A Duck on Every Plate

Whenever I consider indulgence, especially this time of year, my mind inevitably turns to duck. Now, I have to admit, it’s not something I grew up with. Italians don’t really know what to do with a duck. Well, not the Southern Italians I grew up with anyway. So I had to seek out this most lofty bird on my own culinary journeys. What I found, the moment I tried my first sampling, was unlike any of the fowl forays I had ever embarked upon.

I can actually recall the first time I was introduced to a duck dinner. I was fairly young. Nearly twenty, I think. We were at a small, very casual French Provincial restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. My much older friends, who often frequented this quaint café, suggested many of the Francophile standards I had actually been familiar with. As I perused the menu for something different, I came upon canard. “What does duck taste like?” I inquired. My friends looked at me in astonishment. “You’ve never tried duck?” they screamed in unison. The decision was made, and within a half hour the waiter placed before me pure heaven on a plate. As the crispy, crackling skin and succulent sweet flesh danced in mouth I became a self proclaimed aficionado.

Duck is a funny kind of thing. Really needs to be prepared correctly, or you won’t encounter the privilege of its full potential to enamor you. The trick is to achieve an incredibly crisp skin, while not overcooking and hence drying out the delicate meat. Phyllis Kirigin, our dear friend and chef, suggests scoring the skin and searing until all the fat is rendered. Then she pan roasts. You simply must try her recipe below. It’s just luscious. And she makes it simple. That’s just it. So many of us are unnecessarily intimidated by duck when it’s really so easy to prepare. This leads me to a funny story.

When my Mom and Dad were first married, they decided to throw a dinner party for Dad’s closest friends. They were a sophisticated group. Lots of artists and musicians. Quite older than Mom, too. So instead of lasagna, she decided upon duck. Needless to say, she had no idea what to do with it. Never had tasted it, either. She was told to pierce the skin all over, and place in the oven, like a turkey. After the fat overflowed out of the roasting pan and into the oven flames, and the smoky fire was put out, she ended up ordering Chinese food. Too bad Mom didn’t know Phyllis at the time.

Now, I’m not the kind of guy to dictate how to work one’s plate. However, I’ll make an exception here. When you place a blissfully crisp and juicy duck portion on your best china, you really should include the perfect counterfoil under it, or next to it. For me, it’s almost always a puree of some sort. When constructing a plate, you always look for contrasts in texture. Nothing works better than a smooth and creamy side dish to complement the crackling skin of a duck. Yes, mashed potatoes work fine. Or go that extra mile. I like Phyllis’ suggestion of Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes. Pureed rutabaga or parsnips are nice too. Very earthy and of the season. Just be sure that every bite includes a piece of juicy meat, crunchy skin and silky puree. You’re sure to think, “Ah, no one’s as happy as I am at this moment!”

One more thing. You’ll find that many duck recipes include a fruited glaze. Cherries and oranges are popular friends of the duck. There’s a reason for this. Duck is rich and fatty (in a good way, I promise you.) The sweet and sometimes tart addition of fruit cuts through all that, balancing out the flavors. I highly recommend it.

Indulgent, sumptuous, festive. All good words to describe duck. It never disappoints. Nay, it always elates. That’s just what you’re seeking at a holiday feast. Include it in your repertoire. And be sure to invite me. When I hear duck’s on the menu, I’m there.

Victor Ribaudo

Seared Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney

Would you like to dine like a king? A president maybe? A piece of cake. Well. Not cake, but duck. Yes. Crispy seared duck breast with cherry chutney. When Bill suggested duck for our next post, I instantly recalled seared duck as a main course at President Obama’s January, 2009 Inauguration Luncheon. Prepared by Chef Shannon Shaffer of the Arlington, Virginia’s Design Cuisine, it constituted half of a brace of birds, the other being herb-roasted pheasant with wild rice stuffing.
The entire feast for 200 guests was inspired by food that was served in Abraham Lincoln’s time focusing especially on dishes Lincoln particularly liked. The seared duck breast itself couldn’t be easier to prepare at home. The richness of the duck is cut by the sweet, tart and tannic cherry chutney. Chef Shaffer advises that the flesh should be the color of medium rare beef and the skin golden brown and crispy.
I can’t resist including the molasses whipped sweet potatoes that was served alongside the fanned out slices of duck breast.
Ingredients (serves 10)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (from about 1 small onion)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Scant 1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 cups canned Bing cherries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chives
4 boneless duck breasts, skin-on (about 1 pound each)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and shallot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, cumin, red-pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in wine, vinegar, and sugar; let simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, 1 1/2 cups cherries, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; let simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
3. Place 1/4 cup of the cherry mixture in the bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Reserve for glazing duck.
4. Add remaining cherries to cherry mixture, along with raisins and tarragon or chives; stir to combine. Glaze and chutney can be made up to a day in advance and stored, refrigerated, in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using.
5. Using a small sharp knife, score skin side of duck breasts in a crosshatch pattern; season with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 2 tablespoons water over low heat. Add breasts, skin-side down, and cook until fat is rendered and skin is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack set in the center.
7. Transfer breasts to a plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Brush duck breasts with reserved glaze and return to skillet, skin-side up. Place skillet in oven and roast until duck is medium-rare (125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), about 15 minutes. Transfer duck to a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes.
8. Using a sharp knife, slice duck breasts at a 45-degree angle. Serve immediately with chutney, roughly 6 oz. per person.

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes (serves 10)
6 large sweet potatoes (about 6 pounds)
2 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and transfer to oven. Roast until easily pierced with a fork, about an hour. Let potatoes cool slightly; remove skin and discard.
3. Transfer potatoes to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until smooth. Add butter, salt, orange juice, sugar, molasses, and maple syrup; beat until butter is melted and mixture is well combined. Serve immediately or store, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 day. To reheat, transfer potato mixture to an ovenproof dish, cover.

Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”http://bit.ly/9wFYxm” target=”_blank”>http://bit.ly/9wFYxm</a>
Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”http://theribaudogroup.com” target=”_blank”>theribaudogroup.com</a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com” target=”_blank”>http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com</a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com
Food Stylist Gina Mungiovi </a>Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com <a href=”http://datingsymbol.com/” target=”_blank”>http://datingsymbol.com/</a>http://datingsymbol.com/