When I was little, my dad used to drive me and mom my hours out onto Long Island so he could have a specific, never to be duplicated duck à l’orange. Is there anything more French-iconic than that dish? One of the readers of my blog requested that I make a dish that she had staying with a family in La Rochelle: duck breast with cherry sauce. I thought it might be an opportunity to revisit why fruit pairs so beautifully with duck, and a chance to bring the haute cuisine gastrique-based à l’orange back down to the family table.
Baking a terrific duck breast is actually very easy, and is a skill worth mastering. Just score the skin and salt the breast: sear over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, then flip and bake for 10 minutes. It just always works, and you have enough fat left over to roast some fabulous potatoes.
In making the cherry sauce, I wanted to hit the right balance of tang and sweetness, the two flavors that make cherries themselves so unique. The sauce took on the shape of a fresh Bing cherry and red wine reduction studded with balsamic vinegar and honey. I know we’re still a month out, but it’s never to early to prepare: I think this is the perfect stay at home Valentine’s meal. The cherries themselves look like little crimson hearts, and this dish is really easy to pull off, but at the same time, it’s decadent and different.
The cherry sauce is sharp enough to cut the gaminess of the duck, but soft and sophisticated enough to compliment it.
Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.
- 2 5- to 6-ounce duck breasts
- Coarse sea salt, such as Maldon
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 7 ounces Bing cherries, pitted, stemmed, and halved
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 10 twists on the black peppermill
- 1 teaspoon honey, preferably orange flower
- 1/2 tablespoon very cold unsalted butter
Take the duck out of the fridge 15 minutes before you want to use it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Score the fat on top of the duck in a crosshatch fashion, carefully to score only the fat and not the flesh beneath it. Season the duck on all sides with salt.
Preheat a small nonstick skillet on medium heat. Place the duck, skin-side-down, in the hot pan and leave it alone for 10 to 12 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and the fat has rendered. Take the pan off the heat, and turn the duck breasts over so the bottom of the breasts are coated in the rendered duck fat. Pour the excess fat into a heat-proof container, and keep for frying potatoes. Put the duck, skin-side-up in its original sauté pan, in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. The internal temperature will be about 135 degrees F. Be sure to let the duck breasts rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing.
To make the cherry sauce, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and the shallots. Sauté for 1 minute, just to soften the shallots. Add the wine, stock, and cherries. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the balsamic vinegar, salt to taste, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove a 1/4 cup combination of liquid and cherries and purée in a mini food processor. Return the puréed mixture to the pan with the rest of the sauce, and stir in the honey and the cold butter.
Slice the duck. Pour the sauce onto a serving plate, and arrange the slices of duck on top. Season with a bit of salt and pepper for garnish. Eat right now, staring romantically into someone’s eyes. Baby greens lightly tossed in olive oil and lemon juice or super-creamy puréed potatoes would be the perfect accompaniments.
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