  Flip the duck breast with the tongs and allow the duck to sear for 1 minute. Turn the duck breast to one of its sides and allow the duck to sear for one minute; repeat on the opposite side of the duck. Kiss both the short ends to the heat of the pan so that they gain some color.

Remove the duck from the pan and place skin-side up on a cutting board. Allow the duck to rest for at least 5 minutes; in this time, make the salad below.

Using a large slicing knife, cut the duck into 1/4-inch slices and marvel at the beautiful fat cap you've rendered. Serve alongside the salad below.

The crispy skin of the duck fat will never be the same after it's been first cooked, but the duck makes for great leftovers simply reheat, mixed into pasta, in a taco or as a breakfast meat.

Red-leaf salad with duck fat vinaigrette

After washing leaves, chop or tear salad leaves to desired size and set aside.

Measure out balsamic vinegar in a small mixing bowl. Add reserved duck fat and whisk vigorously until incorporated into the balsamic vinegar. 

Pour vinaigrette over lettuce leaves and toss. Serve immediately alongside slices of seared duck.

Extra reserved duck fat can be made into more vinaigrette; keep in mind that animal fats are only liquid when at room temperature or when warm. The duck fat vinaigrette keeps in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks.