This pan seared duck breast recipe with berry apple compote is a formidable pairing of rich, gamey duck cooked on a cast iron pan and served with sweet and tangy berry apple compote. Pan fried duck breast is a great way how to cook duck breast in a cast iron skillet!
This post is a partnership with Cosmic Crisp Apples. Thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible; I am proud to only work with companies that I truly believe in.
A romantic meal made for the woods
The deep silence of the woods, with nothing but the whispering of the rustling leaves around. The wind, whistling through the openings between the trees, playing its gentle flute-like melody with nothing but nature’s instruments. Your boots, crushing fallen foliage and bits of dried up earth, little stones and pebbles, and the bones of long-ago calcified forest creatures.
This is the music of the forest, the sounds I live for, for which I make my way into the woods every fall.
My love for the forest and for foraging is no secret, but what I haven’t written about before is my love of rustic cabin retreats - and of course, the campfire recipes and cast iron skillet recipes that come with them!
For me, half the reason for living in Canada is the ease of stepping out into the forest and bridging that gap between the wild and the urbane. I love how much space there is to roam here, to discover, to feel like a true pioneer of the true North, strong and free.
But as you can imagine, what I love most about it all is the chance to cook some hearty cabin food!
During my last outing to a cabin in December, I came up with this dish: Pan seared duck breast with berry apple compote. It’s a gorgeous pairing of wild, gamey duck, cooked the old-fashioned way, and some sweet homemade Cosmic Crisp Apple compote.
Why use a cast-iron pan for making pan-seared duck?
For best results when making your pan-fried duck breast, you will need to reach for your cast iron pan.
If you are a cast iron aficionado, you already know what a truly versatile instrument it can be for your kitchen (I love using mine for cast iron pan salmon, and the perfect syrniki. It's also great for pan frying tofu and pan frying halloumi cheese).
And if you haven't worked with one before, there is no reason to be intimidated and many reasons to incorporate it into your cooking style.
From one, it is a natural non-stick pan made to withstand scratching and has a much better heat retention capacity.
As a bonus, overheating a cast iron skillet does not come with the same dangers as other pans that can release toxic chemicals into the air. On the contrary, it adds an extra dose of iron to your food.
When to serve pan seared duck breast with berry apple compote?
Naturally, you want to make this beautiful pan seared duck breast with berry apple compote for valentine's day dinner.
The colours alone - the deep red and purple apple compote - are a clear association of passion, sensuality and desire. And to get the duck breast just right, you need to cook it on a cast iron skillet slowly and patiently… similar to the process of letting love grow!
If you are thinking that I am getting a bit sentimental, you might be absolutely right.
But I am a recovering Valentine’s Day hater, who has recently discovered the joy of embracing the beauty of this day.
A perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner Recipe
They say couples who cook together, stay together and that might be at the core of why a romantic dinner at home is a preferred way to celebrate Valentine’s Day for so many.
But I would also add that the act of cooking for that special someone you love is even better.
While I am a firm believer that you don’t need a special occasion to celebrate love, there is something very fitting about the presentation and ingredients of this dish for Valentine’s Day dinner.
For the best Valentine's Day presentation, the pan seared duck breast can be sliced thinly and arranged on a cutting board in the shape of a heart, with an apple kale slaw piled to the side and the beautiful red apple sauce drizzled on the top. Making heart shapes with your Cosmic Crisp apple compote is optional but recommended!
Ingredient Spotlight: Cosmic Crisp Apples
The secret to getting just the right balance of sweetness and tartness in this apple compote is using the right apple - and that is the Cosmic Crisp apple.
Any apple that gets my toddler son excited about eating fruit gets 5* stars in my book.
And while being toddler-approved is a definite bonus, Cosmic Crisp apples also have 20 years of research and study by Washington State University to support their claim as the world’s “most perfect” apple.
In my countless cooking and baking experiments with apples as a key ingredient, I have found Cosmic Crisp to be true to the “crisp” part of its name with a balanced sweetness that favours lots of dishes.
These two attributes, together with their naturally attractive red skin, lend a rich and luxurious texture to the compote.
These are the ingredients you will need to make this pan seared duck breast with berry apple compote:
For Berry-apple Compote:
- Cosmic Crisp apples - To elevate the taste profile of this berry apple compote, and achieve the preferred blend of sweetness and richness, use a bag of Cosmic Crisp apples. You can also use any red skinned apple for this recipe.
- cherries - frozen cherries will work well
- blueberries - you can use frozen or fresh blueberries
- brown sugar - brown sugar gives the compote a richer taste; you can omit if you'd like.
- lemon or lime juice - fresh lemon juice is best
- cinnamon - deepens the flavor and adds warmth. Sub for orange zest if you'd like.
- cayenne pepper - just a pinch goes a long way! You can omit if you're sensitive to heat.
For Pan-seared Duck:
- duck breast with skin on - this is important for rendering the natural fat from the duck. You can use commercial duck or wild duck.
- salt and black pepper
See recipe card for quantities.
- Cast iron skillet
- Small saucepan
- Large bowl
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
How to make berry apple compote?
This apple compote is a key component in making duck with apples - or what my son refers to as "apple duck".
Mix ingredients in saucepan
Start with a large heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven.
Combine Cosmic Crisp apples, cherries, blueberries and water. Set to medium-high heat and cook until mixture is bubbling.
Bring compote to a boil
Once the compote comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Stir often,until the apples have cooked down, for 15 to 20 minutes. Add sugar, lemon or lime juice and spices, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove berry apple compote from heat and allow it to cool.
Blend until desired consistency.
Use in recipe, or store for later
You can keep the berry apple compote in the refrigerator for up to 5 days in a sealed container.
How to cook duck breast in a cast iron skillet?
The secret to cooking your duck breast in a cast iron skillet is to do it long and slow on one side (about 15 minutes) and then use the flash-frying method on the other side for 1-6 minutes depending on whether you like your meat medium-rare or well done.
You start by laying the duck skin-side down in a cold pan, no need to add any oil. This will render much of the fat naturally (use them for duck fat potatoes). Take care to cook in on low heat - high heat will overcook the outside while keeping the inside raw and tough.
The result? A beautiful and evenly seared, perfectly cooked duck breast, that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, just as it should be!
Always make sure to cook duck less than what you think it needs. It is also very important to rest your duck meat for about 5-10 minutes before slicing. Can you use a non-stick frying pan for cooking duck?
You can also use a non stick pan for quick pan fried duck breast, but it will miss something of the flavor.
How to make pan seared duck breast?
Score the duck breast
Using a sharp knife, score duck breasts into a crosshatch pattern (deep scoring will result in more rendered duck fat; score less, and you will preserve more of the skin intact).
Season the duck
Season both sides with salt and black pepper, more heavily on the skin side.
Pan fry the duck
Place the duck breasts in a cold frying pan, breasts skin side down. This should expose the majority of the breast skin surface area to direct contact with the pan - ensure the skin is in direct contact with the pan by pressing the duck down with a spatula.
Set pan to medium-low heat and cook the duck until the skin is golden brown and most of the fat has been rendered. This means you want to leave the duck in for about 15 minutes (duck should register an internal temperature of 125F on a meat thermometer). Remove the remaining fat with a spoon.
Turn duck to the other side
Flip the duck breast over to the other side and cook for 1-2 minutes for medium rare (130F), 3-4 minutes for medium (140F) and 5-6 for well done (155F). Overall, the duck needs about 16-20 minutes in the pan
You should be left with duck with crispy skin and tender, pink red meat inside. The brown skin is the best part!
Serve seared duck breast with apples
To serve duck with apples, remove the duck breast from the pan and place it directly on a plate or a serving board. Arrange the duck skin-side up: you want to show off that golden brown skin!
Why you should make pan-seared duck breast with apple berry compote
This pan-seared duck breast recipe with berry apple compote is a reminder to spoil yourself every once in a while.
With the right timing, it takes only half an hour to put together from start to finish and presents itself very well on a plate, so it is great for fancy and casual dinners.
Here is why you should try this fantastic pan seared duck breast recipe:
- Unique combination of ingredients
- Easy to make
- Can be adapted to suit your taste profile
- Fast but impressive
- Sweet and salty
- Can be prepared ahead of time
- Can be made Gluten-Free
- Can be adapted to Paleo and Whole 30 diets by taking out the sugar
Storage and Making in Advance
You can store your pan seared duck breast in the fridge for 2-3 days and reheat when ready to eat, in the stove or oven. The berry apple compote is fine to keep in the refrigerator for 5 days as long as it is in a sealed container.
This pan-fried duck is gluten-free. It can be easily adapted to suit other dietary restrictions:
Substitute duck for a nice, big chunk of pan-fried tofu. Just cook it the same way, but you can also soak your tofu in a rich marinade prior to frying it.
Slices of smoked cheddar or smoked Gouda would also work beautifully in place of the dock.
Paleo and Whole 30
Omit the sugar from the berry apple compote. Use erythritol, xylitol or monk fruit sweetener instead.
Clean apple compote
Not a fan of berries? No problem! Simply omit them and make this into a clean apple compote. We love Cosmic Crisp apple compote, but you can also use other apples for this, like Gala or Honeycrisp.
Presentation idea: how to make miniature pan fried duck breast salad
For a beautiful, rustic presentation, I suggest making small clumps of a hearty salad like my kale fall salad, and topping it with slices of pan fried duck breast. Drizzled with berry apple compote, this duck breast with apples is a gorgeous serving of food!
What else can you pair with berry apple compote?
My favorite way to have apple compote is serve with duck. If you don't want to use this sauce recipe for duck, however, you can use the leftover berry apple compote for sweet and savoury dishes. For a delicious, gluten-free and easy dessert, try these Russian pancakes, that will be ready to serve in just under 1 hour.
Can also place it on top of ice cream or yoghurt for a healthy snack that will also satisfy your sweet tooth. Try it with this Colombian ensalada de frutas for a unique fusion dish!
For a savory and easy appetizer, I love pairing this apple compote with baked brie cheese.
What side dishes go with duck?
- The rich texture and game-like flavour of duck means it’s best cooked in a cast iron pan.
- The skin on the outside of the duck renders into fat when cooked. Avoid using additional oil when cooking duck.
- We score the duck skin to help render it into fat. Deep scoring on the skin of the duck will result in more rendered duck fat; score less, and you will preserve more of the skin intact.
- Duck should be cooked long and slow on one side and the flash fried on the other. For best results, always cook duck less than you think and then let it rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing.
- Duck can be made in advance and then reheated prior to serving, but it will taste test one made a-la minute, shortly before serving.
- The berry apple compote can be made days in advance and kept in the fridge. It will also be beautiful as part of a grazing board with some cheeses!
The entire cooking process of duck breasts in the pan should take no more than 21 minutes.
Duck breasts require 16-17 minutes in total to cook to medium rare (130F); 18-19 minutes to medium (140F); and 20-21 minutes for well done (155F) duck breast.
When the duck skin is golden and crispy, the meat inside is pinkish-reddish, and when you turn the duck both sides look golden.
The best way to cook duck breast is to start it a cold skillet and cook them slowly. If your skillet is cast-iron, that's even better, though you can use a non-stick pan in a pinch.
I love to serve pan-fried duck breast with apples and salad, especially kale salad. But pan-fried duck breast also goes very well with fried potatoes. Pro tip: use the leftover duck fat to cook your potatoes!
I have only used commercial local duck for this pan fried duck breast recipe. If you try wild duck, let me know how it changes!
For more Cosmic Crisp apple recipes:
A Valentines Day Menu
For the full Valentine's Day dinner experience, you may want to combine your main meal with some of these wonderful side dishes and desserts.
Tried and loved this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below! Your reviews mean a lot to me, so if you've got any questions, please let me know in a comment.
For more cast iron skillet recipes:
Pin for Later
Pan-Seared duck breast with berry-apple compote
Berry apple compote
Pan seared duck breast
- 2-4 duck breasts skin on
- Salt and pepper to taste
- To make compote: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch Oven, combine apples, berries and water. Set to medium-high heat and cook until the mixture is bubbling.
- Once compote comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring often, until apples have cooked down, for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add sugar, lemon or lime juice and spices, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove berry apple compote from heat and allow it to cool.
- Berry apple compote will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- To cook pan-seared duck breast: Using a sharp knife, score duck breasts into a crosshatch pattern (deep scoring will result in more rendered duck fat; score less, and you will preserve more of the skin intact).
- Season both sides with salt and pepper, more heavily on the skin side.
- Transfer duck, skin side down, into a cold pan. Set pan to medium-low heat and cook duck until most of the fat has been rendered, about 15 minutes (duck should register an internal temperature of 125F). Remove the remaining fat.
- Turn duck breast over to the other side and cook for 1-2 minutes for medium rare (130F), 3-4 for medium (140F) and 5-6 for well done (155F).
- Remove duck breast from pan and set aside to rest until ready to serve. You can also deglaze the pan with wine, chicken stock and orange juice to make a duck jus.
- To serve, choose a large cutting board or platter. Slice the duck breast thinly, and arrange in a heart or two rows. Spoon berry apple compote generously overtop the duck slices.