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Back to basics with duck breast

Everything you need to know about this delicious bird.


Duck breast is rich and full of flavour, so today's back to basics guide takes a look at this gorgeous meat in all its glory.

In our Back to Basics series, we look at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at duck breast.

Duck is one of our favourite meats as it's so flavoursome and lends itself well to a variety of different dishes. Duck breast is quite nutritious as it has quite high levels of protein, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, magnesium and iron. However, it does have quite a fat content in the skin, but if you want to reduce that, simply remove the skin and the layer of fat below it before cooking. 

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

What is duck breast?

Duck is a type of a species within the waterfowl family that also includes swan and geese. Farmed duck is most commonly available (Skeaghanore Duck is one of our favourites), but wild duck is also available throughout October to December. 

All ducks, except for the South American Muscovy duck, are thought to be descended from mallard duck. Nobody is really certain about when ducks were first domesticated, but it is thought that ancient Egyptians used ducks for sacrifices, as well as consumption, around 3,500 thousand years ago. Around 2,000 years ago, Southeast Asian people and ancient Romans started to breed ducks for consumption. Since then, the popularity of duck has spread throughout the world, with both its meat and eggs eaten widely. 

Duck is often particularly associated with China, due to the popular Peking duck dish that comes from Beijing. This dish is made from specially bred Pekin ducks, which are slaughtered after 65 days, then seasoned and roasted. The dish is usually eaten with spring onion, cucumber, sweet bean sauce or hoisin sauce and pancakes. Crispy aromatic duck is a British variation of this dish, which is drier and less fatty than the traditional Chinese version.

Duck breast is taken from the chest area of the bird. It is covered in a layer of skin over a thick layer of creamy fat. The fat, which is full of flavour, needs to be rendered down or cooked out before serving, as it can be chewy and tough to eat otherwise. Duck fat is prized for its flavour so when you render down the fat from the breast when cooking it, try using it to roast or fry other ingredients for an extra layer of flavour. 

Purchasing and storing duck

As always, we recommend that you purchase your duck breast from a reputable craft butcher. A whole duck can be a little tricky to prepare, so your butcher should be able to sell you duck breast by itself or help break down the whole duck for you. They will also be able to give you some cooking tips, storage ideas and more. 

When buying duck breast, make sure that the skin is clear and soft, without any bruising or tears. The fatty skin should be a creamy colour and the flesh should have a deep reddish-pink colour.

When you get home from your butcher, make sure you place duck breast straight in the fridge on a covered plate or in a bowl. As with all meat, make sure to keep the duck breast separate from other foods so that it doesn't contaminate any ready-to-eat or cooked food. Duck breast should keep in the fridge for about two days. 

John and Sandy Wyer's duck breast dish.
John and Sandy Wyer's duck breast dish.

Cooking inspiration

We have lots of gorgeous recipes for you to try on the site, but the following are some that we're particularly obsessed with and think you will be too:

  • Gary O'Hanlon's duck with pancakes recipe offers a delicious and simple take on the traditional Chinese dish, which is perfect for sharing with friends. 
  • This Thai duck salad recipe is ridiculously tasty and easy to make. Our favourite thing to do is double this recipe so that we can have a portion for dinner and another for lunch the next day. 
  • Sandy and John Wyer's duck with kohlrabi dish is perfect for a dinner party as it's very refined, so it will certainly impress your guests. 
  • The ultimate comfort food, this duck ramen is perfect at any time of year, especially if you're fighting off a cold or need a little boost.