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Seared Duck in Cherry Sauce

I'm crazy about duck, but I always thought it was too difficult to cook it myself. That's why I almost always ordered it in any restaurant that had it on the menu. Now I know better. As long as you cook the breast and leg separately, it's downright simple.

This recipe is just for the breasts, and it's almost foolproof. I call it Seared Duck in Cherry Sauce. The breasts are simply cooked, with a minimum of preparation. A sharp knife is a mandatory piece of equipment - a dull knife will make you miserable. The key to the recipe is the sauce. It looks fancy, but it's easy to make. It's made with dried cherries, cherry jam, herbs, wine, wine vinegar and butter.

The perfect match for this dish is Pinot Noir, especially Burgundy. American Pinot Noir works, but choose a more elegant style rather than one that is highly extracted. You can also try it with a juicy, modern style wine from the Ribera del Duero in Spain. A modern Tuscan wine, made primarily from Sangiovese, would also compliment the dish. None of these wines will overpower the luscious, savory meat.


  • 2 Whole Boneless Duck Breasts, Split - 4 Pieces In All
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Cherries
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine, or 1/4 Cup Dry Red Wine and 1/4 Cup Vermouth
  • 1 Tablespoon Cherry Jam
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme (1/2 Teaspoon Dried if fresh is not available)
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Oregano (1/2 Teaspoon Dried Marjoram if fresh Oregano is not available)
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper


  1. Soak the dried cherries in 1/4 cup Wine or Vermouth. I actually prefer the Vermouth, since it adds some aromatic complexity to the dish, but the same red wine you are using for the sauce works as well. Let stand for 1/2 hour, or (great shortcut!) place in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. The cherries will plump up.
  2. Score the skin of each breast cutlet, cutting into the layer of fat below the skin but not into the meat. This is why you need a sharp knife! With a dull knife, you have to press too hard to get through the skin, and you won't have enough control to prevent cutting into the meat.
  3. Sprinkle both sides of each cutlet with salt and pepper.
  4. Pre-heat a large, dry saute pan over high heat.
  5. In a small sauce pan, combine the red wine, plumped cherries, cherry jam (for the concentrated flavor, and the pectin helps the sauce thicken), and herbs. Simmer over medium heat while you cook the duck. Stir occasionally.
  6. Add the duck breast cutlets to the hot saute pan, skin side down. Reduce heat to medium-high. Cook for seven minutes, then turn and cook the meat side for one minute. Remove from pan. Skin side will be brown and crisp, while meat side should be barely cooked.
  7. Pour off the fat from the saute pan.
  8. Deglaze the saute pan with the contents of the sauce pan. Use a wooden spoon to loosen any fond (brown bits stuck to the pan).
  9. Reduce sauce over medium heat until there is just a thin layer of liquid remaining.
  10. Add vinegar, stir, then remove pan from heat.
  11. Add butter, then stir vigorously until butter is melted and incorporated.
  12. Plate the duck. Spoon sauce (including the cherries!) over each cutlet. Voila!

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