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The Other Red Meat
Last month I wrote about one of my pet peeves, — the marketing and reengineering of pork as “the other white meat” to Americans. But I will be the head cheerleader for any PR campaign that promotes duck as a favorable red meat alternative. To the best of my knowledge, no such promotion exists. To begin to rectify this, KD will have a few more duck recipes throughout the year. This one celebrates a really easy and unusual duck breast dish.
I have written about my favorite technique for making duck confit with the beefy legs from Moulard ducks. I think that the Moulard duck breasts, often marketed as “Magret” are really too big and not as tasty as the smaller duck breasts you can find, if you search hard. The Moulard duck is a cross breed between a male Muscovy duck and a female Pekin duck. Both the legs and the breasts are larger than any other duck on the market. Moulard duck breasts weigh anywhere from 10 oz (female) to a pound (male). The Pekin ones range from 6 to 8oz. The term magret is a French word meaning “filet” cut from the breast of any duck and is not specific to any particular breed.
The Right Duck
I have found a source for the smaller and more tender duck breasts from Maple Leaf Farms, which I get locally from Butcher’s Alley in Bethesda, MD. You can also order online directly from their site. Maple Leaf Farms specialize in Pekin duck products. They state some pretty interesting facts about ducks. According to their site, duck fat is the closest animal fat to olive oil, being made up of mainly monounsaturated fats. I was surprised to read that duck is lower in fat than many protein sources. It has less than half the fat of beef and pork per serving, and even less than most other poultry.
Gourmet Strikes Again
I love this recipe both as a meal for two and for easy entertaining. It is from the 2005 Best Of Gourmet – and from the emails I have received, I am not the only one who clings to their worn out copies of this iconic American food magazine, as well as the annual cookbooks featuring 12 months of recipes the following year – so the 2005 book would reflect the recipes from 2004.
This Gourmet recipe indicates a long gentle sear for the success of this dish. I have finally learned that, unlike searing steak, duck breasts should be seared over low medium heat, fat side first. I now do a series of cross-hatch incisions on the fat side, taking care not to cut into the meat, but sometimes I miss and this is not a grave error. Keep the fat that is rendered as it is a great medium for sautéing potatoes.
Carbon steel pans, or commercial weight aluminum, or copper pans – all are terrific for this type of slow sauté. Stainless steel by itself does not work well, as its heat conductivity is poor. I found that enameled cast iron, due to its enamel barrier, makes it more difficult to get a golden sear. Cast iron works, but it is slow to lower the temperature if it gets too hot, and as you can read from the directions below, a slow sauté is important.
If you do not own a carbon steel pan and are considering a purchase, all of mine, which I have had for many years, are from DeBuyer in France. They are an affiliate sponsor of KD. Serious Eats recommends carbon steel pans from Mauviel, Vollrath and a new-to-me manufacturer –CRUXGG.
Classic demi-glace provides an enriched sauce base, and I have used both the veal and the duck Demi Glace from More Than Gourmet. You can also reduce a veal or duck broth (or a combination of the two) from 3-4 cups to 3/4 cup to achieve similar (although less rich) flavor for the sauce. Pink peppercorns (which are not really peppercorns) are crushed easily and should not be substituted by black peppercorns. They have a slight fruity flavor along with a light peppery bite. I use more than is asked for in the recipe.
- 2 whole boneless duck breasts with skin, such as Long Island (also known as Pekin); you will have 4 duck breast halves
- 6 1/2 oz container of duck or veal demi-glace - an alternative is 3-4 cups (1 ltr) duck or veal stock
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely crushed pink peppercorns- I use a heaping tablespoon of pink peppercorns
- fine sea salt
- Halve duck breasts and trim excess fat and pat duck dry.
- Pierce skin of each duck breast with a fork and
- using a sharp knife cut a grid pattern through the fatty skin to help facilitate fat run-off.
- This piercing and scoring of the fatty layer will create a nicely designed crisp skin.
- Season duck with salt.
- Heat a large heavy skillet (Gourmet suggests cast iron) over high heat until very hot.
- Put duck breasts with skin side down into the skillet and immediately turn the heat to moderately low.
- Cook the duck without turning for about 20 minutes or until the skin is mahogany colored and much of the fat is rendered.
- Remove the rendered fat from the pan and save it.
- Turn the duck over and cook for two minutes more.
- Transfer the duck to a cutting board and let it stand for 5 minutes - the duck will continue to cook during this waiting period.
- In a small saucepan boil the demi-glacé until it is reduced to 3/4 cup and add the vinegar, sugar and peppercorns and then adjust seasoning to taste.
- (Alternatively reduce about 3 -4 cups of duck stock to 3/4 cup)
- Remove the saucepan from heat, adjust seasoning to your taste if necessary.
- Slice the duck breasts diagonally into neat slices and fan them across individual plates or group together on a platter.
- Pour the sauce over and serve.
- I use more pink peppercorns than is requested in the recipe - a heaping tablespoon.
- Don't make this with black peppercorns - they take over the sauce and you lose the point of this dish.
- I buy my duck demi-glace from More Than Gourmet.
- Fat trimmings can be rendered and refrigerated - use any duck fat for frying or basting poultry in the oven.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.