11 December 2011

Magret de canard

A duck breast filet is what we at with our potatoes cooked in chicken broth the other day. We're lucky to be able to buy affordable duck legs and breast filets here in Saint-Aignan. This particular piece of lean duck cost me 11.50 euros/kilo, which is about 5.25 euros/pound. It weighed about three-quarters of a pound (360 grams).

A pan-roasted duck breast filet, with a spicy rub

I call this a magret de canard, but on the package it was labeled as a filet de canard. The word magret comes from the same root as the French word maigre, meaning lean instead of fat. Officially, I've read, the term magret applies only to the breast meat of a fattened duck — un canard gras — that has been raised and force-fed to produce foie gras. The word filet is used for the breast meat of other ducks.

Score the skin side deeply before applying the spice rub...

...to both sides of the filet.

Whatever the word, the duck breast is delicious meat. It's more like a nice piece of beefsteak that it is like chicken, turkey, or even guinea fowl. The meat is red and you eat it cooked fairly rare rather than well done like other poultry. The best way to cook it is broiling, grilling, or pan-roasting, and it cooks pretty fast.

Start cooking the duck filet in a hot pan
with the skin side down.

Before cooking the duck filet, it's a good idea to score the skin side of the meat deeply in a cross-hatch pattern, using a good sharp knife. If you don't score the fatty skin, the breast filet will curl up as it cooks. And you don't want to remove the fat, because that's where much of the flavor is. Don't add any fat to the pan if you are pan-grilling the breast — just start it cooking skin-side down and it will make its own cooking fat.

Here's the pan-roasted duck breast after
it has rested for 20 minutes.

You don't have to marinate duck breast before cooking it, but I like to apply a dry spice rub. The spices and herbs I used this time were dried thyme, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, black pepper, and allspice (Jamaican pepper). I rubbed both sides of the meat with the spices and let it rest for an hour or two before I cooked it.

Serve it rare or medium-rare so that it doesn't get tough.

The cooking doesn't take long at all. The important thing is to sear the meat on both sides and then let it rest for a while so that the heat can distribute itself through the lean center. This time, I set the skillet in a medium hot oven, turned off, with the door ajar, for about 20 minutes after searing the duck on top of the stove. Another way to let the meat rest is to transfer it to a hot serving dish, covering it with aluminum foil and a kitchen towel to hold in the residual heat.

Pan-roasted duck breast with a generous portion of
potatoes « boulangère » and some green garden peas.

You can see that the duck breast meat really is red, and it is served rare or medium-rare — in French, it's rosé. Again, it's more like eating beef than poultry. The duck fat and the spice rub give it a fine, rich taste. It's good with the pommes boulangère, and since we had some leftover green peas, we had some of those with it too.

Duck breast is much more expensive than duck leg & thigh sections — the last of those that I bought were only 2.90 euros/kilo, or 1.32 euros/lb. — but the texture of the meat and the appropriate cooking method are totally different. It's like having two entirely different kinds of meat, in fact. Both are excellent.


  1. So far, Duck breast is my favorite meal here in France, something that we did not make back in Canada.

    The spice rub must give it a nice kick?

  2. I cooked duck yesterday for an early Christmas for my daughter visiting from Sydney. I thought mine looked good...but Ken, you win!

  3. Salivating I am - that is until Sue cooks this, just because you did.

  4. Looks beautiful Ken. Duck is still quite hard to come by in Australia and expensive. For a maryland piece I pay about $AU19 per kilo, and for a breast fillet up to $AU31. So, although we both love eating it, it is a rarity on our table.

  5. Interesting Sue. We have no idea what a "maryland piece" is. Leg & thigh? Do you know the origin of the term?

  6. I agree that duck breast in France is like eating steak. Lewis and I had some one night in Paris- it was not cheap, but worth it!

    I'm trying the potatoes boulangere soon. BTW the back story on the cooking of potatoes in the communal bread oven was interesting and new to me.

  7. Wow, that whole meal looks really, really, REALLY good!

  8. Ken,

    Gloria and I have magret about once a week during the summer. We almost always grill it on our Weber grill, but I have to take most of the fat off because otherwise it will flame up far too much. And my wife has to have a pretty bland diet so the spice rub would not work for her. Still, I'll look for a milder version, because we do need a bit more oomph. Of course we get great duck in the Dordogne where we live. Thanks as always.

    Dennis Martin

  9. Nice dinner, your plate would sell me! Duck hasn't been on the menu for quite a while for me.

    Mary in Oregon

  10. that is a beautiful meal! great work

  11. You're right Ken, maryland refers to leg and thigh. I didn't realise it was an Australian term.(or maybe English)
    I have no idea where it comes from, but will do some research and see if I can find out.

  12. Hello Dennis, we have a little electric grill that we cook on when the weather is good. No flame-ups with that one. I'm sure you're right about cooking a duck breast skin-side down on a charcoal grill.

    Hi Evelyn, yes, friends of ours live across the street from their town's community oven. I don't think it's used any more, of course. It's like our community well here in our "hamlet" — nobody uses that any more either.

    Everybody, the duck really was good. Try it if you can...


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