Sautéed Duck Breasts with Apricot Szechuan Peppercorn Sauce

photo by Jessica Liebowitz

It’s much quicker to sauté duck breasts than to roast a whole duck, which is how you can manage to have duck for dinner on a weeknight.  Whether or not you eat the skin, be sure to cook the breasts with the skin on.  They’ll turn out much juicier that way.  (Although my family would say you’re nuts not to eat the skin, I have to note that duck meat without skin it is as lean as white meat turkey.)  

Makes 4 servings
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total preparation time: 25 minutes

1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns (available at some supermarkets and on the internet from Penzeys or The Spice House)
4 Pekin duck breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
1/3 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and toast them, stirring continuously, 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.

Score the skin on each duck breast half in a crisscross pattern. Season the breast halves on all sides with salt and black pepper and place them, skin-side down, in the same hot skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook about 10 minutes 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. (See “How to Cook Duck Breasts” video).

When the duck skin is crisp, remove the duck to a plate, pour off almost all the fat from the pan and reserve it for another use (such as sautéing potatoes). Return the duck to the skillet meat-side down and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes for medium rare. Remove the duck to a clean plate, skin side up, cover it loosely with aluminum foil and set it aside 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the preserves, vinegar, and reserved crushed Szechuan peppercorns in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the preserves have melted; remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil, any duck juices from the duck plate, and salt to taste.

To serve, slice the duck at an angle 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.





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