Duck Breast with Port and Dried Plums
Frankly, we haven't the stomach for waterfowl hunting. One can hardly be expected to toss bread to mallards in the park one morning and set up decoys the next. Moreover, we feel a particular kinship with the migratory birds, who gorge themselves on long journeys so as to develop a protective layer of fat. We find our own vacation girth serves nicely as a mattress when sleeping upon a pebble-strewn forest floor. We may refuse to take part in the wretched pursuit (unless it is to pet the birds, see box), but we never refuse the delicious meat. To reach it, one must first render nearly all of the fat in a scorching skillet. Next, the rich red meat beneath (quite lean from all that strenuous flying) is cooked to an ideal medium rare. We've heard that many flavorings complement duck, but blind adoration for our own sauce has thus far inhibited experimentation. More addictive than opium or snuff, the claret-colored glaze boasts a sweet-savory-piquant brilliance that makes a fine match for duck.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free
Taste and Texturemeaty, rich, savory, smoky
- Two 12- to 16-ounce duck breast halves, patted dry
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly milled black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 1/3 cup port wine
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup packed, chopped dried plums
- 1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Prepare a medium-high-heat fire, with the flames occasionally licking the grill grate. Let it burn steadily for 30 minutes. Place a large cast-iron skillet upon the grill grate and let it heat until very hot.
Score the fatty skin of the duck in a ¾-inch diamond pattern, taking care not to cut through to the flesh. Season the duck all over with salt and pepper. Transfer the duck, skin side down, to the hot skillet and cook until it is honey-brown and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat into a heatproof container (reserve it for Duck Eggs with Rosemary Salted Potatoes).
Turn the duck and adjust one's grill grate or tamp one's flames so that the fire provides medium heat. Cook to the desired doneness, 4 to 7 minutes (depending upon the size of the breast) for medium rare. Transfer the duck to a work surface, tent it with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Again pour off and reserve all but 2 tablespoons of the fat drippings. Return the skillet to the heat. Stir in the shallots and cook 30 seconds. Add the port, broth, plums, and vinegar. Simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the butter and fresh thyme; season to taste with salt and pepper.
2011 Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young