Monday, March 21, 2011

Seared Duck with Cherry-Onion Port Reduction

Man, I made a promise to myself that I would be better about blogging regularly once I got past the first couple of months of pregnancy, but alas, I dropped the ball. Apologies!

With that mea culpa taken care of, I have been meaning to post this recipe for WEEKS, as it was an absolute smashing success, and I can’t wait for the next excuse to whip it up again. My love affair with duck breast began back in college, when my dear friend Mona first took me to the Galway Bay pub in Annapolis on a random weeknight to hang out with her friend/bartender extraordinaire and sink my teeth into their incredible duck sandwich. From the first bite, I was completely hooked! Years later when Kyle and I moved back to Annapolis, I would find any excuse to sneak over to Galway for one of their perfectly cooked sliced duck sandwiches.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I attended the first ever Supper Club & Wine Pairing co-sponsored by Spark Restaurant and Newport Wine Cellars. I knew my friends & I would be in for an amazing night of food & wine (I did have small samples of each wine to appreciate the pairings, I know- I’m a huge badass) as Spark has always been on my top 10 list in Newport (you can read my review of Spark here), and I have always been intrigued by the offerings that Maria showcases at her lovely little wine shop across from the Viking Hotel. While I could dedicate and entire blog post to this amazing supper club marriage (and probably will), I will say that there was one dish out of the five (!!!) courses that really stuck out as the star to me: the third course Spiced Duck Breast.

I took home a copy of the menu and knew I wanted to work on a re-creation of Sue’s outstanding dish for when Kyle came home after a few weeks up in dry dock in South Carolina. There were certain flavors I was interested in pulling out, and others I wanted to subdue so I started off by scribbling down components and notes to organize my thoughts. By the time Kyle’s homecoming weekend rolled around, I had a plan in hand, and was eager to hit the kitchen!

The final result was a beautiful duck dish that hit all of the comforting flavor profiles I look for- rich, warm, a bit rustic, and well-rounded. I will admit that I have not had extensive experience working with duck in my own kitchen, but I really didn’t have any problems since it presents itself much like veal or beef. While this dish has a fair amount of steps and prep time, I think it is well worth the effort and makes for a wildly impressive meal for guests or for your special someone. I served a simple side of roasted asparagus dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest, which rounded out the meal perfectly. I’ve written out the recipe pretty much in the order that I cooked in, starting with the chive oil and finishing with the duck- this gives the chives plenty of time to flavor the oil, and ensures that the duck gets the proper time to rest without waiting for the other components to be ready. As grits are pretty resilient, they are happy to sit on a just warm burner for some time without losing their integrity.

Seared Duck Breast with Pearl Onion & Cherry Port Reduction over Creamy White Grits with Chive-Truffle Oil
(serves two with leftovers)

For the Chive-Truffle Oil:

-1 Large bunch of fresh chives, minced finely (think a good handful
-1 Small bunch of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, minced finely
-1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/4 Cup truffle oil.

Place minced chives and parsley in a ramekin or small dish large enough to hold all components. Add in olive & truffle oil. Using the back of a spoon or muddler, lightly crush herbs to release flavors into oil. Set aside on countertop.

For the Grits:

-2 Cups water
-1 Tblspn salted butter
-1/2 Cup white hominy grits
-2 Heaping tblspns part-skim ricotta
-1/2 Cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese
-Dash of nutmeg
-Sea salt
-White pepper

Bring water and butter to a boil, add in grits. Stirring occasionally, cook grits for approximately 25 minutes or until grits are soft and creamy. Once ready, stir in ricotta cheese until well incorportated over low heat. Add in parmesan cheese in small amounts, stirring well to mix (if added all at once, you risk having a cheese ball in the middle of your grits). Season well with a dash of nutmeg, sea salt & white pepper. If grits seem a bit too stiff, stir in a teaspoon or two of milk or cream to loosen. Once proper consistency is reached, cover & set on a very low burner.

For the Duck:

-2 Duck breast filets with skin on (I used wild Canadian duck, and would highly recommend)
-16-20 Pearl onions, blanched & peeled
-3/4ish Cup of dried cherries
-3/4 to 1 Cup good quality Port
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Sea salt
-Cracked black pepper

Remove duck breasts from packaging, rinse and pat dry. Using a sharp knife, remove any excess fat so you are left with a skin/fat layer that covers the top of the breast. Make 3-4 shallow cuts (through fat only, do not puncture meat) on the top of the skin on each breast. Slice fat trimmings into ribbons and slice again into ¾ inch pieces (for cracklings). Season fat side of duck with salt & pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add duck fat pieces and stir frequently to avoid sticking and burning. Once pieces have crisped (think bacon), remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels. Season cracklings well with sea salt. Turn heat up a bit to medium-high, and place duck breasts in the center, fat side down. Do not fuss with the duck, as it will interrupt the searing. Season exposed sides well with salt & pepper. After 4-5 minutes, depending on the thickness, flip duck breasts over and allow to sear on the bottom side. After a minute or two, tilt pan slightly, and baste the top of the duck breasts with the pan oil. Remove duck breasts from pan after another 2-3 minutes and transfer to an oven friendly dish and place in a just warm oven.

Reduce heat to medium, and add pearl onions to oil (you may need to add a little more olive oil), cooking for two or so minutes- give the pan a couple of good shakes to keep the onions from sticking. Add in dried cherries and cook for an additional two minutes, or until cherries begin to plump and soften. Turn heat back up to medium high, and add in your port (if working on a gas stove, please be CAREFUL!). Scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan and continue stirring over heat until sauce is reduced by about half, approximately 10-12 minutes. Once sauce has reduced and has a texture similar to maple syrup, turn heat to low and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Just before serving turn your oven’s broiler on to high, and briefly broil the fat side of your duck breasts (will help revive the crisp skin if sauce took a bit longer to reduce) for just a few minutes.

To Assemble:

In the center of each plate, spoon on a good sized serving of white grits. Top with chive oil. Slice duck breasts on the bias and fan out on top of grits. Spoon port reduction over duck slices and sprinkle cracklings over the whole lot. Serve immediately, and don’t feel guilty if you end up without leftovers.