Duck Breast Sous-Vide with Duck Red Wine Demi-Glace

After yesterday’s post about duck stock, it won’t come as a surprise that today’s post features duck. I love duck meat and this duck breast with a demi-glace sauce made from duck stock and red wine was particularly nice. It also won’t be a surprise what my next post will be about, as the side dish (a butternut squash tartlet) will have a post of its own.

Now there is more to this dish than just the use of duck stock to make a demi glace (which in the modern form is just duck stock reduced until it is thick and syrupy and loaded with duck flavor). You see, I took a bit of a risk when I cooked the duck breast and duck skin separately and glued them together with Activa, and then called this ‘Perfect’ duck breast. Grant from An American Baker in London left a comment saying that he had seen something similar on Masterchef, but with the duck skin cooked sous-vide rather than in the oven to render the fat out of it before gluing it to the duck breast. The advantage of cooking the duck skin sous-vide would be avoiding shrinkage. Cooking the skin sous-vide sounded like music to my ears, and I quickly forgot that my previous version was perhaps not as perfect as I had thought it was.

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Although the skin in this version is not as crispy as the skin cooked in the oven, I still think it is more perfect as the duck skin has a better flavor and the resulting duck breast looks more natural. To say there is no shrinkage is not exactly true — the skin does shrink but I found out it is possible to stretch it out again. The photos in this post are certainly better than the crappy ones in my previous post. Some readers asked me about my recipe for red wine sauce, and that is also included in this post. So without further ado, here’s what I did…

Ingredients

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For 4 small or 2 large servings

2 duck breasts

10 grams Activa RM or EB

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh thyme

2 Tbsp duck fat (rendered from the duck breast)

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For the duck red wine demi-glace

500 ml (2 cups) duck stock

250 ml (1 cup) full-bodied red wine

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, chopped

some fresh thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp duck fat (rendered from the duck breast)

Preparation

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I started by separating the meat and the skin. You can do most of this by hand, but a sharp knife is needed in some places.

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I couldn’t resist including a gratuitous duck breast and skin shot.

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I wasn’t sure at what temperature to cook the skin, so I tried 82ºC/180ºF and 60ºC/140ºF.

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At 82ºC/180ºF the fat renders pretty quickly (in about an hour), but there seems to be a lot of shrinkage.

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After 12 hours at 60ºC/140ºF about as much fat has rendered, but also with about as much shrinkage.

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I poured out the duck fat and saved that for browning the meat later. More duck fat will be rendered than you will need in the dish, so you will have some left over to roast potatoes or other uses.

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The skin has shrunk despite cooking it sous-vide rather than in the oven. There is one advantage though: it is still very flexible.

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And so I decided to see if I could stretch it back out again. Turns out I could! First I put the skin between two layers of plastic wrap. Then I put a lasagna dish on top and pushed. I could stretch out the skin this way, but it would bounce back as soon as I stopped pushing on the dish.

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Then I put some heavy objects on the lasagna dish and waited until the warm skin had cooled off.

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This worked: the duck skin almost had its original shape back again.

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I seasoned the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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I made a mixture of 10 grams Activa with 40 grams water, and brushed it on the back side of the duck skin.

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Then I arranged the skin on top of the meat.

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I vacuum sealed the duck breast with the skin on the bottom (so the weight of the duck would keep the skin in place) and some fresh thyme for additional flavor.

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I then cooked the duck breast sous-vide at 55ºC/131ºF for 2 hours.

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I took a tablespoon of the reserved duck fat and heated it in a frying pan.

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Then I added the shallot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme, and sautéed this until the shallot was translucent.

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I deglazed the pan with full-bodied red wine.

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Followed by the duck stock.

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I brought this to a boil and then lowered the heat to a simmer.

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I simmered this until reduced to about 160 ml (2/3 cup).

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Then it was time to filter out the solids. (If you reduce it too much before filtering out the solids, too much of your precious demi-glace will stick to the solids.)

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I patted the duck dry with paper towels to make it easier to crisp it up.

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I melted two tablespoons of duck fat in a frying pan over very high heat and then added the duck breasts.

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I cooked them briefly over high heat on both sides until they were nicely browned and the skin was crispy.

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Then I allowed the duck breasts to rest briefly while I deglazed the pan with the sauce, and reduced it further until there was only about 80 ml (1/3 cup) left, or about 10%. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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I served the duck sliced with the sauce on warm plates. As you can see, the meat is perfectly medium-rare while the skin is thin and crispy.

Wine pairing

This dish can handle a full-bodied red wine with character, such as a Barolo. Many others are fine choices as well.

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30 thoughts on “Duck Breast Sous-Vide with Duck Red Wine Demi-Glace

  1. you’ve definitely worked out some pretty ingenious techniques combining activa and sous vide. That’s the stuff of perfectionists 🙂 I really want to get testing some of these approaches, your last photo looks luxuriously delicious! How is it going with the new vaccum sealer? you love it? 🙂 i bet you do! I miss mine, its in storage while I sell my apartment and move up north. Haven’t sous vide’ed anything in what seems like forever.

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    1. The new vacuum sealer is great. It is more reliable and allows me to seal liquids as well. I’m having a special cabinet made for it, that will also serve as additional counter space 🙂 I can’t imagine cooking a lot without sous-vide anymore after three years. Hope your move will work out soon 🙂

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  2. I wholeheartedly approve of a gratuitous duck breast and skin shot. I love the way you seem to get more and more into the approach as the post progresses. The end result is fantastic.
    Bravo!

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  3. Dear Stefan … when I eventually get around to acquiring a sous vide kit, your posts are going to be my “bible” ! Your photos are really engrossing because they are very “precise” as well as nice to look at. And thank you, also, for your enthusiasm … recipes can get a little ‘boring’ to read after a while … but not yours!

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  4. I just came across your website and I am so glad I did! This recipe came out amazing (although I did keep the skin on)! I love how easy it is to follow along with all the pictures and descriptions. I will look forward to many more dishes 🙂

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