Crispy Duck Breast

with Oaxacan Chocolate-Fig Mole

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour & 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour & 15 minutes

Moles can seem complicated, given the long list of ingredients; this recipe is simplified by dividing the it into 4 components (chiles, fruit, nuts/spices & vegetables) to toast, puree and simmer together.

Chile Puree


6 dried chiles - a mixture of pasilla negro, ancho or guajillo


Place chiles in cast iron pan over medium heat, toast until fragrant, about 20-30 seconds per side. Place in bowl of hot water to soak. When chiles are soft, strain out the liquid, remove stems and seeds; set aside. (To be pureed with fruit-port mixture below.)

Fruit Puree


3/4 c. port
3/4 c. dried figs, chopped
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. dried apricots, chopped


Bring port to a simmer either in small pot on stove or in microwave; stir in figs, raisins & apricots, and let soak. When fruit is soft, pour the whole thing into a blender with hydrated chiles; puree until smooth. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

Nut/Spice Mixture


1 Tbs. dried Mexican oregano
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground allspice
2 tsp. canela (Mexican cinnamon) or 3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
3 Tbs. peanut oil or lard
1/2 c. slivered almonds
1/2 c. walnuts
1/4 c. pecans
3 Tbs. sesame seeds (optional)


In cast iron pan over medium heat, quickly toast spices, shaking pan constantly to avoid burning; pour spices into small bowl; set aside. Return pan to stove and drizzle in 1 Tbsp oil or lard; add almonds and toast until golden brown and fragrant, stirring or shaking pan constantly. Pour almonds into bowl with spices. Repeat toasting process with walnuts, then pecans, followed by sesame seeds, using a tablespoon of oil or lard with each ingredient. Set bowl of combined nuts, spices and seeds aside. (To be pureed with vegetable/stock mixture below.)

Vegetable/Plantain Puree


2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
2 Tbs. peanut oil or lard
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tomatillos, husks removed & chopped
3 c. chicken stock


In cast iron pan over medium-high heat melt butter. Saute plantain, turning frequently, until golden brown. Scoop out plantain into a small bowl and return pan to heat. Pour in oil or lard and saute garlic and onion until softened and golden brown, about 7 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, tomatillos and cooked plantains; continue to cook until tomatoes break down, plantains soften, and the mixture just begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add chicken stock; stir to release the delicious bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour whole thing into the blender with nut/spice mixture; puree until smooth. Pour into bowl holding the fruit/chile puree.

Sear the Duck & Finish the Sauce


2 tsp. lard or canola oil
1/2 tablet Mexican chocolate, finely grated
4 duck breasts
Kosher salt & pepper, to taste
Juice of 1-3 limes, to taste


Heat cast iron pan over medium-high heat, add lard. When lard is melted and shimmering, carefully pour in mole (fruit/chile/nut/spice/vegetable puree) and stir quickly or cover quickly to minimize the spatter. (This traditional process can make a mess, but “sauteing” the mole gives the sauce its deep, co-mingling of flavors.) Bring mole to a boil and stir in grated chocolate. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture reduces to desired consistency, color deepens, and flavors meld together; about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, score skin on duck breasts by making 5 shallow, parallel slits, taking care not to cut completely through to the flesh. Repeat in the opposite direction, making a criss-cross pattern. Season duck breasts on both sides with salt & pepper; place in cold saute pan over very low heat. The duck fat will slowly render as the temperature rises (this will take a good 15 minutes or so), producing moist, tender meat with a crisp, virtually fatless skin. When all the fat has rendered from underneath the skin, increase heat to medium-high; cook until skin is golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Turn duck over and cook for 2 more minutes. Place in 400° oven until internal temperature of duck reaches 135°. Let duck rest on cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing.

Season mole with salt, pepper and lime juice. Ladle mole over sliced duck. Dish is nice garnished with chopped cilantro & cojita cheese and served with tamales.