Eat Drink Style Guess Who’s At the Door? Duck Breast with Apricot & Walnut/Wine Sauce Recipe

In my posting regarding my resolutions for this year, two of them included inviting more people to come over for wining/dining and improving my level of cooking within the categories of presentation and photography. On Friday, I invited my good friend MS and his girlfriend for a night of gluttony. Most of you know her as Bola (Best of LA).

I was hit by the Force at work last minute and had to move our dinner to a later time. What’s the Force you ask? The Force is an invisible life form that watches your each and every move... AT WORK. It plays around with you and lets you do absolutely nothing for 8 hours – making you think the day is a total breeze. But sometimes, it will just fuck with you. You know, right when you’re about to leave for lunch or go home for the night for a prior commitment, you receive a phone call or email that nails you back on your seat. “A few minor changes” is a heavily disguised way of saying “Forget your plans for tonight.” In my case, the Force knew I had a dinner that night. It knew that I had spent my lunch hour driving over to Bristol Farms to do all my shopping. And it knew that cooking for friends was one of my resolutions this year. Basically, the Force fucked with me. As soon as I ‘satisfied’ the Force, I quickly drove home to start the grind.

Me: “So what are we going to eat?”
MS: “Anything is fine.”
Me: “Well, I’ve been wanting to cook duck.”
MS: “The Peking ducks you see hanging in the windows of Chinese restaurants, like Sam Woo?”
Me: “No No. This would be California-French style.”
MS: “I’m down.”

From my experience at The Restaurant so far, I’ve learned that a meal should be balanced in all aspects. The duck might be considered gamey to some people, but the introduction of a sauce subtly infused with fruit and wine can give the palate a ride on a rollercoaster. And definitely hide any sign of gaminess. For the sauce, I would make a simple syrup and infuse it with dried apricots and candied walnuts. King mushrooms, which are very sweet in nature, cepollini and broccolini (baby broccoli) would accompany the spectrum of tastes in this dish.

The duck, unlike the chicken, quail and ostrich, is the only familiar member of the poultry family with the ability to take flight. Because flying requires strong muscles in the wings, the duck’s meat is high in myoglobin. Myoglobin is an oxygen-carrying pigment in the muscle tissue of the bird’s wings, and gives the meat the red color. As well all know, red meat can be cooked to one’s desired doneness. This is why the duck, can, and must be, served medium rare or medium, tops. Pork and chicken, being white meat, obviously cannot be cooked to a rare doneness. Unless you like salmonella.

If you’ve had Chinese style barbeque duck, you know how fatty and juicy the skin is when fried. So good. The same thing applies to even a duck breast fried in a pan. I started this dish out by scoring the thick skin of the duck. 'Scoring' refers to the slitting of any surface of meat/vegetable either for the rendering of fat or for aesthetics. In my case, it had to be both. If I had not scored the skin of the duck, it would have been too fatty and I probably would’ve had to take MS and Bola to the hospital for a quick cholesterol test. Some of you may have seen this scoring technique done in Chinese cooking with squid. Those little criss-crosses you see were done with a small paring knife. Once you cook or boil the squid, the scored lines become clearly visible due to chemical expansion. Simply beautiful.

Here we go, party time:

(1) Pre-heat the oven at 350 and 400 for cooking. Salt and pepper both sides of the duck breast and cook skin-side down on medium heat with olive oil. Cook the duck breast till the skin is a golden brown and most of the fat has rendered out. Discard the fat or save it to make confit. (Confit is a French term for preservation, especially with the use of animal fat. Duck meat preserved in its own fat becomes duck confit. Mmmm.) Toss in the oven for about 10 minutes for medium rare. Keep in mind, you have to let the meat rest for about 5 minutes so that the juices can redistribute.

(2) Make a simple syrup in a small pot by combining sugar and water, I’d say a 1.5 : 1 ratio. Once the sugar dissolves, add dried apricots (chopped and whole pieces) and candied walnuts (crushed). Add red and white wine, over whatever’s in your kitchen. You’d probably want to use a red wine for its silky color. Let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes until desired thickness. The sauce should be able to coat the back of the spoon, also called a Napé sauce.

(3) Blanch your cepollini and broccolini in salted water. This will bring out the green color in your veggies. Set aside for last minute cooking. After the duck has rested, sauté the broccolini in olive oil and butter till it’s crispy. Sauté the cepollini onions in a little bit of butter just to give it a nice coating of butter. Sauté the mushrooms till it becomes brown. Serve.

The duck breast turned out very well. The skin was crispy and still had a great fatty taste. The apricot/walnut sauce balanced out the ‘gamey’ taste in duck. My sauce could have used a little more red wine for color and simmered longer for a thicker coat. I fried the broccolini to bring out a bitter taste to accompany the sweet duck. The mushrooms were naturally sweet and didn’t need much salt & pepper to make it edible. The cepollini onions carried a buttery taste. All in all, I think it was a good, first attempt at cooking duck.

For dessert (which I hate), I decided to do a take on one of my favorite Asian foods: Dumplings. I sautéed some apples and pears (brunoised – small cubes) with sugar and white wine till they were soft and combined it with Mascarpone cheese for the dessert dumpling filling. I deep fried the little bastards and served it with some of the leftover apricot/walnut sauce used for the duck. Added powder sugar and mint for garnish. This turned out pretty good.

Thanks for reading. Quack.

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