Duck Breast in Red Curry Sauce: Making Thai Food in Lyon Part Two

Croix-Rousse Market - Making Thai Food in Lyon by

If you’re curious about that one half-hearted vertical slash, please read on.

Here’s another day of cooking Thai food with everyday fresh market items in Lyon, France. I’m still cooking in a small poorly-equipped kitchen with not many tools to work with. I still have to cut things with a serrated butter knife. Yet, I’m still having lots of fun. Lyon is such a great city. I could have been stuck with a much smaller kitchen and a disposable plastic knife, and I still would be having a blast. (You can read the background story here.)

Enticed by all the beautiful, voluptuous côtes de canard at Croix-Rousse market in Lyon, I just had to bring home one. This gorgeous duck breast weighs in at 700 grams which is slightly over 1 1/2 pounds. I didn’t have any idea what to do with it when I was at the market. I had with me some red curry paste and boxed coconut milk which I had schlepped all the way from Geneva, Switzerland, when I was there last week. (By the way, did you know they have tom yam/tom kha herb kits at mainstream supermarkets in Geneva? Mind blown.) So I thought I would make duck breast in red curry sauce — chuchi-style, somewhat like this halibut in red curry sauce.

Croix-Rousse Market - Making Thai Food in Lyon by
I started by scoring the skin of the duck breast (to facilitate the rendering of the fat among other things). If you have a good knife, do the crisscross pattern. If you’re one of those who, for whatever reason, cook with, say, a butter knife, do what I did: make a few horizontal slashes on the skin, try making one vertical slash, realize that it 1. is pathetic and 2. just won’t work, decide that horizontal slashes will have to do. Also, if you work with a duck breast this thick, it would be a good idea to make a few slashes, about 1/2 the thickness of the duck breast in depth, on the flesh side (especially the top part). This will ensure even cooking.

I marinated the duck breast for an hour with one tablespoon of fish sauce. I kept it refrigerated in a covered bowl.

Next, I seared the duck breast on all sides, starting with the skin, in a 14-inch skillet (that’s all I have; you can do this in a medium sauté pan or saucepan) just until it’s browned on the outside (no need to cook it through) and about 1/4-1/3 cup of fat is released. Then I transferred the seared duck breast to a plate, covered it, and set it aside.

I kept the rendered duck fat in the skillet to fry my curry paste in. You see, if you use canned or boxed coconut milk/cream, you know that sometimes it doesn’t “crack” readily due to either the way it’s processed or the presence of emulsifiers/stabilizers (see my post on easy Thai green curry on the “cracking” of coconut cream which is essential in making Thai curry). When this happens, additional fat will help you achieve the cracking. For me, this fat usually comes in the form of coconut oil or vegetable oil — a couple of tablespoons along with about 1/2 cup’s worth of coconut cream used in this initial stage. In this particular case, since I had this beautiful rendered duck fat on hand, I thought I’d just use it.

Croix-Rousse Market - Making Thai Food in Lyon by

Ayam brand coconut milk contains 80% extracted coconut milk; the rest is water and stabilizers E412, E407, and E415. Even with almost 1/2 cup of rendered duck fat, the curry sauce still ended up homogenous.

So that’s what I did; I fried 2 tablespoons of red (or panaeng) curry paste (you can use less or more) in the duck fat along with 1/2 cup of coconut milk on medium-high heat until the curry paste had fully dissolved and the mixture became fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.

Then I added another 1/4 cup of coconut milk and 3/4 cup of water or broth. to the skillet, blended everything, and added the seared duck breast (including the juices that it had released) back to the skillet. I lowered the heat to medium and let the duck cook in a covered skillet for 12 minutes (it was still slightly pink inside — just how I like it). Then I seasoned the sauce to taste with fish sauce (at home, I would add a tiny bit of palm sugar or brown sugar. But I didn’t have any on hand, so I just skipped it). I tasted the sauce to see if it was sufficiently seasoned, remembering that this would be served along with some bland rice. I checked the consistency of the sauce to see if it needed more water (I cooked this dish in a wide skillet, therefore the liquid evaporated more than if I was to cook it in a smaller pot. These things you need to play by ear).

Once everything looked good, I took the skillet off the heat, sliced the duck into thin slices, plated it, and strew some fresh basil leaves on top before serving it with rice. This was enough for 2 people — more if served with other dishes as part of a multi-dish Thai-style family meal.

You can, of course, use more basil than what is shown here. I actually used about a cup of loosely-packed basil leaves — definitely more than just the one sprig in the photo above (I tried to make the curry look cute to compensate for the old, ugly nonstick skillet in which I cooked it. You see, this thing is so old that if you shake it from side to side even for just a bit, the handle will come right off).

Please come back here tomorrow for a refreshing summer Thai dessert made with fresh produce from a French market.

9 Responses to Duck Breast in Red Curry Sauce: Making Thai Food in Lyon Part Two

  1. Armelle July 10, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Well, how did you cook “le magret de canard ” ??? In an oven ? or maybe you did a BBk ??? Please, don’t score the skin and the fat, you have to ……..well do as you want to do…There is an old way to make it, well I am not from the south of France, so…Come in Brittany, here there are lobsters, fresh “fruits de mer”, huitres, coquillages, and so on. Des crêpes aussi.

  2. Kris July 10, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Happy to read that you enjoyed Swiss supermarket.
    If you have the chance to go back to Geneva, just 5 minutes walk from the train station (quartier des Paquis) you can find some real Asian supermarket with all fresh and frozen thai ingredients you dream of. It’s like paradise there 🙂 There are also some incredible Japanese supermarkets selling so many different types of algae and teas. It’s worth the visit.

    Your duck looks absolutely fantastic… makes me want to bite my computer screen !

  3. Mary-Anne July 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Oh dear such luck no real knife which to me is my number one requirement in cooking! France has lovely knives. Why not buy one? There are chef shops for sure in Lyon like d’Hillerans in Paris. Try this shop.

    • Leela July 11, 2013 at 2:27 am #

      Mary-Anne – Just bought one last night. Thanks.

  4. tonia mees July 11, 2013 at 5:02 am #

    thanks so much, Leela..your post are, as usual, great!
    there is an asian supermarkt real close to Lyon, named Paris Store. Together with Tang Freres both in the Paris aread) they are the main importers of asian foodstuffs in France. Tang sells TKG/TYM kits, frozen, in almost all their supermarkets. around 1.60 per kit, enough for 4/6 people. this is the address of the Paris Store, it gives you a good idea about what is available in France.

    8, Boulevard Irène Joliot-Curie
    69200 — VENISSIEUX
    TEL : 04 72 78 48 88
    FAX : 04 72 78 48 80
    Email :

    Horaires :
    Du lundi au jeudi de 9h30 à 13h
    et de 14h30 à 19h20
    Vendredi et samedi de 9h30 à 19h20

    good luck, enjoy France and thanks again!

  5. Zelda July 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Do you have an oven, Leela? It’s really easy to make magret de canard:
    Score the skin in a criss-cross pattern, and season well with salt and pepper
    Roast in a VERY hot oven for 5 minutes (yes, you heard right)
    Remove from oven, brush the skin with honey (pomegranate molasses also works well)
    Place under a hot grill to crisp the skin for 5 minutes.
    You’ll have juicy, pink magrets, with crisp, fragrant skin, rendered fat to save for potatoes, and no messy pans! Some people like to stud the flesh with slivers of garlic, but I think French duck is so good, the garlic would unnecessarily overwhelm its natural flavour.

    • Mary-Anne July 14, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

      Zelda, I adore pomegranate chicken, and your duck breast is brilliant.

  6. The Prudent Homemaker July 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm #


    I lived in Geneva (and also in Lyon) 14 years ago. There is a wonderful market there on the bottom floor of a department store; they have fresh focaccia and bruschetta in the summer by the breads. I loved shopping at this store; it was not far from the west side of the lake, and it was the birthplace of someone famous as well (though at the moment I cannot remember whose birthplace!)

    Every couple of months I dream I am in Geneva and I cannot find this store! I am walking all over looking for it. If you are there, and you know which store this is, I would love it if you can tell me the address. I hope one day to return there and I plan on visiting this wonderful store, an buying mache if it is is season, or bruschetta if it is summer. Every time I pick basil from my garden the smell reminds me of buying bruschetta at this store and walking to have a picnic in the park on the west side of the lake.

  7. Laura August 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    I ate duck in red curry everywhere I could in Thailand–because it was more affordable and I LOVE it. I rarely get it here and I rarely cook it here, both because of money. This post is killing me and now I am craving it again with a vengeance.