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Holly Heyser


There is something special about a perfectly cooked duck breast fillet—one that’s crisp on the outside and tender in the center—accompanied by a simple sauce. If you are less than ecstatic about the results of your current duck-cooking endeavors, try this easy recipe.

Brining the fillets is one of the keys to this dish. Prior to cooking, soak the fillets in a mild saltwater solution in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Then remove them from the brine, dry them with paper towels, and place them, uncovered, on a rack in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours. The goal is to get the meat as dry as possible before placing it into a hot skillet. Dry meat will brown much more quickly than meat that has just come out of a brine or marinade. Additionally, serving dark-fleshed meats with a light-colored cream sauce can be a bit off-putting when the meat’s red juices mix with the sauce. Brining and air-drying will help prevent this by substantially reducing those juices.

Pan-Seared Duck with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

You can use skinless duck breast fillets for this recipe, but you will be missing out on crispy skin, which adds both flavor and texture. Roasting the garlic mellows out the sharp edges and results in a soft, subtly sweet, and somewhat nutty flavor. Once roasted, the cloves can be removed with your fingers or a small knife. The sauce is a variation of basic Alfredo sauce. For variety, try substituting different cheeses and adding fresh herbs to the sauce. Yields: 4 servings


  • 4 brined duck breast fillets, skin intact
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch salt and white pepper to taste


1. To roast the garlic, remove some of the excess skin from the outside of the garlic bulb, then cut off the top 1/4 inch of the bulb and drizzle a thin coating of olive oil over the cut cloves. Wrap loosely in foil, making sure to seal the top. Place in a preheated 400-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

2. After the duck breast fillets have been brined and air-dried (see description above), make a few shallow cuts across the skin of each fillet and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Then place the fillets, skin side down, in a preheated skillet over medium-low heat. Do not rush this step. The idea is to render the fat from the skin. Once the skin is a shade or two beyond golden brown, increase the heat to medium-high, add a light splash of olive oil to the skillet, flip the fillets over, and cook to desired internal temperature—about 135 degrees for medium rare. Let the cooked fillets rest for at least 5 minutes before serving to allow the internal juices to redistribute. 

3. To prepare the sauce, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into pan and add heavy cream. While stirring,heat until almost boiling, then reduce heat to medium-low and stir in cheese. Keep stirring until cheese is incorporated into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

4. To serve, spoon sauce onto plates and place duck breast fillets on top of the sauce.