Duck with Raspberries: Festive, elegant and easy for the holidays

by Terry B on December 17, 2008

Duck breasts, fresh raspberries and demi-glace add a luxe touch to intimate holiday dinners with little effort. Duck with Raspberries recipe below.

Last week was all about taking humble ingredients and dressing them upbraising short ribs in wine and serving them atop puréed cauliflower. This week, I’m starting with fancypants ingredients to make a simple, elegant main course perfect for an intimate dinner for friends over the holidays.

December is rife with occasions for food. At one end are the big holiday dinners with their attendant traditional dishes. At the other are cocktail parties with finger foods that run the gamut, from elegant little appetizers to chips still in their ripped open bags. In the middle are nice little dinner parties, sometimes with just another couple, a chance to take advantage of time off and catch up with friends we don’t see enough.

Duck is perfect for just such occasions. It’s splurgy enough to feel like a celebration, and in this dish, simple enough to pull together without spending the day in the kitchen. Duck breasts can be cooked quickly, and the sturdy flesh carves easily without shredding for beautiful presentation. The flavor is richer, meatier and more intense than chicken. While considered “white meat,” duck breasts are darker than chicken or turkey. According to the USDA, it’s because they are birds of flight, and “more oxygen is needed by muscles doing work, and the oxygen is delivered to those muscles by the red cells in the blood.”

Ducks are also notoriously fatty, particularly in the skin. This increases their bouyancy when swimming and insulates them against cold water and weather. It also makes them delicious. As I began casting about for ideas for cooking duck, I came across one recipe that began “Take duck and remove all skin and fat.” Um, no. But you do need to remove some of the fat as the duck cooks. Doing so is easy; the recipe will explain.

If you’re going to cook duck—especially for the first time, like me with this dish—duck breasts are a great way to start. They’re sold fresh or frozen, already halved or whole and typically with skin but no bones. And they cook at a uniform rate, no covering the breast while waiting for thighs to catch up [or is it the other way around?]. Perfect. I found fresh duck breasts at Treasure Island, prepackaged four breast halves to the pack. Next you’re wondering what kind of duck they were, I’m betting. Me too. The package didn’t say, and I didn’t think to ask. According to one source, most ducks and duck breasts sold in supermarkets are Pekin, or Long Island ducks [which now, interestingly, mostly come from Indiana]. According to The City Cook, it might also be Moulard, “a cross between a female Long Island/Pekin duck and a male Muscovy duck.” It goes on to say, “You can also buy Muscovy duck breasts which are larger and about 40% leaner than Pekin or Moulard ducks, but they also cost more and are scarcer to find.”

You’ll also come across the term magret when you start looking for duck recipes. This is one of those words like champagne. In France, magret refers specifically to the breast of a Moulard duck that has been fattened to produce foie gras. Elsewhere, it simply means duck breast.

Because of duck’s inherent richness, many recipes call for a sauce with some tartness to it. The raspberry sauce in this dish adds just the right brightness—and its gorgeous red color adds a festive visual note to the plate.

Duck with Raspberries [Canard aux Framboises]
Serves 4

4 boneless duck breast halves with skin [about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds]
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon raspberry vinegar [I used raspberry balsamic vinegar]
1/2 cup demi-glace [or substitute—see Kitchen Notes]
1-1/2 cups fresh raspberries, divided
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Pat duck dry and trim off any excess fat. Score skin in a crosshatch pattern at 1/2-inch intervals with a sharp knife; this will allow duck fat to escape as the breasts cook. Season with salt and black pepper on both sides, but don’t go overboard; the demi-glace will add a fair amount of saltiness. Heat a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan over medium-low heat. Place duck breasts, skin side down, in the hot, dry skillet. No oil or other fat is needed—the duck will produce plenty. Cook the breast until the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer breasts to plate and pour off the fat from the pan, reserving 1 tablespoon [actually, save it all—what you don’t use in the sauce can be used for making delicious roasted potatoes]. Return duck breasts to the pan, skin side up, and place in the hot oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted diagonally into center registers 125°F for medium rare [unlike chicken, this is perfectly safe—and delicious]. Remove from the oven. Transfer breasts to cutting board, tent with foil and allow to rest.

NOTE: Place a towel or potholder over the handle of the pan—it will be hot, he said from experience.

While duck rests, add 1 tablespoon reserved duck fat to the sauté pan, then add shallots and garlic and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and cook, stirring, until dissolved—a minute or so. Stir in vinegar, scraping up brown bits. Add demi-glace and bring to a simmer. Stir in half of raspberries.

Force sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a small saucepan, discarding solids. Over low heat, swirl in butter. Remove from heat and add remaining raspberries.

Slice duck breasts, fan on individual plates and top with sauce. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Demi-glace. First, what is it? As Reluctant Gourmet so eloquently puts it, it’s “the reason professional chefs can serve you an incredible rich, velvety brown sauce in your favorite restaurant.” Specifically, it is a mix of veal or beef stock espagnole sauce and madeira or wine reduced to a thick consistency. Producing it takes hours or even days, letting it just simmer on a back burner in a stock pot.

Happily, commercial concentrates are available for home cooks; with a little hot water and a few minutes on the stove, you have a thick, intensely flavored liquid that will add a beautiful sheen and rich flavor to your sauce when added near the end of the cooking process. One kind we like is More Than Gourmet’s Demi-Glace Gold. It’s available in many supermarkets and comes in 1.5-ounce containers of concentrate that produce a cup of classic demi-glace.

Demi-glace substitute. If you can’t find concentrate and don’t feel like cooking veal bones for hours, you can use good quality beef stock or broth [preferably home made] and reduce it by half to intensify the taste. It won’t deliver the silkiness of true demi-glace, but the butter stirred in at the end of making the sauce for this recipe will help in that regard.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Toni December 17, 2008 at 5:09 pm

I absolutely adore duck, but have never actually cooked it. (She said with red face…) I’ve always thought of it with either oranges or cherries, but raspberries are a wonderfully innovative substitution.

Donald December 17, 2008 at 7:23 pm

We try to have duck in form or another several times a month. I roasted one a while back and got almost 13 ouces of fat from it for use with my fingerlings.

Nice combination here Terry.

Susan from Food Blogga December 18, 2008 at 1:00 am

Duck is brother’s favorite dinner, and my mom makes him some every year for his b-day. I’m going to pass along your recipe and kitchen notes to her. Thanks, Terry!

diva December 18, 2008 at 8:42 am

yes, duck is fatty but so damn delicious and i think it owes it all to the fat :) lovely dish terry. i’m amazed by the photo and just blown away by the combination with raspberry. definitely a great dish!

Carolyn December 18, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Terry, your photographic artistry always is in evidence on this blog, but this week, you rock! I could make a screensaver out of your endive salad — but then, how much work would I get done?

Fearless Kitchen December 18, 2008 at 3:07 pm

This looks beautiful. I’m not sure why duck pairs so well with fruit, but it does.

Terry B December 18, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Toni—Well, as I said, this was my first time cooking duck, although Marion has made duck on numerous occasions. Most notably, I think, when we were visiting a friend living in a little ’50s trailer [all curved blond veneer inside—kind of like being inside an old floor model radio] on the shores of Lake Superior. With duck breasts, cooking proved to be really straightforward. Give it a shot—I know I’ll be doing so again.

Donald—Duck several times a month? Can we move in with you?

Susan—Your brother is wise, and your mother is a sweetheart.

Awwww. Thanks, diva!

Yes, Carolyn, but your screen would be licked clean.

Fearless Kitchen—I think it’s the richness of duck that plays well with fruit. Somewhere I heard it compared to roast pork [and I can kind of see that], and pork works wonderfully with fruit flavors.

Marissa December 18, 2008 at 6:57 pm

this looks absolutely delicious. I love duck so much maybe I’ll actually try making it myself if I find some in the market

Sam December 18, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Carolyn is right. You have a real eye for food photography. You should consider joining one of the food photography groups on flickr to get more eyeballs on it!

Kevin December 20, 2008 at 7:11 pm

That looks so good! I have been wanting to try cooking duck for a while Unfortunately I have not been able to find any demi glace to try.

altadenahiker December 20, 2008 at 8:27 pm

To thine own self be true — I would never attempt duck. Too difficult, and I like the little comical creatures. However, I will try my hand at one of the delicacies below. Merry Christmas Blue Hat, I’m glad some wind blew me to your blog several months ago.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet December 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Terry, this might sound strange to you, but I’ve never tried duck. If you have to compare its taste to something, what would you say it most tastes like? I have to admit your technique for cooking is tempting me to try it myself if I don’t end of burning up my kitchen in the process! I burned some bread the other day! LOL

Terry B December 21, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Marissa—Hope you’re successful in finding some duck!

Sam—Thanks! The Flickr thing is a great idea [and now you’ve made my to-do list even longer].

Kevin—If you can’t find demi-glace, just reduce some good beef stock; swirling in the butter at the end will add some of the silky sheen that demi-glace does.

altadenahiker—And I’m glad you turned up at my door, whether or not you eat duck. Your blog has been an entertaining find; Marion and I both love it.

Kim—Do give it a try. Duck is kind of a meatier, richer take on chicken or turkey. As I mentioned to Fearless Kitchen, you could even kind of compare it to roast pork. If you’re concerned about it being gamy, it’s really not.

altadenahiker December 22, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Terry and Marion, we need your expertise on my blog. We’re playing with an unusual Christmas choice here…

George Erdosh December 26, 2008 at 12:03 am

This looks absolutely great. I must admit, I rarely cook duck and I don’t know the reason. Too much fat? But your recipe is going to serve me as inspiration. I’ll be at the market tomorrow…

Check out my latest (Nov/08):

Tried and True Recipes from a Caterer’s Kitchen—Secrets of Making Great Foods

Terry B December 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm

altadenahiker—Did you really find and cook yak meat?!?

George—Do give duck a shot. It’s delicious! And much of the fat cooks off, just leaving its deliciousness behind.

Martha December 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm

I made your recipe last night. It was featured in a gojee email. It was really good and your instructions were right on point. The picture is really nice and is what intrigued me to try it.

Terry B December 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Martha, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! We love duck and are always looking for ways to cook with it.

GALE HOLLEMAN January 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm

My daughters boyfriend is a hunter and gets duck to eat- can you makle receipe with wild duck?

GALE HOLLEMAN January 20, 2012 at 11:02 pm

My daughter’s boy friend is a hunter- Can you use wild duck in recipe?

Terry B January 21, 2012 at 12:17 am

Gale, I’m sure wild duck would be delicious with this recipe. And you’re lucky to have a source for it!

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