I was going through my freezer one weekend when I discovered several packages of pekin duck breasts. The “hungry” hubby declared that they tasted too much like chicken and he preferred the Moulard duck variety. But I liked them, and wanted to give them another chance. No sense in letting perfect packs of duck breasts wallow in the depths of the freezer, get freezer burn and eventually get thrown out in God knows when.
So I pulled out my trusty book for duck breast cookery. Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France is a favorite on this subject matter. If there is one book that covers the duck from beak to tail, believe me, this is it. And this won’t be the last time I will be cooking from this book either because I have earmarked a couple more recipes I would like to try.
Actually, the recipe I was cooking that day was one I have tried to make a couple of times before. But poor planning always got the best of me. If it was not the port wine I forgot, it would be the orange. The stars finally aligned that Sunday and all ingredients were at hand.
There was a question about the “chickeniness” of pekin breasts. What brings out the flavor of food? Salt. My goof-proof fallback for most meat dishes is to salt early which amounts to ¾ tsp per pound of meat and let it sit for 24 hours. I have found that this process in no way alters the intrinsic flavor of food but serves more to enhance it, maybe because it keeps it juicier and the essence of the meat does not get cooked out. I have successfully done it with chicken and turkey; why not try it with duck breasts?
I also had the sense to reduce the stock ahead of time so there were no tears over a long reduction period this time.
Duck Breasts with Port Wine Sauce
Magret de Canard Poele au Porto Adapted from “The Cooking of Southwest France” by Paula Wolfert
This is an ideal dish for an elegant dinner
4 boneless Pekinduck breast (about 1.75)
(original recipe called for 2 Moulard Duck breast)
1 1/3 tsp Salt (around 3/4 tsp per pound)
Pepper to taste
1 cup ruby Port
Juice of 1 orange
3 cups unsalted chicken stock reduced to 1 1/3 cups
1/3 cup heavy cream
1. Salt duck breast for 24 hours
2. Pat duck breasts dry. Prepare duck breasts by scoring the skin in a cross hatch pattern being careful not to expose the meat.
3. Set a skillet on medium high heat and place the duck skin side down and sauté until the skin is browned. Spoon fat rendered off as needed. Flip the duck breast and continue to sauté until desired temperature is attained. Remove to a carving board, cover and keep warm.
4. Pour off fat from the skillet. Add the Port and orange juice to the skillet and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits that cling to the bottom of and sides of the pan. Boil until reduced to a glaze. Add the reduced stock and boil until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Transfer the sauce to a heavy 2-quart saucepan (See note below *). Return to a boil. Add the cream while the sauce is boiling hard, but do not stir. The cream will be “swallowed up” by the sauce. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes, or until you catch a glimpse of the bottom of the pan; remove from the heat. Season the sauce to taste with pepper and, if necessary, salt. Set aside and keep warm.
6. Slice the duck breast crosswise on the diagonal. Arrange the duck in overlapping slices on warm plates. Strain the sauce over the duck slices and serve at once.
* The sauce can be completed in the skillet, but it is tricky – there is a tendency to over reduce the sauce (it becomes oily). If this happens, add a tablespoon of water and swirl to combine.
There was a small issue of the breast bunching up as it cooked. I think it was because the skin shrank and pulled the flesh tighter. Not a big problem but it did make the breast harder to cook because it suddenly got thicker, not sure if this happened the other time.
My port-orange reduction was a tad over-reduced but did not cause any problem with the overall sauce. My only gripe with red wine sauces that you add cream to was they take on a pinkish hue (okay it is mauve-ish). This is unavoidable (after all when you add white to red you get pink), but not very appealing as a sauce for savory dishes in my opinion. I prefer a deep burgundy color to complement the dark meat of the duck.
However, once you taste the port-orange sauce that was whisked with the tasty fond from the pan sauté which was then enriched with a little cream, you will not look for any other accompaniment to your duck. It is smooth, a perfect balance of sweet and sour, and offers a sultry mouth-feel that coats your palate in anticipation of another taste.
And the duck breast, plumped up with juiciness, is as provocative as the sauce that glazes it. It has lost its affinity to the “chicken taste” and has regained its identity as tasting like it should – duck!
Now if only I can get over that pink sauce…