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Duck Breast with Apples

duck breast with apples recipe

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

This is a dish I call “Ducks in the Orchard” that invented for the Duck Off, a friendly cooking competition I had with the head chef at Sacramento’s Grange restaurant, Michael Tuohy. I wanted to combine duck and apples — a classic combination — in a new way, and I wanted to serve the judges some duck breast, which I thought they’d want; after all, breasts are the most accessible part of the bird.

I call it “Ducks in the Orchard” because ducks eat apples when they can find them, and besides, I like naming my dishes…

Duck Breast with Apples

This is a pretty simple preparation that works just fine with domestic duck. Remember, because you slice those apples thin, it only sautes in the duck fat for a few minutes. Don’t overcook or they will get soggy.

I like to serve this as-is on the plate because it’s pretty, but you can serve it alongside wild rice, mashed or roasted potatoes, or even just some good crusty bread. A simple green salad is a good vegetable here.

Serves 4.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

  • 1 1/2 pounds wild duck breast (domestic is fine, too)
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat or butter
  • 2 firm apples, such as Jonagold or Fuji
  • 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar or maple sugar
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup apple cider, hard or sweet
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • Hawaiian red salt or coarse sea salt

  1. Take the duck breasts out of the fridge and salt lightly. Let sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.
  2. Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl of water. Slice the apples into quarter moons of about 1/4 inch thick. Do not peel. Drop each slice into the lemon juice and make sure all sides are coated to avoid browning.
  3. Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the duck fat or butter and swirl to coat the pan. Place the duck breasts skin side down, turn the heat to medium and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until golden brown. Turn over and cook for another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how you like your duck. Remove the duck breasts and tent loosely with foil. Let them rest while you make the sauce.
  4. Spoon off all but about 3 tablespoons of fat. Cook the apples over medium-high heat; do not crowd them. Brown the apples lightly on both sides. When you flip them, sprinkle the brown sugar over everything and swirl to combine while the apples  continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the cider in the pan and put the heat up as high as it will go. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and the cayenne into the pan and boil this furiously until it cooks down by two-thirds.
  5. Slice the duck breast pieces roughly the same width as the apples. To make the dish, make a rosette of alternating duck breast and apple in the center of the plate. Spoon a small amount of the reduced cider on each piece of duck, then one more spoonful in the center of the rosette. Sprinkle with the fresh mint and the Hawaiian red salt. Serve at once.

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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10 responses to “Duck Breast with Apples”

  1. adam howard

    Great recipe, used one of the mallards I shot on sat. I can’t wait for your new book.

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  3. Tim Nelson

    Hank, I gotta thank you for this recipe, as well as the instruction on how to prepare and cook a duck breast. Duck is one of my favorite things to eat, thanks to a few good restaurants here in Providence. I’ve always been afraid to cook it myself, until this past Saturday when I bit the bullet. For an amateur who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, it turned out very well. I over salted the duck a bit, but…who cares! When I carved into the breast and took that first bite I was dancing in the kitchen in triumph! Thank you for all of your work and what you are doing for food. I look forward to trying your squirrel recipes when I finally manage to get some. This was my first year hunting and it was a bust.

  4. Rich

    Prior to pouring the cider into the pan, should the apples be removed or stay in?

  5. Rich

    Thanks, Hank! I made this recipe with a pintail I shot and I thought it was delicious! My wife said the flavor was great but she didn’t like the chewiness of the meat…I went on the rarer side with 4 minutes on the skin side and 2 minutes on the other side. To alleviate that should I cook the breasts longer? Also, would brining the breast help with the texture/gaminess?

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  7. Carol

    I made this tonight for dinner. Wow – it was amazing! Not a bit left over. Only thing I did differently, was I brined the wild duck breasts for 6 hours in a bit of salt, sugar, coriander, mustard seed, black pepper, bay leaves and thyme. Served with wild rice and roasted broccoli. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. Oscar Henriquez

    I just cooked the first wood duck I’ve ever harvested with this recipe and it was outstanding. My wife is raving about it. Now we both would like to know if it would work with Canada goose, which we get a lot of up here. Thank you for a great website!

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