Duck burgers are a great thing to make when you have skinless duck breasts lying around — a common occurrence for duck hunters, or people who raise birds. Here’s how I like to make them.
I open with the skinless duck breast comment because I can’t in good conscience tell you to pull the skin off a duck breast to make duck burgers. I find that to be a sin. But if you want to, go for it. At least then render the duck fat, and then consider making chicharron en salsa verde with the cracklins.
This is your best bet if you don’t hunt, by the way. I’ve never seen skinless duck breasts sold in stores.
But hunters get lots of them. I accumulate skinless duck breasts from “off” ducks like spoonies, sea ducks and some diver ducks, like goldeneyes, as well as from better-tasting ducks that have suffered hematoma between the skin and meat, making them not fun to eat with the skin on.
And obviously to make duck burgers you are going to need to grind your own duck meat, because again, so far as I know, no one sells ground duck burger.
I grind mine with about 15 percent pork fat by weight; that makes nice duck burgers. You can go as low as 10 percent or as high as 25 percent, and you can use bacon ends or beef fat, too.
You can’t really use duck fat, however, because it is too unsaturated: It will melt out of your burger patties as they cook, leaving the pan greasy and your duck burgers dry.
Once ground, you can freeze your duck burger for a year or so, if it’s vacuum sealed. Some people I know pre-make patties with a burger cutter. I don’t, because I am as likely to make Mexican chorizo with the ground duck as anything else.
Cooking Duck Burgers
Ground duck is wetter and stickier than ground beef, so I do not recommend that you add anything to the mixture, or else the patties will have a soggy mouthfeel. Gross.
I also recommend that you grind your duck fine, like a 4.5 mm die or thereabouts, because it will hold together better, and make a better smash burger, which is what I like to do with my duck burgers.
To do that, you heat pan over high heat, then add a little duck fat, or oil. Salt the duck burger right before it hits the pan. Lay a patty down in the pan and use a bacon press or other, smaller pan, to press the patty to about the width of your finger, so about 3/4 of an inch.
Let this sear for 30 seconds, then slide the weight off. Cook for another minute or so, then flip.
Your burgers will need another 90 seconds to 3 minutes on this side, depending on how well done you like them, so this is the moment to top your duck burgers with things like caramelized onions, or roasted green chiles, or something like that, then a slab of cheese.
If you do the cheese, you will want to cover the pan so it melts.
Obviously these are entirely up to you. But I designed these duck burgers and their accompaniments to play well with each other.
First are some bitter greens, like a “mesclun” salad mix, watercress, dandelion greens or something like that. This is a rich burger so you want that contrast.
As for the cheese, I like horseradish cheddar because it adds a zippy note. Monterey jack or provolone or Swiss are all fine choices.
Finally, I made a parsley-duck fat aioli to go with the burgers. Fancy, eh? It is, sorta, but you can make it in a minute or two if you have a blender.
Oh, and those homemade French fries in the picture? Yeah, I fried them in duck fat.
- 2 tablespoons duck fat or butter
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced
- 6 slices horseradish cheddar
- 1 cup salad greens, or lettuce leaves (optional)
OPTIONAL DUCK FAT AIOLI
- Juice and zest of a lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup melted duck fat
- 2 pounds ground duck burger (see above for grinding instructions)
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons duck fat or vegetable oil
- 6 burger buns
- Start by caramelizing the onions, which takes time. Sear the onions in the duck fat, tossing to coat, for a couple minutes, then lower the heat to medium-low and let them cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. You may need to cover the pan to prevent the onions from sticking and burning. This step can be done a day or two in advance.
- While the onions are cooking, made the aioli if you want. Put everything in the blender except for the melted duck fat. Buzz to combine, then, with the motor running at medium, drizzle in the melted duck fat. Puree until combined. It should look like a loose mayonnaise. Put this in the fridge to chill. This step can also be done up to 2 days in advance.
- Turn your oven to 250°F and set a cooling rack over a baking sheet inside. This is for your burgers.
- When you are ready to cook your burgers, make patties about 1/3 pound each. Heat a large pan over high heat, and when it's hot, add the duck fat or oil. When that fat is hot, salt your patties. Put one in the pan, then use a bacon press to squish the patty to the width of about 3/4 inch. Keep the press on the meat for 30 seconds, the slide it off.
- Keep cooking the duck burger for another minute to 90 seconds, then flip. My advice is to use a metal spatula to scrape the patty off the pan, because it can stick a little and you want all the yummy brown bits on the patty.
- Once flipped, top with some caramelized onions, and a slice of cheese, if you want. If you use cheese, cover the pan so it melts. Give the burgers between 1 and 3 minutes more cook time, then move the patty to the cooling rack in the oven. Repeat with the remaining patties. Most pans can do 2 burgers at a time.
- If you want, when your patties are all done, toast your burger buns in the remaining fat in the pan, adding more if needed, until pretty and browned, which should only take maybe a minute. Build your burgers, top with the greens and the aioli, and serve.
Keys to Success
- Assuming you are grinding your own duck breast, grind it fine. This makes a better smash burger.
- The duck fat aioli is great, but not 100% necessary. Make it if you have the ingredients, but if not, sriracha mayo or something similar is a good alternative.
- Roasted, chopped green chiles are a fantastic alternative to the caramelized onions.
- Eat these burgers quickly after making them because they are juicy and will soak the buns if you wait too long.