Sugar & Spice Duck

Sugar & Spice Duck

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Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 6
The chef of several New Orleans restaurants, John Besh prepares soul-warming dishes made with local ingredients, blending contemporary style with an homage to the past. His inspiration for this duck recipe? "During a Louisiana autumn, the scent of burning sugar cane fills the air with a spicy aroma echoed in this dish."


  • 2 Tbs. black peppercorns
  • 1 star anise
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 6 boneless Peking duck breast halves, each 6 to 8 oz.
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

  • 1 tsp. canola oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Truffled White Corn Polenta with Kale for serving


In a spice grinder, finely grind the peppercorns and star anise. Transfer to a small bowl, add the cardamom, cinnamon and sugar and stir to combine.

Using a boning knife, score the duck skin diagonally at 1/2-inch intervals, taking care not to cut into the meat. Sprinkle each duck breast on both sides with 1 1/2 tsp. of the spice blend and season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature while making the sauce.

To make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the canola oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the dried figs, vinegar, sugar, chicken stock and beef broth. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and season with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm.

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Heat a stovetop grill pan over medium heat and brush the pan lightly with olive oil. Arrange the duck breasts, skin side down, on the pan and cook until the skin is golden and crisp and some of the fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes, pouring off the excess fat as needed. Transfer the breasts, skin side up, to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat should register about 140°F.

Transfer the duck breasts to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for about 5 minutes before slicing. Cut the duck breasts on the diagonal into slices 1/2 inch thick and arrange on warmed individual plates. Pour the sauce over the duck and serve immediately with truffled white corn polenta with kale. Serves 6.

Adapted from a recipe by John Besh, Chef, August, Besh Steak, La Provence, Lüke, New Orleans, LA.
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