Java-Rubbed Duck Breasts

Seared waterfowl seasoned with coffee is brimming with flavor

By Scott Leysath – thesportingchef.com

I'm not much of a coffee drinker. While my duck blind partners are finishing off their last cup of java, I'm drinking water. I do, however, like the smoky flavor that coffee imparts to seared meat, and especially to a big, fat mallard in a cast-iron skillet. Most folks will be surprised to discover just how good pan-seared duck tastes after a nice rub of ground coffee, salt, pepper, brown sugar, and a few other seasonings.

Coffee imparts more than just robust flavor to the outside of any piece of meat. It also creates a dark, crispy crust when cooked over high heat. This crust adds an extra dimension to a well-prepared duck or goose, making it moist, tender, and delicious on the inside and crispy on the outside.

There's no need to fuss with a sauce to serve alongside this dish. Simply deglaze the pan with a splash of freshly brewed coffee or beef broth after the duck has been set aside to rest a few minutes. Deglazing the pan with liquid will loosen any of the bits that stuck to it while cooking. It's a good time to add a minced garlic clove, some fresh herbs, and perhaps a pinch or two of the rub. Give it a stir and reduce the liquid to just a tablespoon or two before removing the pan from the range and whisking in a few tablespoons of butter. Drizzle a ribbon of the pan sauce over the duck.

The coffee rub works best with ducks that are plucked rather than skinned. The fatter the duck, the better the end result. A large puddle duck with a good layer of rendered fat will balance the slightly bitter taste of the coffee. The rub also has just enough brown sugar to give the cooked duck a sweet edge. If spicy heat is your thing, add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper for a crispy duck that is sweet, spicy, and earthy.

Using freshly ground coffee will give you a more aromatic rub. This recipe makes about 1 cup of dry rub, but you can prepare extra if you like by doubling or tripling the ingredients. The leftover rub can be stored in the refrigerator for a few months.

Ingredients

  • 6 to 8 ducks, split in half with backbone removed
  • 1/3 cup ground coffee
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

Directions

Step 1
Combine the dry-rub ingredients.

Step 2
Brush both sides of the skin-on duck breasts with olive oil. Rub a liberal coating of the dry rub onto the ducks. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Step 3
Heat a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in the skillet and cook for 4 to 7 minutes, depending on the size of the birds. Once the skin is crispy, flip the ducks over and cook the other side until done.

Step 4
Remove the ducks from the pan and allow them to rest for a few minutes before serving.