Say hello to one of my favorite French dishes.
I know it’s Thanksgiving and another piece of poultry is the last thing you want to think about, but this is special. This beautiful rosy piece of poultry is magret de canard, or duck breast. Traditionally, magret de canard is the breast from a duck raised for its liver, or foie gras, and it’s usually cooked like a steak — seared, finished with a few minutes in the oven, and served medium-rare. Making this recipe also leaves you with several big spoonfuls of sublime, thyme-and-orange scented duck fat to do with what you like.
It’s an impressive date-night dish, something that so terribly French but so very easy. I serve it with roasted veggies and sometimes mashed potatoes, but the bistro down the street serves theirs with fried plantains and a lightly dressed salad, and that is also heavenly.
Magret de Canard
Makes 1 huge or 2 smallish servings.
1 large magret de canard (fatty duck breast)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons honey
5-6 2-inch fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 cup orange juice
Using a sharp knife, score the layer of fat on the top of the margret de canard diagonally, making cuts spaced about an inch apart. You want to cut about halfway through the fat, not all the way down to the meat. Then, score in the other direction, making a hashmark pattern in the fat. This will help the marinade get into the meat, and will also help the fat contract evenly when you sear the breast.
Rub the salt all over the magret, then smear with the honey and give the thyme sprigs a good rub and stick them evenly all over the breast. Place this in a zip-top bag and pour in the orange juice. Press out as much air as you can from the bag and place it in a tupperware large enough for the magret to lay flat, and marinade for at least 8 hours (up to 48 hours).
When you’re ready to cook, heat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Remove the magret from the marinade, unsticking any thyme sprigs that stick to it, and pat completely dry with paper towels. Place the duck breast fat side-down onto a cold cast iron skillet or other heavy, oven-proof skillet. Turn the heat to medium-low and let the fat render from the duck breast for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat up to medium and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until much of the fat has rendered and the hashmarks on the fat side of the duck breast have contracted into a crispy brown diamond pattern. Drain the fat from the pan and reserve for another use. Flip the magret and place it, skillet and all, into the oven for about 5 minutes, until medium-rare (about 130°F on a digital thermometer, but I always just poke it to check).
Remove the magret to a cutting board and let it rest for 8-10 minutes. Slice thinly and serve.
If you like, you can pour the marinade into a small saucepan and simmer it for a few minutes, letting it reduce to about half its volume, and use it as a sauce.
Don’t you dare waste that duck fat. Wasting duck fat is kitchen sacrilege. Pour it into a jar and keep it in the fridge for use in things like duck fat popcorn or duck fat breakfast potatoes. Or stir it into mashed potatoes. If you’re really industrious, keep saving the fat until you have enough to make confit de canard.