Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Chef's cooking duck breast!!

It's not very often The Chef and I get duck breasts to play with so you can imagine how excited I was when he decided he would be preparing duck breast for his Friday special. As you know, The Chef cooks at The Wine Experience, a locally owned restaurant and wine bar that is a small bistro-style restaurant tucked into a high end shopping mecca. Each Friday he prepares an off-menu special with seasonal, locally produced (when possible) ingredients that usually are purchased that same day. It's been a lot of fun for to watch him work on his meal plans, grocery lists and prep sheets. Sometimes we collaborate on an idea and bounce things around until he has exactly what he is looking for but he is the creative mind behind the weekly Friday special. Over the months he has worked there he has created some amazing and delicious dishes, every week it's a sell out. His past specials have included cioppino, Italian pasta dishes, and shrimp picatta. It's not uncommon for him to receive requests for his recipes, and he is usually happy to oblige.

Duck breast is something he is not normally excited to work with. Let's face it, there are a lot of steps involved when making duck breast. Scoring the skin is critical to rendering out all that crazy delicious duck fat. Salting the breasts and storing uncovered for 24 hours seasons the meat. Rendering the fat is a bit time consuming but it's absolutely essential. Not only does it make the duck breast completely delicious without being overly fatty, you get all that rendered golden goodness to save and use for cooking other dishes. You haven't lived until you have experienced duck frites! So, with that in mind, what's on the menu for Friday?

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Blueberry Champagne Sauce

Trio of Roasted Baby Potatoes

Green Beans Amandine

So to get everything ready for service, The Chef has to arrive at the restaurant several hours before service begins to start working on the duck. Like I said, he scored and seasoned the duck the night before and has had this in the cooler overnight. 

Scoring the skin is crucial. The melting fat escapes and
the skin doesn't curl up.
To properly render out the fat, place the duck breasts skin side down in a COLD skillet. Place the pan over medium heat and slowly allow the fat to melt and render out. Keep a bowl or jar handy to scoop that delicious fat into. You definitely want to save the fat. 

You can see the pattern of the scoring as the skin crisps
and just look at all that amazing and delicious duck fat!
When the skin is crispy and the fat is rendered out, remove the breasts from the pan and place on a sheet pan to cool.

Never crowd the breasts in the skillet or they will steam and never brown. You're looking for a light golden brown at this stage. Remember- this is restaurant cooking, not how you would prepare them at home. Once you've rendered the fat successfully, remove the breasts to a clean baking sheet. skin side down, and store in the cooler until time for service.

The sauce is also made ahead, using the skillets used to render the fat. Spoon out as much of the fat as you can, and deglaze the pan with an entire bottle of champagne. Bring to boil, scraping up the delicious fond from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the champagne to about half. Add a little chicken broth, some chopped fresh thyme and fresh blueberries. Cook until the berries have burst and cooked through and the sauce is further reduced. Add a little orange zest if you like and thicken with a cornstarch slurry. Add more fresh blueberries at this stage so you will have plump whole berries in the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Keep the sauce warm.

When it's time for service you will want to start with a cold pan again. Place the duck breasts skin side down and cook until deep golden brown. Flip over and sear the underside for a couple minutes, then place on a sheet pan and pop in 375-400 degree oven until the internal temperature is 135 degrees for medium rare. Remove and let rest while you plate up the vegetables. Slice the breast diagonally into thick slices, arrange on the plate and spoon sauce over.

Beautiful! Beautiful and delicious. Duck breasts are a wonderful choice for entertaining. Now you might scoff at the idea of a medium rare to rare piece of "bird" meat, since we would never eat chicken or turkey this way. Duck is a whole different kind of meat. It more closely resembles beef that any poultry and has the best flavor and texture when treated like beef. Roast duck, however, is still roasted like chicken or turkey except you MUST prick the skin all over to release the fat as it roasts. It's all about the preparation. If you are not comfortable eating medium rare duck, stick with roasting. Duck is a rich meat with a lot of flavor, and makes all kinds of dishes interesting and delicious- duck tacos is a favorite of mine. Ducks harvested from the wild do have a slightly different taste and texture than commercially farmed ducks but both are very delicious and highly recommended.

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