A colorful plate of cooked duck breast with a rich port sauce

How to Cook a Perfect Sautéed Duck Breast

Orvis Board Member and former Vice-Chairman Dave Perkins and his wife, Nancy Mackinnon, eat a lot of game birds, and they’ve perfected techniques for getting the most flavor out of the meat. Here, they share their basic method for sautéeing duck breast—a process that begins by “hanging” or aging the meat for four days before cooking or freezing, and salting it halfway through that time. Then it’s a matter of cooking it quickly on the stove top, without overcooking it, which is the cardinal sin when cooking any game birds. 

Dried Cherry and Port Sauce for Sautéed Duck Breasts

For four mallard breasts:


Duck fat or canola oil

1/2 c. shallots, finely chopped

1/2 c. dried cherries, roughly chopped

1/3 - 1/2 c. duck or chicken stock

2 tsp. chopped thyme

1/3 c. port

juices from the resting ducks

1 TBL unsalted butter




When you finish sautéing your duck breasts, set them aside, either tented or in a warming oven. Turn the burner down to low. You want a tablespoon or two of fat in the pan. If there is more than that, remove some, or if there is too much add a bit of duck fat or canola oil.


Add shallots to pan, stirring constantly so they don’t burn. Just when they start to brown, add the chopped cherries and stir. Turn the heat up to medium and add the stock. Let it reduce a bit, and then add the thyme. Cook for a minute, and then add the port. Let that reduce for a couple of minutes. You want it thickened but with enough liquid to spoon over each duck breast. Add the juices from the resting duck breasts. Add butter and swirl to mix it together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Plate the duck breasts and spoon a couple of tablespoons of sauce over each.


Let’s Celebrate the Moments That Matter

The Perkins Family shares seven Holiday How-to’s to help you make the most of the good times to come.