Sugar and Chile Cured Duck Breasts


This is Chef Robert McGrath's contemporary take on trail food, inspired by the Old West. It’s a whole other world from hardtack, however, and lots more fun to eat.

Yield: 4 servings



  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 boneless, skinless duck breasts (8 ounces each)
  • For the Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon chopped shallot
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons red bell pepper
  • ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives, for Garnish


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, chile powder, and salt. Evenly rub the mixture over the duck breasts; place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  2. For the Sauce: In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the corn and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and white wine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly and put in a blender; purée until smooth. Add the cold butter, one piece at a time, until incorporated. Strain the sauce back into the saucepan and keep warm. Just before serving, stir in the ketchup. Assembly: Prepare a barbecue grill. When hot, brush off the excess dry cure from the duck breasts and place the breasts on the grill. Cook until still pink inside, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Cut the duck breasts diagonally into thin slices and plate. Spoon the corn sauce over the open portion of the plate and top with chopped chives.


For best flavor, let the duck breasts sit in the chile cure overnight before cooking. Cracklings made with leftover duck skin are a real treat and a great garnish: Put the skin in a very hot oven to render all the fat and to get crispy. Then cut it up and sprinkle on the duck breasts just before serving.
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