Pan seared duck breasts is the easiest dinner, made for weeknights, and yet it’s also elegant. I’ve been making duck breasts for years, and they were very tasty. Yet, I struggled with getting the skin shatteringly crisp, without overcooking them. A very simple trick, which I’d learned for cooking chicken thighs, solves that problem. As an added bonus, this method gets you a ton of rendered duck fat, which makes the best potatoes you’ll ever eat.

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Pan seared duck breasts—the easiest elegant dinner

While cooking whole duck presents many challenges, duck breasts are relatively simple. They cook quickly, and sauce with simple ingredients, making it an easy weeknight dinner. I’ve been making them for years, but with a recent change, my back-pocket recipe got even better.

There’s something decadent about duck breasts. Why they aren’t more popular is beyond me, but I suspect it’s the one challenge of getting crisp skin, which this simple trick solves. 

Reserved rendered duck fat
Save that duck fat, and make potatoes!

Start in a cold pan

Bon Appétit popularized starting chicken thighs in a cold pan (make these next summer when tomatoes are in season—or use canned tomatoes). I’d struggled to get shatteringly crisp skin on duck breasts without overcooking them, and the cold pan does the trick. Plus, you get a lot more duck fat to use for potatoes.

A versatile dish

You can go in lots of different directions with saucing (a more interesting one, that also uses the cold pan technique, involves wild blueberries, port, and fish sauce). Personally, of the many variations I’ve tired, I like the honey, balsamic, and lime glaze from Dorie Greenspan best. The lime and the balsamic balance nicely with the duck, and leftovers make for a delicious salad.

The general idea is that you need something tart to offset the duck

I made duck breasts earlier this week, with the honey, balsamic, and lime glaze, and I thought that I’d show you how.

pan seared duck breasts

Pan Seared Duck Breasts with Honey Lime Glaze

The secret to getting shatteringly crisp skin is to start the duck breasts in a cold pan. The honey lime glaze comes from Dorie Greenspan.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
allow duck breasts to come to room temperature 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine French
Servings 2


  • 2 duck breasts
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey


  • Score the duck breasts with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut into the duck (I’ve noticed that I do not make as many cuts as others. I think that I will make more from now on, but I’ve made duck this way for ages, and it works)
  • Season with salt and black pepper. Allow to come to room temperature (about 30 minutes)
  • Set the duck breasts, skin side down in a COLD cast iron frying pan. Turn the heat on to medium high.
  • Cook, undisturbed, until most of the fat has rendered. Then, flip and cook until they reach 135F. This will give you medium rare duck breasts. Please note that the FDA recommends 170F. Nearly every recipe, however, will tell you 135F.
  • Remove duck breasts from pan to a plate and tent loosely with foil
  • Drain off all but 1 teaspoon or so of duck fat (SAVE THE FAT! That stuff is gold)
  • Turn heat on medium-high (your pan is likely still ripping hot, but if you need to, turn it up more). Add the balsamic vinegar. Let that start to bubble up, and then add the lime juice and honey. Stirring rapidly, let reduce until thick and glaze-y. Turn off the heat.
  • If it’s just you, return one duck breast to the pan, and tilt in the juices from the plate. Turn the duck breast over a couple of times to get it good and coated.
  • Then cut into thick slices, and spoon a little more glaze.


The leftover duck breast makes a perfect salad. Simply slice atop a bed of your favorite greens, perhaps with a little honey lime vinaigrette (I usually just let the duck be the dressing).
Keyword balsamic vinegar, cold pan, duck breast, duck fat, honey, lime
Tried this recipe?Let me know what you think!

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