Project Wonderful

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pan Seared Duck Breast With a Red Wine and Blackberry Reduction

Earlier this year, I helped a friend slaughter a couple of ducks at her house. She raises them for the meat and I was enlisted to help out. Getting paid in duck breast is not a bad gig, if you ask me. And I figure if you're a meat eater, you should know where your meat comes from and how it gets to your plate.  This is not a task I take lightly or for granted, and the entire process was done with the utmost respect to the bird and to cleanliness. 
His name was Bentley. He was a beautiful, mature Muscovy (Cairina moschata) that had one wing that was bent in a weird way. Not sure if he broke it at an early age or what, but no matter how deformed he may have been, Bentley was destined for greatness.

Muscovy are one of the few ducks that have claws on their feet and the little bugger put up a fight as I was carrying him to the chopping block. Bentley managed to sink a claw into my palm that thankfully didn't get infected. 
Bentley in the foreground, hanging out with one of his friends after a date with the axe. 

I'll spare you all the gory details of the process and just say that I came home with two beautifully butchered duck breasts as payment for my work as a skilled executioner.

Last night was a special occasion, so I decided that the time was right for Bentley to strut his stuff as the main course of an awesome dinner. 

Duck breast is actually very easy to prepare, but most people think it's a real fancy thing for a chef to make, so it works perfectly with my secret mission to make incredible food that looks complicated, but is actually really simple. 

First comes the side dish. 

Preheat the oven to 375...

Wash, peel and slice up two sweet potatoes into 1/4 inch chunks.

Add about a half of a sliced onion and toss with two tablespoons (or one "glug") of olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Place the sweet potato/onion mixture between two sheets of aluminum foil and fold it up to make a packet (or bag.)

Put this on a baking sheet and bake it in the oven at 375 degrees F  for about 30 minutes. 
This should give you just enough time to prepare the main course.

Now on to the duck...

Here's Bentley! Or at least a part of him. This is one breast, which is plenty for two people.
Use a sharp knife and slice just the skin every 1/2 inch. Try not to cut into the meat.

Then turn it and slice the other direction so you have a cris-cross pattern of slices through the skin. 

This helps the fat to render out, leaving you with crispy skin. 

Season the breast with salt and pepper and place it skin side down into a hot skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil.
I used too much oil in this shot. You don't need a lot.

Sear the meat till the skin is golden brown.

When ready to turn (about 5-7 minutes,) reduce heat and turn the breast over to simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

You can see how much fat has rendered out of the skin, leaving only crisp awesomeness. 

Pull the breast out of the pan and let it rest for 10 minutes. I put mine on a plate with aluminum foil tented over it.
By the way...

The reason why you let the meat "rest" is that during the cooking process, the protein chains inside the meat shrink, forcing the meat's juices to push to the center. By letting the meat rest after its been cooked, the protein chains start to relax and expand back a little bit allowing the juices to be re-absorbed into the fibers of the meat. This way the flavorful juices stay in the meat and not on the cutting board.

While the meat is resting, turn your attention to the sauce...

About pan sauces
When you cook a piece of meat in a dry pan, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and sugars come out of the meat and brown up on the surface of the pan. In French cooking, this is known as "sucs" (pronounced "Suuke"). They become the base for most pan sauces - which the French then call "fond." (which means "base.") 

To make a long story short, these browned bits contain a lot of flavor, so to make a sauce out of them, you add liquid to the pan - usually wine - that helps to dissolve the browned bits, and form the base of a flavorful sauce. This is known as "deglazing" the pan.

This recipe comes from Robert Irvine at the Food Network:

1 cup red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1  cup chicken stock
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 pinch of dried rosemary (fresh works too)
2 cups of blackberries
2 tbs unsalted butter

Pour off any excess oil, leaving the browned bits (the "Sucs") remaining in the pan. Add the wine and balsamic. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the sucs to get them to dissolve into the wine. Let this reduce to about half.

Add the chicken stock and let the sauce reduce again down to about half.

When ready, add the berries, the brown sugar and the rosemary and let this cook for about 3 minutes.

Pour the sauce through a strainer into a bowl, then wisk in two tablespoons of butter to finish.

Here's the duck sliced up into portions. Notice that all the juices have remained in the meat instead of on the cutting board. 

Place the duck slices on the plate and drizzle the sauce around and on the meat.

Add the sweet potatoes to the side and you are done.


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