Mellow duck, crisped skin, a garlicky, pine nut emulsion, juicy grapes, and the textures of burnt greens and crisp celery: This is a dish that hits almost every pleasure center in my brain.
These duck breasts (and the following sausage coil) serve as a bridge in this chapter, leading us away from the straightforward grilling of cuts mainly just in need of a char, toward more complex methods, like whole or bone-in grilled meats that need to be cooked over a few different heat levels.
This recipe calls for cooking the breasts fat side down over indirect heat. That gradually melts much of the fat away, so the skin crisps, gently cooking the meat in the process. Once properly rendered, flip the breasts and position their meat sides directly over the hot coal bed to give them a beautiful sear. – Justin Smillie, chef of Upland
- 4 duck breasts (2 pounds total) 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black peppercorns, plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons finely smashed juniper berries
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lime zest (from 1 lime)
- Olive oil, for greasing the grill
Score, Rub, and Dry-brine the Duck
- Lay the duck breasts, skin sides up, on a work surface. Pat them very dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, score the skin on the diagonal at 1/4-inch intervals, making sure not to cut into the meat.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon coarse salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the juniper berries, and lime zest.
- Rub the scored skins well with the juniper-salt rub and arrange the breasts, skin side up, on a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate the duck, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours; the skin should feel a bit leathery when ready.
Set Up The Grill
- Set the duck breasts out at room temperature 30 minutes before grilling.
- Meanwhile, light a full chimney starter of charcoal. Once the coals are very hot, glow red, and lightly ash over, pour them out into an even bed occupying half the grill. Keep the rest of the grill coal-free.
- Place a large disposable aluminum drip pan right next to the coal bed, in the empty portion of the grill. Set the grate in place. Once it is hot, scrape the grate clean. Then, with a kitchen towel cinched between tongs, wipe olive oil all over the hot grate until it glistens.
Grill The Duck And Serve
- Place your hand 6 inches above the grate right where the coals meet the drip pan. You should feel an even, medium heat and be able to hold your hand at that height for 5 seconds before having to pull it away. Lay the duck breasts, skin side down, right along that line, so that the skin is taking as much heat as possible without being directly over the coals and its fat falls into the drip pan.
- Render the duck breasts, rotating them 90 degrees every 2 minutes. Cook the fatty skin in this fashion for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it crisps and less than 1/8 inch of fat remains between the skin and the meat. If necessary, move the breasts around the grate, always keeping them over indirect heat, to ensure that all the fat melts uniformly.
- When the skins are crisped, use the towel to re-oil the grate directly over the coals. Season the meat sides with salt and pepper and flip the breasts, setting the meat sides directly over the coals.
Sear them for 1 to 2 minutes, rotating them 90 degrees every 30 seconds, or until the duck is cooked to medium doneness and the meat sides have browned nicely.
- Transfer the breasts to a cutting board and let them rest, skin sides up, for 5 minutes. Slice the breasts crosswise into thick pieces. Serve the duck on plates smeared with the Garlic and Pine Nut Emulsion and scatter the Charred Greens with Green Grapes and Celery on top.
How to Plan The Meal
- 1 day before: Rub duck and soak pine nuts.
- 90 minutes before: Make garlic and pine nut emulsion.
- 1 hour before: Temper duck and set up grill.
- 30 minutes before: Grill duck and greens. Prepare charred greens salad. Arrange platter.
- We grilled the duck breasts (and the salad greens) on a Weber gas BBQ. I used a set up of H L H for the three burners. Our cooking time was around 8 minutes for the skin side down and only two and one-half for the meat side down. We cooked the duck breasts with the bone in and then removed the breast bone after the grilling.