Pan Seared Duck Breast in a Scallion Steamed Buns

Duck Breast Steamed Bun

Duck breast is special delicacy that deserves the respect and admiration of the meat eating world. This respect is critical because when duck breast is cooked improperly the meat is tough, the flavor can be gamey, and the skin is rubber-like. However, following a certain set of rules duck breast can be transformed into an amazing and complex animal protein. The breast becomes tender, the flavor is rich, and when duck skin is rendered in its own fat it becomes heavenly crispy.

Ducks are biologically designed to have different properties and flavors than the other commonly consumed poultry in America. Chicken and turkey largely differ from duck due to the duck's dark red meat. The duck's muscles have an abundance of myoglobin rich red muscle fibers, the dark red muscle tissues allow ducks to fly hundred of miles in a day with few stops (McGee 140). In addition to the delicious red meat, the duck's valuable and delicious fat provides a store of energy for these long flights. The excess of duck fat is what allows cooks to create a perfectly crispy skin when pan-searing.

Researchers at Cornell University have found that the popular breed of Pekin duck was domesticated in ancient China during the Yuan dynasty which lasted from 1271-1368 C.E. However, evidence exists that various cultures have been using ducks as food for at least 4,000 years(Dean). The Chinese and other rice growing Asian countries have been growing and depending on these ducks for centuries. In fact, in rural communities ducks can provide a "major source of income for one or more families." (Dean, Sandhu)

It was a logical step for me to honor this history by pairing a pan seared duck breast with an Asian steamed bun also known as bao. Bao are a Chinese innovation dating back to around 220 C.E. Chinese history tells of a military strategist named Zhuge Liang who created the steamed buns while on a military campaign in the South of China(Ye Jun). The popularity of the buns spread throughout China and now equivalents are found in Vietnamese, Mongolian, and other East Asian cuisines. The steamed doughs can be formed into breads, buns, or dumplings, but one thing remains the same about these buns. They have an extremely light and particularly fulfilling texture.

The buns are given their unique texture by using a combination of biological and physical leavening methods. First the dough is raised by yeast's released gasses as it proofs. Secondly, the steaming helps the dough surface reach 195F/90C quicker than dry cooking methods. The steam forms a film of water that prevents a crust and keeps the gluten network flexible which allows for greater expansion while cooking.(McGee 540)

This dish contains several unique textural and flavor elements, but it would not be complete without a sauce. The dish is finished with a savory, salty, and mildly sweet sauce. Duck stock can be substituted with any stock available. Simply finish the dish with a shredded carrots, scallions, and fresh basil blossoms. Pan Seared Duck Breast Pan Seared Duck Breast in a Scallion Steamed Bun

Steamed Scallion Bun
2 t active dry yeast
2 & 1/8 c bread flour
3 T sugar
1 & 1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/6 c liquefied duck fat
1/4 sliced scallions

1. In a medium bowl stir together 2 t of active yeast and ¾ C of room temperature water approximately 80 F. Let this mixture rest for 1 minute.

2. In the same bowl add 2 C and 2 T of bread flour, 3 T of sugar, 1 and 1/2 t of kosher salt, 1/4th t baking powder, 1/4th t baking soda, 1/4th C of scallions, and 1/6th C of liquefied duck fat.
3. Mix ingredients by hand until a soft and slightly sticky ball of dough forms. This takes roughly 3-5 minutes. Then oil the ball of dough with either duck fat or vegetable oil.
4. Place the dough in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set the bowl aside, somewhere that is warm for 1 hour.
5. After an hour of proofing punch the dough down. Transfer the dough to a cutting board. Cut the dough into 4 separate pieces, and then divide each into 2 more equal pieces. There should be 8 large balls of dough after separating. Roll each of the balls by hand into uniform balls and place on a sheet pan or hotel pan. Cover the pan with cling wrap and let rise for another 30 minutes.
6. Cut out 16 pieces of 4” x 4” parchment paper to place the buns upon while steaming.
7. After 30 minutes roll each of the balls into circles with a rolling pin or by hand. Lightly coat both sides of the bun in either duck fat or vegetable oil.
8. Now take the 16 pieces of parchment paper and fold all of them diagonally to create a triangle. Place the dough in the center of an open piece of parchment paper. It should be in the shape of a square. Now place a folded triangle piece of parchment crease down on top of the dough. Fold the dough with parchment in half to create a bun. The goal of the parchment paper is to allow the buns to steam and not cling to the steamer pan on the outside or themselves while maintaining its shape.
9. Let the buns rest in their new shape, again covered for 30 more minutes.
10. Place buns with parchment paper attached into a steamer for 8-10 minutes.
11. Discard parchment before serving.

Pan Seared Duck
One large duck breast

1. Take the duck breast out of the refrigerator 50 minutes before you prepare to plate the meal. Let duck sit out for 20 minute to come to room temperature. The cooking and resting of the duck takes approximately 30 minutes in addition.
2. Before trimming the breast preheat the oven to 280 degrees.
3. Trim any access silverskin, pieces of bone, and hard connective tissue off the meat side of the duck breast.
4. Flip the breast over and gently cut crosshatch marks on the skin side of the duck breast. This will help render fat.
5. Right before getting ready to cook the duck breast sprinkle kosher salt and ground black pepper over both sides of the breast.
6. Place the breast skin side down in a small cast iron on a medium low heat and let fat render for roughly 12-15 minutes. The Goal is to have most of the fat melt out of the duck breast but achieve a crispy golden skin. You may occasionally need to spoon out excess duck fat that collects. You may reserve this fat for a future use.
7. After achieving the golden brown skin, flip and cook the meat side for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
8. Put the breast in 280 F oven for another 3-5 minutes.
9. The goal is to achieve a medium rare duck breast with an internal temperature of 130 F. The temperature will rise while the duck is resting of the oven, thus 130 F is perfect.
10. Let the breast rest for 10 minutes, and at this point you will want to put the buns in the steamer.
11. After placing buns in the steamer, grate a carrot and thinly slice 3 green onions. Set aside to top the buns with while plating.
12. Slice the breast diagonally in 8 pieces, try to make them as even as possible.
13. To finish the dish simply place the duck breast inside a steamed bun with the crispy skin on top. Top with shredded carrots, green onions, and a drizzle of the savory duck sauce. Place several basil blossoms over the sauce.

Savory Duck Sauce
1 c duck stock (substitute with chicken stock if duck stock not available)
1/4 c hoisin sauce
2 T regular soy sauce

1. Stir 1 C of duck stock, 2 T of soy sauce and 1/4 C of Hoisin in a small pot and whisk.
2. Bring the heat to medium high and let the sauce reduce.
3. Once the sauce can coat the back of a wooden spoon, take off heat and reserve until ready to serve.

Yield: 8 Buns
Total Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes

Citations and Further Readings:

  • Dean, William F. "Food Value of Duck." Duck Research Labratory. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <>
  • Dean, William F., and Tirath S. Sandhu. "Domestic Ducks." Duck Research Labratory. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <>.
  • Jun, Ye. "Best of Buns." Beijing Weekend. China Daily, 21 May 2004. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <>.
  • McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. New York: Scriner, 2004. 140, 540. Print.
Photos by Jordan Henline


  1. What a FABULOUS idea. Why have I not thought of that?! I have loved steamed buns ever since discovering the momofuk pork bun recipe. I have replaced the pork with lamb once, but I NEVER thought of using jsut any type of meat/seasoning that takes my fancy. Great dish!

    1. Thank you! I hope you do experiment with steamed buns as a vehicle for other meats and then let me know how they turn out. You can't go wrong with a fluffy bun and properly cooked meat.