Sautéed Duck Breasts with Apricot-Szechuan Peppercorn Sauce


The Harvest Restaurant, in Cambridge Mass where I learned how to make this sauce from the then chef Laura Boehmer in the late 70’s.

Makes 4 Servings
Hands-On Time: 15 Minutes
Total Preparation Time: 25 Minutes

Suggested accompaniments:
Parsnip puree (recipe below)
Pea shoots tossed lightly with olive oil and fresh lemon juice

1 t Szechuan peppercorns
4 Pekin duck breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c apricot preserves
2 T distilled white vinegar
1/4 t toasted sesame oil

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and toast them, stirring continuously, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are fragrant. Transfer them to a small cup and let them cool, then crush them with a spoon and set them aside.
2. Score the skin on each duck breast half in a crisscross pattern. Season the breast halves on all sides with salt and black pepper to taste and place them, skin side down, in the same hot skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the skin looks very crispy. Do not remove the fat as you go; the liquid fat in the pan helps to render out the fat in the skin.
3. When the duck skin is crisp, remove the duck to a plate, pour off almost all the fat from the pan, and reserve the fat for another use (such as sautéing potatoes). Return the duck to the skillet, meat side down, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more for medium-rare. Remove the duck to a clean plate, skin side up, cover it loosely with aluminum foil and set it aside for 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the preserves, vinegar, and crushed Szechuan peppercorns in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the preserves have melted; remove the pan from the heart and stir in the sesame oil, any duck juices from the plate, and salt to taste.
5. To serve, slice the duck diagonally into 1/4 -inch-thick slices and arrange on 4 serving plates. Stir any juices from carving the duck into the sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving of duck.

Sauteed DuckCook’s Notes
Where can you buy duck breasts? Many supermarkets are beginning to carry duck breasts and I can order local duck from my internet grocery service here in New York City: Fresh Direct. But you can also find both Pekin and Moularde on the web at D’Artagnan: www.dartagnan.com

We bought Szechuan peppercorns at Fairway Market in Stanford Ct (and there are several other Fairway Markets in the New York area) but you can also order them online from Kalustyan’s: www.kalustyans.com

Sauteed Duck Breasts with Apricot-Szechuan Peppercorn Sauce

One of my favorite new gadgets is the Oxo “mini angled measuring cup”
You can measure liquid tablespoons in a little plastic cup, up to 4 tablespoons. This is an especially useful tool when you are adding oil to a salad dressing and you don’t want to measure and add one tablespoon at a time using a tablespoon measure. You can find these little measuring cups on line or at many cookware shops.

Here is a recipe for the side dish I served with the duck:

Parsnip Puree
Makes about 3 cups, serving 4

2 pounds medium parsnips, peeled and sliced ½ -inch thick
Kosher salt to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the parsnips in a large saucepan and pour in enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and add a hefty pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium high and simmer until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Set the parsnips aside and return the liquid to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil rapidly until reduced to ¾ cup. Return the parsnips to the pan and add the butter. Working in batches, empty the contents of the saucepan into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve anywhere you would have put mashed potatoes.

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2 Responses to Sautéed Duck Breasts with Apricot-Szechuan Peppercorn Sauce

  1. Susan Campbell says:

    Sara, I love you & have been a fan ever since the 90’s when you used to cook with viewers on the phone and you’re just as much fun now!
    Here’s my problem. Yesterday I watched your 5-Ingredient dinner episode during which you made a fried chicken dish (with butter & fresh bread crumbs) but on your website that episode shows duck instead. I really want to make that chicken alongside the creamed corn & mustard greens you also made in that show. Could you please send me the recipe? Thanks so much & Happy New year to you ‍

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