I was intrigued by Conor’s Canard à l’Orange post. He cooks the duck breast on the skin side over low heat for 30-40 minutes to render the fat out of it, while I always do this as quickly as possible over high heat. My theory behind this was that this would lead to less overcooking of the duck meat, but since Conor knows his business I thought I needed to give his method a try. Empirical evidence is better than theoretical speculations. Or in other words, the proof of the
pudding duck is in the eating.
I started with a pair of regular duck breasts. I trimmed the fat a bit, which I realised later is not such a great idea with the low & slow method, as the skin will shrink quite a bit. I scored the skin of both breasts with a sharp knife to ease the rendering, making sure not to pierce the meat underneath.
After 40 minutes most of the fat had rendered out and I seared the other side quickly in some remaining duck fat. The middle of the duck skin was not crisped up as well as the outside; I’m not sure how to prevent that other than pushing down on the duck while it’s cooking.
High & fast sear on the left, low & slow on the right. Both were good, but there was a clear difference. Not only the skin was very different, but also the doneness. The high & fast was medium rare, but the low & slow turned out medium rather than medium rare. The duck meat had been cooked to medium during the fat rendering process. Kees preferred the medium duck breast with the low & slow skin, where I always prefer medium rare and that was also true in this case. The low & slow has a thinner skin that is more crispy. The latter advantage is only maintained when you finish cooking the duck breast in the oven (unlike I did).
So the conclusion is that if you like your duck breast medium and you have the time, low & slow rendering is better, especially if you finish cooking in the oven. For medium rare, you have to render high & fast to prevent cooking the meat to medium while rendering.