Friday, February 26, 2010

Duck & Cover


No, seriously.
I have finally, finallyFINALLY cooked a duck breast to perfection. This makes me over-the-moon happy because it is one of my favorite things to eat and the fact that I could not recreate its tender succulent state in my own home made me positively batty.

Also, when I looked online how to cook duck, there were so very many conflicting versions. Medium high heat, medium heat, medium low heat, only 4 min per side, almost 20 minutes on a side! I decided to split the difference and made up my own way, and as previously stated, it worked to perfection! The key is patience and a low heat, which I suspected, and had confirmed by a chef at Giorgio's. Duck does not do well with a "screaming hot pan" so just keep your hands away from the temperature knob and let it cook on medium-low heat.

Finally, I made this recipe up off the cuff from previous duck dishes I've enjoyed in restaurants, so if I forget portions... just use logic. And I really like duck with a sweet fruit sauce, so if sweet isn't your thing... oh well. But then, this duck was so perfect it didn't even need the sauce. Yum.

So here's how it went down:

Duck w/ Brandied Plum-Cherry Sauce

Step one: turn on some classy opera (or whatever you're in the mood to cook to. Last night, Luci wanted in on dinner.)

Step two: prep carrots. This was simple, if time-consuming to cook. Preheat oven to 400º. I was trying to recreate the roasted carrots I get when I roast a whole chicken, only without the whole chicken part.
So I peeled a few carrots, chopped them into "baby" carrot sizes, and tossed them in a pan (lined w/ foil) & drizzled them w/ a little evoo & salt. Then I threw in a bit of shallot & fresh thyme, and filled the pan with chicken stock to about halfway up the carrot slices. These then roast at 400º for about 45 minutes. They come out super sweet and tender.
Step three: prep your duck. Make sure it comes to room temp before you cook it (this is important with all meat) so it doesn't seize up when it hits the hot pan. Score the skin-side with hash marks, and season both sides. 
Next, turn your pan on medium low heat for the duck, and your sauce pan on medium. Put a bit of evoo in both. While your pan is heating, mince half a shallot (left from the carrots) and one clove of garlic for the sauce. By the time you finish this your pan should be up to temperature and you can put the duck in, skin-side-down. Set your timer for 12-15 min.
Step four: The Sauce. I was cheating and using the end of a jar of Sarabeth's Plum-Cherry preserves for my sauce (Aside: Sandra Lee - THIS is a semi-homemade sauce. Bitch.) Ok so the diced half shallot went into the evoo, and one minced clove of garlic. When that started to soften and cook out (only a minute or two) I added another splash of chicken stock, because I did not want the jam to stick or burn. Then I put the end of the jar of jam in, which was probably about 3-4 tablespoons.

Now the fun part.
Pour about half to 3/4 of a shot of brandy (I had armagnac) into a shot glass, and then pour that into the sauce. (NEVER pour directly from the bottle of booze because it can ignite the whole effing bottle by accident and then your kitchen is on fire. Plus, you're out a whole bottle of booze.) I used a kitchen lighter to ignite the sauce (I can't tilt the pan without tilting out the sauce, myself) and let the alcohol burn off. This took a good 45 seconds or so. I'm sorry I don't have a photo of that, but I was more concerned with keeping an eye on the giant flame in my pan, and keeping it there, rather than reaching for the camera. Once the fire is out, stir again, toss in a little leftover fresh thyme, and finish the sauce with a pat of butter. Put the heat on the lowest setting and keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
By now your duck should look like this. And yes that is a little more fresh thyme on top. If your duck does not want to come away from the pan, it means it is not ready yet. But when you get to the 15 min mark, toy with the edges w/ tongs to ease it away, letting the fat run under the sticking skin.
(Note: during the 12-15 min the duck has been cooking and you were making the sauce, you would need to ladle out some of the duck fat from the pan. Place that in a separate bowl, and save it because it will make fabulous potatoes. You can see how much I got here.)
When you flip your duck, it should look nice and golden and crispy on the skin side. I cook it for another 3-4 minutes this way, and then (*here is my key discovery!) put the lid on your pan for another 2 minutes. This assures the duck cooks through evenly. Then remove the duck to a plate, tent with foil, and let it rest 5 min or so before serving, to preserve juices.
Hopefully now your oven is telling you that your carrots are done cooking, and the chicken stock should have just disappeared from the bottom of the pan. (If there was some left, you used a little too much, which would reduce the caramelization of your carrots, but they should still be tender and tasty.)
Divide the breast down the middle for two servings, top with your still-warm brandied-plum-cherry sauce, and dish out your carrots. (I never actually eat the crispy skin due to how fatty the underside is, but you must cook with it, unlike chicken.)

Presto!! A fantastic meal, perfectly cooked, juicy, and melting in your mouth.

Did I mention that I am SO FREAKING PROUD OF MYSELF?!?!?

But a funny side-note of humility:
Mike was working late last night and did not get home until 7:30PM, so I was already cooking. And that damned jar of Sarabeth's preserves would not open. I tried running it under hot water, using a gripper thing, and making every stupid face while trying to twist the top off, but whatever old jam was stuck in the lid was just not going to budge for me. So... I walked across the hall to my neighbors and asked the husband/dad-of-two there to open it. Happily for me (so I didn't feel like a total wuss), he struggled as well, and had to run it under the tap twice before he could get it open. But, much as I'd like to deny it, sometimes you just need a guy to open a stubborn jar.
I'm going to have to make them something in thanks.

As it has dropped another 16 inches of snow on NYC today, I need to wrap this up so we can go and play in Riverside Park. So go forth and play, and master duck in your own kitchen!


Sassy said...

That sounds delicious and perfect, and I love that it's both a recipe and a hilarious story.

I also need to look up Sandra Lee. She totally sounds like a bitch though.

RocknRollGourmet said...

Just wait, I have a post on Sandra Lee in the works. I shall then link you...

Joe Ambrosino said...

Nice work! I love how you intuited how to do it. That's cookin' baby!