The rich flavors of duck meat have always attracted sweet, fruit-based sauces. Witness duck à l’orange, for instance. In this recipe, we forgo the fruit for something darker, woodsier, but no less sweet: root beer. Once it is reduced down to a saucy glaze, the root beer offers a tangy new twist on the classic combination. It’s incredibly easy, but more than elegant enough to serve guests. And when they take their first bites, ask to see if they can guess the secret ingredient.
MAKE THE GLAZE: Combine the root beer, brown sugar, ketchup, lemon zest, and mustard in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is saucy and coats the back of a spoon.
HEAT A LARGE SAUTÉ PAN (or grill pan) over high heat until very hot. Pat the duck breasts dry with a paper towel and lay them skin-side down in the pan. Reduce the heat slightly, to medium-high, and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes.
TOAST THE SESAME SEEDS: Place the seeds in a small pan over medium heat. Shaking the pan occasionally, cook until the seeds turn golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes, being careful not to scorch them. Remove from heat and let cool.
FLIP THE MEAT OVER and generously brush with the root-beer glaze. Cook for 2 minutes, or until just medium-rare. Flip again, brush the meat side with the glaze, and remove to a cutting board. Cover with foil and allow to rest about 5 to 8 minutes.
REMOVE THE DUCK BREASTS from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking, and salt. (If using domestic, farm-raised ducks, score the skin with a sharp knife, in a crosshatch pattern.)
TO SERVE, SPOON ANY REMAINING GLAZE onto the breasts and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds, then slice. Mashed sweet potatoes make a fine accompaniment.
2 large whole duck breasts (mallard, pintail, canvas-back), or 3 medium breasts (wood duck, wigeon)
4 tsp. sesame seeds
1/2 cup Barq’s, Boylan, or other strong root beer
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 tsp. Dijon mustard