With Spring finally here, I wanted to make something inspired by what my mother made once for Easter, which was a leg of lamb with a dried fruit stuffing. The lamb was rolled around the bready stuffing and served sliced like pinwheels, showing off the lovely bits of dried fruit.
Being that my husband won’t eat lamb, I thought I could make something similar using duck, since I’d just received four duck breasts from D’Artagnan. That way, I’d only have to eat four duck breasts instead of a whole leg of lamb, because he won’t eat duck either. Another sacrifice for my blog.
People tend to be a little fearful of working with duck, but it’s really no different than a working with a steak. Primarily, the rule is to cook the duck medium-rare, which also applies to steak. The cooking process is the same: some searing on the outside in a hot skillet, and then a few minutes at a lower temperature to get the inside cooked to the proper temperature. Medium rare temperature for steak, lamb, and duck is 125 degrees. I also set my steaks out for at least an hour at room temperature before I cook them.
One difference with duck is the skin. It’s really thick, which is why ducks can hang out in freezing cold water, I imagine.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m leaving the skin attached to the duck breasts. I like the presentation. But duck skin can be removed, diced, and cooked just like you would bacon, for resulting cracklings. These can be added to a sauce, or even sprinkled over the duck breasts or your side dish, like sautéed spinach, for added flavor and texture. The skins can also be rendered for the sake of duck fat, if that is desired.
Duck has a significant flavor, which is a plus because it can stand up to some serious seasoning. Some think the flavor is gamey, but I disagree with that. Of course, maybe I like gamey. Plus, it might depend on the source of your duck.
Duck is often served with berries or cherries in a sauce, because the fruitiness and sweetness pairs well with the deeper duck flavor. So today I’m making a sauce for the duck, using dried fruits.
To season the duck breasts, I’m using ancho chile paste, that I made with anchos, guajillos and chipotles. It has quite a kick to it, and will really shine with the fruit sauce accompaniment.
Duck can be served with just about any green vegetable, like asparagus or green beans, and for side dishes, a rice pilaf or roasted potatoes would be lovely. Since I have a lot of duck to eat in the next few days, I’m keeping it simple, serving my duck breasts with steamed asparagus.
In today’s recipe, I’m including a sous vide step, which means the final step for me is to brown the duck breasts only; the cooking is already done. The most important thing is to make sure that when you’re pan-frying the duck breasts that you don’t overcook them.
So here’s the recipe I created for the duck breasts. You’ll see how easy it is to cook duck after this recipe!
Fruited Duck Breasts
4 duck breasts, with the skin attached
Juice from 1 orange, strained
Ancho chile paste*, about 4 heaping teaspoons
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pat the duck breasts dry, and place them on your cutting board skin side up.
Season them with salt and pepper generously. Using a sharp knife, slice diagonally into the skin only, making about 5 diagonal lines, then making 5 more diagonal lines, forming diamond shapes. Try not to cut into the actual meat.
Place the breasts skin side up on a platter. Then pour the strained orange juice over the tops.
Using a spoon, place a heaping teaspoon of ancho chile paste on each duck breasts and spread it over the whole breast.
Then divide the teaspoon of ground cumin between them.
Let the breasts marinate for 30 minutes up to an hour.
Prepare the sous vide set at 131 degrees F.
When the sous vide is ready, place two breasts each in two vacuum sealable bags and seal.
Add them to the water and mark 3 hours on your clock.
At the 3 hour mark, remove the duck breasts from the sous vide.
Remove the breasts from the bags and place on paper towels to drain.
Since sous vide meat can’t sit around at room temperature, you need to work quickly. If you’re not making the duck breasts to serve within the next hour, refrigerate them first.
Add a teaspoon of oil in a skillet. I’m using my cast-iron skillet. Heat it up over high heat and turn on the ventilation system, because the fat will smoke.
When the oil is just smoking, add one or two duck breasts at a time, depending how big your skillet is. I start them skin-side down.
After a good minute, turn it or them over, and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. Remember, I’m only browning the breasts, not cooking them through.
After you’ve browned all four duck breasts, slice them crosswise for serving.
Pour a little of the fruit sauce over the top, and pass the rest around at the table.
Because of the length of this post, my sauce recipe will be posted tomorrow!
* If you don’t own any ancho chile paste, and don’t want to make it, recipe here, you have a couple of options. One is to use ground ancho chile pepper. You could also include a little ground chipotle pepper for a little more flavor. Or, buy a little can of chipotle peppers that come in adobo sauce, and use the sauce. Stay away from the actual chipotle peppers for this purpose, but if you love them, you could always chop one up finely and add it to the resulting sauce.
note: If you’re not doing the sous vide step, cook the duck breasts as you would a steak, searing both sides, then letting the center reach 125 degrees. At that point remove them from the skillet and place them on a plate. Cover them loosely with foil and let them rest for 15 minutes. Then slice and serve.