Monday, March 30, 2015

Duck Salad with Port-Currant Sauce

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Duck Salad with Port-Currant Sauce
Serves 2 (entrée) – 4 (appetizer)
Difficulty: Moderate
Duck Salad with Port-Currant Sauce 
For unclear reasons, I shied away from cooking duck for many years. Maybe I thought it was difficult to do? It certainly is not – or, at least not duck breasts. This one looks complicated, but it is a can be done for a mid-week or special guest dinner. In addition, duck is an excellent, lean source of protein as well as iron, selenium and niacin. For some reason, duck has gotten a bad “rap” through the years because of the skin. Yet, it is comparable in fat and calories to a skinless chicken or turkey breast.
For the Port-Currant sauce
One of the keys to an excellent duck breast is crisping the skin properly, resulting in both great flavor and texture. The first step is to score the skin (see below) and season in advance, preferably 12 hours before cooking. In this dish, the breast gets what amounts to a cure, rich with spices, aromatics and citrus. The second important step is cooking the breasts very slowly, over medium heat, skin side down, to render out the fat, pouring off the fat as they cook. When the skin is crisp, about 20-25 minutes, it’s simply a matter of briefly cooking the flesh side so that the meat is medium-rare.

For Duck breasts:
  • 2 6-to7-ounce duck breasts
  • Salt & pepper
  • Grated orange zest
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Thyme 
  • Bay leaf
  • 1-2 Tb canola oil

For Salad:
  • 8 1½ inch slices Brie or Taleggio
  • 8 1½ inches pieces of good quality fruit and nut bread (such as walnut-raisin or cranberry, toasted
  • 3 Tb walnut oil or olive oil
  • 1½ Tb sherry wine vinegar
  • 6 C mixed baby greens
  • ½ C toasted, chopped walnuts

For Port-Currant Sauce:
  • 2 Tb vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 750-ml bottle of ruby Port
  • 1 C chicken stock
  • 1/3 C dried currants
  • Salt and Pepper

For Port-Currant Sauce:
Heat vegetable oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, apple and garlic; sauté until the onion is tender and golden, about 12 minutes.  
Saute onions, garlic & apples
Add port; reduce heat to medium. Simmer until mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture; return liquid to saucepan. Discard solids in strainer. Add stock to saucepan; simmer until liquid is reduced to ¾ C about 15-20 minutes. Stir in currants. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be made 1 day ahead. If so, cover and chill. Rewarm over low heat.  This will make approximated ¾ C – which is more than you will need. Save the rest to serve with chicken or other meats.
Port-Currant sauce
For Duck breasts:
With the fatty skin-side up and using a sharp knife, cut ¼ - ½ -inch crosshatch pattern in the skin of 2 duck breasts being careful not to pierce the meat. Do this while the duck is cold, since it is difficult to make precise cuts at room temperature. 
Score cold duck breast with a sharp knife
Turn the duck breast over. Using a sharp knife, carefully trim excess fat from the meat side. If the tenderloins (the smaller piece of meat that runs along the bottom of the breast) are still attached, leave them on the breasts. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the small white tendon that runs through the tenderloin.  You will see a vein that runs the length of each breast. Run your finger down the length of each vein, and if any blood comes out, wipe it away with a paper towel.
Remove tendon, express blood from vein and blot

Season the flesh (meaty) side with salt & pepper, grated orange zest, grated nutmeg, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. Lay a sprig of thyme running lengthwise down the center of each breast and cover with one bay leaf. Turn over and season each breast with a generous pinch of salt and a grating of nutmeg. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour, or up to 12 hours.
Spiced up and ready to rest
Heat non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add 1-2 Tb canola oil. Set a metal bowl or other container near the stove. With a paper towel, blot any moisture from the duck breasts. Remove and toss thyme and bay leaves. Season both sides of each breast with a pinch of salt. Add the duck to the pan, skin-side-down. Move the duck breasts every few minutes to help them brown evenly.  As the fat is rendered, carefully tilt pan remove the excess with a metal spoon (leaving about <1/8-inch) from the frying pan: Be careful to remove pan from the flame while doing so to avoid flare-up. Transfer fat to metal bowl. Cook the duck for a total of 20-25 minutes, until the skin is an even rich brown and very crisp. You may need to press the meat down to the pan so skin remains flat.
Scoop fat from the duck as it cooks
Rendered duck, now a toasty brown
Turn breasts over and cook on the other side about 5 minutes (at this point, you could put into a 400 degree F oven for 5 minutes) The internal temperature should be 125-degree F for rosy medium-rare perfect duck breast! Put the duck breasts skin-side-down on a cutting board, loosely place foil on top, and let it rest 5-10 minutes while you assemble the salad.

Place 1 cheese slice on each toasted bread piece. Whisk oil and vinegar in a large bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Add greens; toss to coat. Divide greens among plates. 
The greens
Toast walnuts in oven at 350 degrees for about 5-7 min, keeping an eye on them so that they do not burn.
Toasted walnuts
Place 2 cheese toasts on greens. Sprinkle walnuts on top. Thinly slice duck breasts crosswise; divide equally among salads, fanning slightly.  Drizzle warm Port-Currant Sauce around the salads and serve.
Now ready to add the duck!

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