Duck breast in a rosemary, balsamic and citrus-marinade

easy duck breast recipe orange marinadeI am often asked by our agriturismo guests why they rarely find chicken in restaurants here in Umbria. Often, they are under the impression we don’t eat chicken at all. In reality we eat chicken, but mostly at home. In a rural region like ours people is used to properly raised birds and cooked by your grandmother.
Ordinary chicken is considered cheap food and therefore relegated to fast food eateries or tourist oriented establishments.
The meat of choice in Umbria is pork which is of excellent quality both fresh and cured. The Umbrian salumi (charcuterie) have been appreciated for centuries. The butchers from Norcia were hired in Rome already in pre-imperial times to preserve meats in the winter.
In Umbria you will also find delicious beef from the majestic Chianina cows. However, game like wild boar and fowl are considered a real delicacy and almost an obligatory menu item in better restaurants. Don’t be intimidated! You will find pigeon, pheasant, guinea fowl, duck and occasionally even goose. There is no better region to enlarge your bird eating habits!
If you visit Umbria you will realize that like in most of Italy, locals favor small portions of meat rich in flavor, served with light sauces – or no sauce at all – complemented by a refreshing side of steamed vegetable or salad doused in olive oil and may be a touch of vinegar. This is a perfect way to savor a well made dish and get acquainted with its natural taste.
Duck breast is a great alternative to chicken and surprisingly easy to make. This is my foolproof recipe based on a classic French sweet and sour marinade. I have twisted it with Italian ingredients and herbs and I must say it’s quite lovely.

  • one 1/2 kg (1 lb) duck breast with skin
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed


  • Juice of 1/2 lemon or of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon red wine
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin live oil

In a bowl large enough to fit the breast snugly, mix the marinade ingredients, add the garlic cloves and whole rosemary sprigs. Place the duck breast in the marinade skin side up, cover and marinade in the refrigerator overnight.
I try to avoid single use plastic, so I don’t make marinades in freezer bags.
Remove the duck breast from the marinade, pat dry and transfer skin side down into a heavy cast iron pan. Reserve the marinade.
Cook the breast on very low heat for at least 5 min. Be patient as the duck fat renders out slowly melting onto the bottom of the pan. This is the most important phase of the cooking by which you get lovely crispy skin. If the skin burns too soon the breast will taste fatty and rubbery.
When the skin turns golden, remove the breast, quickly drip away the fat (or keep to roast potatoes) and wipe the pan with kitchen paper.
Now you need to be fast. Bring the heat to high, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sear the skinless side of the breast all over until slightly brown, about 2 min. Pour the marinade in the pan and reduce, it will take less than 1/2 min.
Remove the pan from heat but leave it on the stove, cover with a lid and 1 or 2 folded kitchen towels. You want to keep the pan as warm as possible. The breast will finish to cook with the indirect heat of the pan and will keep wonderfully moist. Wait for 5- 10 min, then slice thinly, toss with the pan juices and serve.
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One breast with a side of vegetables or potatoes serves 4. You might need to double the portions if you have large meat eaters in your party.


  1. Oh, boy – all the ingredients I love! Letizia – you really MUST stop making these incredible dishes. You are making me totally reject one of my favorite sayings “one must never trust a thin chef to provide sumputous dishes” – you defy this completely with just this one dish. It is sweet and savory, balanced, toothsome and very healthy – and it is a beautiful presentation. Simply outstanding and fit to serve the most respected guest. Oh, yes, and another excuse to harvest some duck fat for the next dish… I love it, thanks – Amos

  2. could you hear my stomach growling through the internet line? this is torture.

  3. Letizia–this looks wonderful! I go wild for anything with a citrus marinade. I’ve never looked for duck breast–either in the US or Sicily–so I hope I can find some…fingers crossed.

  4. Ciao Jann
    in Umbria we can buy duck breast at the Ipercoop, I don’t know if they have it in Sicily but I would look into the poultry section of any major supermarket. As for the US, I have heard that Trader Joe’s has duck breast but of course I cannot be sure!

  5. Wow, thanks for the recipe and website (tainted chicken) information. We don’t eat much meat but when we do….it is chicken! I’m pretty much a nut when it comes to what I feed my family and it does get expensive.
    On another note – I love the photos and you site. My family is from Abruzzi L’Aquila and Tuscany. I have never been to Italy but traced the genealogy back on both grandparents side. Someday we will make the journey 🙂

  6. March 17, 2013 1:00AM EST
    Our 16 year old son asked if he could try his hand at cooking duck breast…sure, why not so he’s in the kitchen stirring up the marinade at this very moment. Will follow up once he’s finished…

  7. Baltimore Greetings my friend, I’m following up with you just as I promised. Well, he did it! My son James followed your recipe step by step and did a fabulous job with little to no help from me. He only wishes we’d had a cast iron skillet to help hold heat during the indirect cooking process…instead, he used our warming drawer. His duck was simply scrumptious – moist and tender and oh so flavorful! He’s looking forward to many more dishes…
    I will post photographs to your Facebook shortly.
    Thank you for sharing your love of cooking

  8. I had three pair of wood duck breasts and was looking for a new recipe…this was fabulous! Woodies are considered some of the finest eating of wild ducks and this recipe did them justice. The sweetness from the honey added just the right balance. Definitely will make this a staple for guests. Thanks.

  9. My brother is cooking this for me tonight. Can’t wait…looks great in the marinade..

  10. Hi There,
    Following all the wonderful comments to this recipe, I must ask you where have I gone wrong? I followed the recipe closely apart from not having a cask iron skillet and the duck breast were 720 gr and not 500 gr as in your recipe? I followed all steps strictly and was generous with the minutes to ensure it cooks and it didn’t. I had to pan fry the duck breast for 15-20 minutes following its indirect cooking for 10 minutes. Where have I gone wrong? This way I really ruined 2 very nice (and expensive around here) duck breasts, so I am not happy with the recipe.

    • Hi Nora
      I am so sorry the recipe did not work for you. I must admit I only ever cook it on a really heavy cast iron pan. My pan retains teh heat for a long time which is ideal for the resting period.
      In addition, we like the duck breast pink, not blue nor brown. May be I should have specified this in the recipe but I thought that one could see it from the picture. I find that well done duck can only be achieved by roasting as otherwise it becomes rubbery and tough. For us is good if it’s warm inside and there is no running blood.
      If you ever feel to try again and you feel the the breast is underdone for you, please slice it first, very thin. Then make your pan as hot as you can, add the slices with their juices and flash cook it for no more than 1/2 min. This way it will loose some juices but still remain tender. Good luck with it!

      • Thank you so much for your advice, I will certainly try it again and adopt it as you suggested. I do also like the duck breast to be pink, it just had too much blood running still, so I thought it needed a few more minutes, but will adopt the recipe to the method you suggested.
        Many thanks,

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