Lately, I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire of meats beyond beef, chicken, and pork. So, my latest venture into unknown foods isn’t all that exotic, but it’s certainly worth talking about: duck. Before trying it, I expected duck to be something like chicken. They are both birds, after all. But oh, how wrong I was. Duck is kind of in between a red and a white meat. A little like pork, but the best, most tender, most juicy pork you’ve ever had. It has a hint of gaminess, but tastes light enough, I think, to appeal to most palettes. Most recently, using a Cat Cora recipe, I made Balsamic-Glazed Duck Breast with Pear, Pearl Onion, and Mushroom Hash. Mmm … sorry, I go into a little dreamy just thinking about it.
Now, I should warn you, duck isn’t exactly the cheapest meat. In fact, the breasts I bought ran about $8/pound. Ouch, I know. Buying a whole duck is much less expensive, of course—around $4/pound from what I’ve seen. Seriously, though, splurge and do this for a treat. It’ll be worth it.
The recipe is fairly simple. The breasts are seasoned and seared in a skillet over high heat, then roasted in the oven. Halfway through, the breasts are glazed with the rendered fat and balsamic vinegar.
Another thing to note about the gloriousness of duck is the incredible flavor of the fat it renders. It is rich and golden and delicious and so good, you’ll just want to spread it on toast. This recipe makes brilliant use of the duck fat by sautéing the hash in it, so that everything is infused with that lovely duck flavor.
Then, while the meat is resting, the fat is separated from the pan juices, and the juices are put into a separate saucepan. The hash is sautéed in the duck fat using the same pan used to roast the duck.
To serve, the duck is sliced and arranged on the plates, then drizzled with the reserved pan juices. The hash is served alongside, and you have yourself an elegant, original, and, delicious meal. So, step outside the box, people, and try the duck.
Balsamic-Glazed Duck Breast with Pear, Pearl Onion, and Mushroom Hash
Adapted from Cooking From the Hip by Cat Cora
1 tbsp. plus 3 tsp. kosher salt
16 pearl onions
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
3 lbs. duck breast (you want boneless, with skin)
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar (C.C. uses fig balsamic vinegar, which I’m sure would be amazing, so use it if you can. I used regular, and it was still wonderful)
1 ½ cups quartered cremini mushrooms
1 firm, but ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage, or 2 tsp. dry
Blanch onions by dripping them in boiling water for 5 to 8 minutes, just until the skin begins to come off. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon, then immediately transfer them into a bowl of ice water. (I used frozen, already peeled, pearl onions and followed the same procedure.) Bring the water used to blanch the onions back to a boil, and add the potatoes. Cook until almost tender, but still firm to the touch.
Meanwhile, drain the onions, and discard any remaining skins. Cut the onions in half, unless they are very small. Set them aside. When the potatoes are done, drain them and allow them to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice into ¼-inch-thick disks. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F
Gently score the skin of the duck (to help render the fat and makes the skin crisp during cooking). Season the breasts with salt and pepper. Pour olive oil into a large skillet with and ovenproof handle, and heat over high heat. Add the duck breast and immediately lower heat to medium. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Arrange the breasts, skin side down, in the skillet and place in the oven.
After 10 minutes, glaze the breasts with the vinegar by pouring it over the breasts and basting them with the pan juices. Roast the duck for 5-10 minutes more, until an internal temperature of 170 F has been reached.
Remove skillet from oven, and transfer duck to a cutting board. Cover with tented foil, and let them rest. Carefully separate the fat from the pan juices and reserve. The fat is a deep golden color, and is oily compared to the pan juices. It will rest on top of the juices, so you’re skimming the fat from the top. Pour pan juices into a small saucepan and keep warm over very low heat.
Place skillet used for roasting the duck over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon or two of the reserved fat. When it is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. add a couple of teaspoons more fat, then add the pear, onions, potatoes, and sage, if using dried. Sauté for about 6 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and beginning to brown the vegetables have caramelized. If using fresh sage, add it now, and season to taste with salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of each).
Arrange a portion of the hash on each plate, then slice the duck and fan the slices alongside it. (C. C. instructs to serve the duck over the hash, and drizzle the juices over everything, but I prefer the hash on its own, without being covered by the taste of the pan juices). Drizzle the duck with the pan juices and serve immediately.
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