duck breast with garam masala

duck breast with garam masala

This might sound unorthodox, but I prefer staying in to going out on Valentine’s Day. Nothing sounds better to me than a quiet dinner at home: starting our dinner off with leisurely cocktails and snacks and progressing to a quiet, delicious meal that involves just the two of us. Frankly, I don’t even mind the clean up after.

Instead of seating schedules and being ushered out of the restaurant because other couples are waiting, we sit as long as we want to, linger over dessert, and talk, all without being asked how we’re enjoying our food. Because, let’s face it, when you’re eating duck breast, cured with garam masala, you’re most certainly enjoying your dinner.

grapes and the cure for one of my bestie's birthday dinners!

This duck comes from an amazing cookbook, Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts. I’m sure that by now you’ve heard lots about this book and with good reason – it’s fantastic. The book is filled not only with great recipes, but also with helpful and smart tips from chefs. I keep coming back to the book and reading it over and over and I want to cook so many things from it, that I stopped putting little sticky flags on pages that I like – there are already too many.

curing searing the duck breast

That it happens to be a Melissa Clark recipe is pure chance. I originally geared to make this for my friend Tina’s belated birthday dinner. She requested duck and Andrew specifically wanted duck breast. In the book, Adam describes this duck as a masterpiece, and he’s not wrong about it – this is one of those dishes you cook and then can’t believe that you just made something this delicious.

duck breast, resting

I made a trial run for me and Andrew (cue the sobs from having to eat so much duck so often!) following the recipe to a tee to have a good frame of reference, and by the night of Tina’s actual dinner, I fiddled with a few things to put my own spin on the dish, namely by adding anardana and amchur powders (pomegranate and mango, respectively) that I had picked up at Kalustyan’s the week prior. I also had to fiddle with the heat a little bit to fully render out the duck fat, which by the way, you should never ever throw away and lovingly stash away in a jar. Duck fat transforms roasted potatoes, latkes, eggs, or anything else that needs flavorful fat.

grapes in a balsamic sauce

If the above treatise means that some readers out there take this as a carte blanche not to take them out to dinner, please don’t blame me. I’m happily in the minority on this. As for Andrew, he will be giving a talk in Boston, so no dinner at home for the two of us. Rain check, then.

Duck Breast With Garam Masala and Grapes
Adapted, slightly, from Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts

In making this dish, try to get decent, but obviously not top shelf balsamic vinegar. I know that Trader Joe’s is actually not too bad and will serve you perfectly here. Fairway (if you’re in the NYC area) sells giant bottles of very good balsamic for about $20. And it’s shockingly good for the price. As for the exotic ingredients I added on my subsequent experimentations, I can’t, in all reality, mandate you get hard-to-find ingredients like anardana or amchur powders; but garam masala has become very common in grocery stores. If you want to expand your spice cabinet with these two ingredients, you will be able to use them in many things like chana masala, or other dishes where you want a slightly savory-tart taste. The lemon, though a decent substitute, proves to be too acidic for my palate, though in a pinch, I use it and no one has complained thus far. I wouldn’t, however, use lemon in place of those two ingredients – just skip them all together. And if you happen to be making this when cherries are in season (especially sour cherries), use them in place of grapes – I have a feeling they will make the dish even better.

1 whole duck breast (approximately 2 pounds)
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon anardana (dried pomegranate powder), optional
1/4 teaspoon amchur powder (dried mango powder), optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

1. Using a paring knife, score the duck breast by cutting a crosshatch pattern into the fat. Make sure you cut all the way through the fat but not through the meat itself. The point is to expose as much of the fat’s surface area to the heat as possible so it renders quickly. Season the duck on both sides with the salt, pepper, garam masala, anardana, and amchur (if using). Let sit, at room temperature, for about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat an ovenproof skillet (do not use nonstick) on medium-high heat for a minute or two. Place the duck in the skillet, fat side down (it should immediately sizzle), and don’t touch it. Let it cook like this for 4 to 8 minutes. Lots of fat will melt out—that’s a good thing. Use tongs to turn the meat over. The skin should be a deep, chestnut brown and the fat should almost all be melted away. If you still see white, continue cooking on the fat side until it’s gone (but without letting the skin burn). If you feel that the skin is caramelizing faster than the fat is melting out, lower the heat and keep monitoring the duck breast. Because duck breast varies in its fattiness and everyone’s stovetop is different, this is a bit of an art than a science.

3. Place the skillet in the oven. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then take the temperature of the duck breast. It should be 120˚F for rare and 130˚F for medium rare (shoot for 125°F). Remove the duck to a cutting board to rest.

4. Pour off the duck fat for another use (it’s great for frying potatoes). In that same skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the grapes and cinnamon and stir for a minute. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and honey, stirring and cooking until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute.

5. Thinly slice the duck, on the bias, and fan it out on a platter. Spoon the grape sauce on top and serve.


  • Sharon

    Looks awesome – I feel the need to make this asap. I wonder if my foodie 7 year old will like duck?

  • olga

    Sharon – most kids I know, do like duck, so i think it’s worth trying. Worst thing, he can eat the sauce and spoon it over whatever grain and vegetables you serve :)

  • Betty Ann @Mango_Queen

    This is perfect for any special dinner, not just Valentine’s. I agree with you on foregoing the long waits, reservations and all that. Staying in is more my thing. Thanks for sharing this delightful duck breast entree!

  • olga

    Elina – I actually have something I made as a side that I plan to post in the next week or so, but I think Brussels sprouts would be great. I made a honey and cumin glazed carrots (recipe coming) and a herbed Israeli couscous.

  • Lena

    This looks so gorgeous that the hubs and I may have to forgo our yearly tradition of Chinese food in bed on V-day.

  • Ashley

    We stay in on Valentine’s day too. I don’t think we’ve ever tried to go out for it, because it’s so much better to relax and take your time at home. A bottle of wine, some steaks (Eric’s request), some chocolate desserts…it’s all good things.

  • Colleen

    This recipe looks beautiful, and probably tastes better than most restaurant dishes! Going out has its time and place, but I definitely prefer staying in on Valentine’s Day. We just irresponsibly save the cleanup for the next day :)

  • kale

    duck is hard to come by in my neck of the woods, so i am salivating looking at these pictures. i’ve only cooked duck breast once and i remember it being a tricky task indeed to render that fat without overcooking the meat! ironically to your post, i would like to go out for duck, but just to have a point of reference and to inspire me to make it at home! when i again encounter duck meat, that is…

  • Eileen

    Wait, people voluntarily go out on Valentine’s Day? ;) I for one do not want to battle the crowds for overpriced tasting menus featuring heart-shaped anything. This duck sounds like an amazing option for indulgent celebration dinner at home!

  • sandra

    That dish looks so nice. What a great idea for Valentine’s Day – red but not sweet. And I am with you – staying at home is much cozier.

  • olga

    Delane – you mean the grapes? You can certainly skip them, or use cherries in place, but it’s definitely very tasty.

  • Brian

    Looks very good! You may wish to be a little specific as to the type of duck breast to use, as if you do this recipe with Pekin Breasts it doesn’t come out nearly as well.
    An additional fun item that the Big “D” has are Guinea Hens. They are great stuff! Keep up the good work!

  • olga

    Zahir – in this case, I think you want to go with duck. Or venison. I don’t think chicken or other meat will work as well.

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