Growing up in my family, the idea of eating duck was much like the idea of eating your pet. It’s not that we had ducks, but they were almost like a family mascot. My dad did an amazing Donald Duck impersonation which my sister and I requested about five times a day. As a reward, we showered him with Donald Duck figurines which sometimes included other duck paraphernalia. We also spent many weekends out on our sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay and, not knowing better, fed the ducks all the time. So I was always horrified by the idea of eating duck and swore I never would.
The first time I ever had duck was entirely accidental. I was at a work gala and I grabbed a quesadilla appetizer off of a passing tray and put it in my mouth before hearing what it was. I shocked. Horrified. Who puts duck in quesadillas? I felt like I had deeply betrayed my old friends from the Bay. I renewed my oath to never, ever eat duck (again) and went on my way. Until I started dating a Filipino guy. A Filipino guy who loves his duck.
I held strong to my no duck rule for quite a while. But after time my reason starting seeming more and more silly and Joseph, while entirely supportive of my choices, was also eager to open my eyes to one of his favorite foods. I finally broke down and (intentionally) ate duck at a food and wine festival in Orlando. I had a reached a point in my culinary life where I didn’t want to be restricted by my own inhibitions. Since the food was all there and being prepared whether or not I ate it, I went for it. And I had to admit that I liked it. I have since even gone so far as to order it at restaurants!
For Valentine’s Day, Joseph found this duck recipe that he really wanted to try and I said, sure, why not? We went to the butcher and brought two very large, very expensive duck breasts home. The meal he made me was absolutely incredible and perfect for a romantic or celebratory meal. The dried cherries soak up the lovely balsamic sauce and become plump with scrumptious goodness. The duck was cooked perfectly and is really enhanced by the cherries and the sauce while the pan-roasted potatoes and sautéed hericots verts round out the perfect meal.
Seared Duck Breasts with Duck Fat, Pan-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Haricots Verts and a Balsamic Cherry Reduction
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
For the Balsamic Cherry Reduction:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
11/2 cups rich duck or chicken stock
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon cold butter
Salt and black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the shallots, garlic and cherries. Cook the shallots, garlic and cherries until the garlic is fragrant and the shallots begin to caramelize, about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar, and when the vinegar is almost completely reduced, about 3 minutes, add the stock and chopped sage. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Once the sauce is cooked, swirl the cold butter into the sauce and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
For the Haricots Verts:
1/2 pound haricots verts, stem ends trimmed
1 cup water
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
Place the haricots verts in a 10-inch saute pan and cover with 1 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper and place the butter in the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until crisp-tender, about 6 to 7 minutes.
For the Duck Breast:
4 Pekin (Long Island) duck breast halves (about 7 ounces each) or 2 mullard duck breast halves (about 12 to 16 ounces each)
freshly cracked black pepper
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
Fresh or fried sage leaves, for garnish
Score the duck breast halves on the fatty side using a thin, sharp knife, cutting about 1/8-inch into the skin in a cross hatch pattern. This will help the fat render as quickly as possible before the meat overcooks. For a 1 lb duck breast half, make about 20 cross hatch cuts. It is easier to make these cuts while the duck is still cold. Season the flesh side of the duck breasts with the salt and pepper, some grated nutmeg, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Lay a sprig of thyme or a pinch of dried thyme running lengthwise dow the center of each breast and cover with a bay leaf. Flip the duck breasts over and season the skin side with a pinch of salt and a grating of nutmeg. Refrigerate uncovered for at least an hour (up to 12 hours).
Heat a 12-inch nonstick pan or well-seasoned skillet over medium heat. Pat the duck breast halves dry with some paper towel and place, skin side down, in the hot skillet. Cook the breast until the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 8 to 10 minutes for Pekin duck breasts and 15-18 minutes for mullard breasts. About halfway through the cooking time, check the skin side of the breast. If the skin is getting very brown, lower the heat. If there are no signs of browning, turn up the heat. Move the duck breasts around in the pan every few minutes to ensure even browning. As the fat is rendered, carefully spoon out the excess and transfer to a small bowl. Turn the breast over and turn the heat up to high. Brown the flesh side for about 1 to 2 minutes. The duck breasts are ready when the skin side is a rich brown and very crisp and the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees for medium-rare. Remove the duck from the pan and allow to rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Place skin side down on a cutting board and slice diagonally, with the knife held at an angle, into strips. Serve while hot.
For the Potatoes:
8 fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons rendered duck fat, reserved from cooking the duck breasts
Salt and pepper
Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the heat and cool under running cold water. Once they’re cool enough to handle, place the potatoes on a cutting board and slice in half lengthwise. Season them with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat a 10-inch saute pan with the reserved duck fat over medium high heat. Place the potatoes, cut-side down, in the pan and cook the potatoes until browned and crispy, about 3 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and serve with the duck.
To serve the dish, divide the haricots verts evenly between 4 warmed entree plates. Place 4 fingerling potato halves on each of the plates, and 6 slices of the duck breast fanned out along the plate. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of the sauce on each plate and serve garnished with fresh or fried sage leaves.