I love magret de canard, and let’s get one thing straight. Although a magret is the breast of a duck, it’s not the same as the duck breasts that you can find easily here in the U.S. For one thing most U.S. duck breasts are an entirely different breed of duck. They’re made form White Pekin. That’s these fellows, here:
Magret de Canard is duck breast from the Moulard (Mulard, in French) breed of ducks. The Moulard is a cross between the White Pekin and the Muscovy duck. These ducks generally have streaks of of black and brown feathers amidst white feathers. Check out this photo, here.
On the table, moulards have a deeper, richer, beefier flavor. But note that it’s not just the breed of duck that gives the magret its superior flavor. In France, magret generally refers specifically to the breast of moulard ducks that have been raised on the foie gras plan—that is, force-fed until their livers are obscenely obese. (Many animal-rights activists consider this especially cruel; you have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to eat ducks that have been raised this way. That is not the topic of this posting).
Obviously, ducks fattened in this way will have richness all the way around (not just in their liver). The magret comes with a big layer of fat, which makes it divine for a splurge. If you find yourself anywhere that you can get a hold of one, here’s how to cook it.
Cooking Magret de Canard in a Few Easy Steps
1. First, find one. Here’s the one I bought in France at a local supermarket. If you’re in France, look for this brand: Reflets de France. The packaged magret cost me about 8 euros ($10), and easily, generously fed two of us.
Unfortunately, you cannot purchase this same brand here. I did find, however, magret de canard available in the U.S. at the Saveurs de Jour website and at D’Artagnan. Note that these duck breasts are from Moulard ducks; however, the product descriptions do not indicate that they were raised in “foie gras” fashion. So they may not be “magrets” in the French sense of magret. But, I imagine they’ll be infinitely better than the average white pekin.
2. Score the Fat. Season the duck breast with salt and pepper to taste. Then, simply cut slits in a diamond pattern across the breast. In this case, you do want to cut into the meat just a bit–about 1/4 inch is good. (That way, when you cook the meat fat-side-up, the fat will seep into the meat….yum!).
3. Sear the Duck, Fat-Side-First. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. And no, you do not need to oil the pan. Don’t even think about it. That fat is so generous and melts so willingly, your pan will be filled with fat before you know it. Once the pan is hot, place the breast, fat-side-down, in the pan and cook until it’s an appetizingly golden-brown color.
3. Turn and cook. Turn the breast and continue cooking it in its own wonderful fat. Continue shifting and turning the duck until it gets cooked to the desired temperature (I like mine medium rare). I’m afraid I overcooked my magret this go-around, as I was, unfortunately, taking pictures. But start checking it at 10 minutes total cooking time, using an instant-read food thermometer for testing. I like mine at about 145°F to 150°F; however, the USDA recommends 165°F for food safety.
4. Let the Meat Rest. I let my duck breast rest, loosely covered in foil, for a good 10 minutes after cooking; however, when I showed my finished-food photo to David Baruthio (French chef/owner of Baru 66), he immediately noticed that the meat still looked tight. “Magret should be allowed to stand at least 20 or 30 minutes before you serve it,” he said.
He went on to add that magret shouldn’t ever be served piping hot–it truly needs to stand off heat for quite some time; Fortunately, the sauce you pour over it will heat it enough for the meat to be tasty and warm.
4. Serve. Or make a sauce. This past June in Le Boulou, France, my friend Martine served me gorgeous magret de canard, and she didn’t serve a sauce with it. The fat from the duck had made the meat so incredibly juicy, it really didn’t need one. The meat was still warm after a good 20 minutes of standing.
So, at this point, you can simply slice the duck into near- 1/2-inch thick slices, arrange them on a plate, and serve.
However, if you want to make a sauce, do the old Sauté-Deglaze-Serve trick.
• As the duck is standing, drain off all about a tablespoon of the fat.
• Add 1 chopped shallot (about 1/4 cup) into the pan; cook and stir briefly until slightly softened.
• Add about 1/2 cup beef stock and 1/2 cup port or Madiera (I used Banyuls, a port-like wine), since I was in the area it is grown.
• Boil and stir (scraping up any browned bits from the pan) until the sauce is reduced to a few syrupy tablespoonfuls.
• Slice the duck, arrange on a plate, and drizzle the sauce over the duck.
Want more recipes for Magret de Canard? You might want to check out my cookbook: The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day.
Specifically, I have a great Duck Breast with Cippoline Onions and Madeira that I love. Also, I will say that some preparations for beef would go really well with this particular breed and cut of duck (which is really beefsteak like). Cook the duck as I describe above, but when it comes time to make the pan sauce, use these recipes:
• Flank Steak with Warm Sherry Vinegar and Garlic Vinaigrette, page 126
• Filet with Cherry and Red Wine Sauce, page 127
• Lamb Arm Chops with Herbes de Provence, page 134 (it’s a simple preparation that will mesh will with duck, too).