Someday soon I’m going to learn how to make duck breasts some other way, but this way is just so effortless, with perfect results, that a deviation from the norm just seems . . . inadvisable. I learned how to make them from the cookbook Bouchon, a book that I am an unrepentant disciple of, and highly recommend, even though I’m sure it doesn’t require any more endorsements. The duck breast technique actually requires a slight bit more prep and foresight than is displayed in this post, but it’s all really easy. Gabrielle just happened to demand meat for dinner, and so I hopped down to the butcher and picked these up on the fly. That’s why I didn’t get to finesse them like usual.
For a side, we made a brussel sprout hash with chantrelles, potatoes and bacon. This is a pretty standard, tried and true combination. And, you know how it is with brussels–you have to smother them in some kind of fat; it might as well be a combination of bacon and duck. We got loads of them in our CSA, and so we made a huge batch of this.
Below is the scene on the stovetop. This photo is from a little late in the game, but this is what it’s all about: the white bowl is to hold all the individual ingredients for the hash while the others cook—separately. You want to be able to fry, char, caramelize, and so on rapidly. Unless you want to do a bunch of separate pans, this is the way to go. To do this kind of cooking you need like killer high heat, and if you throw everything in at once, you’ll just end up with a big mushy mess. If you had a wok with one of those rapid fire furnace burners, this would all be superfluous, but whose got that at home? You need two frying pans for the duck breasts, or rather, one for each of them if you make more than two, and then a bowl between the pans for the duck fat run-off, which is actually the main reason we’re even messing around with this cut at all. Seriously, duck fat is immeasurably valuable! Something about it makes everything more amazing!
Brussel Sprout Hash:
• a gang of brussels, sliced in half
• a pile of chantrelles, roughly chopped
• a bevy of bacon; slab, cut into 1/4″ lardons and cooked off, fat reserved
• a few potatoes, 1/4″ dice
• 2 shallots, finely diced
• s&p, and maybe some cayenne and coriander if you’re so inclined.
Heat a large sauté pan up on high heat. Throw a tablespoon or so of the reserved bacon fat into the pan. Once it starts to smoke a little, throw in the shallot and potato together, season wit a little salt and pepper and other spices if you want, and let them brown up on the side they fall on before tossing them around in the pan for a minute or two, and then remove to the bowl set to the side. Repeat with the chantrelles, and then finally with the brussels. If your cooking the breasts at the same time, it’s always a good bet to throw in some duck fat instead of or in combination with the bacon fat. The brussels will take a bit longer than the other components, but once they’re browned nicely, add the other things back into the pan, stir it up, and let it ride on low until the duck is done.
• duck breasts
• salt and pepper
Take each breast, and cut a cross hatch into the fat, being careful not to cut into flesh. This is easier when they are very cold, so try to do it as soon as you take them out of the fridge. Salt the fat side heavily with a kosher salt, or otherwise, and grate some fresh nutmeg over the top. Rub it into the grooves, flip the breast, and lightly salt, and pepper the flesh sides. Lay a whole sprig or two of thyme over the top, place on a plate and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.
Take the breasts out of the fridge at least a half hour before you want to cook them. Preheat your frying pans to medium low, and your oven to 375º. Place the breasts in the pans skin side down, and cook for approximately 15 minutes, holding the breast in place and pouring off the rendered fat from time to time. The fat will crisp up and will become irresistible. At this point you can transfer them all to one pan if they’ll fit, and cook them flesh side down for a minute or two before transferring them to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Duck can be cooked to the same degree as steak, and therefore rare is fine, but I’ve found medium to medium rare to be more appetizing. However, DO NOT OVERCOOK them. The same rules as steak do indeed apply in this regard. Represent what? My Duck: