With a nod to Julia Child's Art of French Cooking, Duck 2 Ways with Port Cherry Sauce combines duck confit with a tender breast and a delicious sauce.
The Making of Duck 2 Ways with Port Cherry Sauce
I had the honor of meeting Julia Child at a reception/dinner put on by PBS back in 1999. They were honoring her along with Jacques Pepin for their show, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, and the release of their companion book. A grand lady, full of life and smiles. I watched in awe as these two icons of cooking were on stage, in a living room setting, glasses of wine in hand, exchanging an easy banter of “pepper” preferences (Julia preferring white pepper, and Jacques black) and other cooking techniques.
As guests of the wine sponsor, Kendall-Jackson, we were seated in a cat’s bird seat, one table from Julia herself. Dinner was being served, it is Duck, specifically, duck breasts, more specifically, HUGE duck breasts. They were not artfully cut into slices and displayed, they simply were, a breast on a plate with something else that I can’t even remember because the breasts were so HUGE!
I watched with interest as the plate was placed in front of Julia, her eyes got very large as she stared down at the plate and said: “Oh my, that’s a very impressive breast”. I found out later from a kitchen worker, that the catering manager was going along the line looking at all the breasts and removing those he found to be too small; he wanted BIG breasts.
Well, sometimes big isn’t always better.
After dinner I could not pass the opportunity to speak to Mrs. Child; to tell her of her influence on me, and how she helped me get over any fear I might have had to try something new with cooking.
She greeted me warmly as I sat in an empty chair next to her. As I spoke with her, she was so gracious, like it was nothing at all or the least she could do, but was happy to hear that she had influenced me. Then, I couldn’t help it…”I’m sure you saw the Saturday Night Live bit featuring you” I inquired. ”Oh my yes,” she said, “I found it to be hilarious, Mr. Ackroyd did a fantastic job of being me, don’t you think?” That was Julia, making sure she brought me into the conversation.
Yes, Mrs. Child, I thought he did you fine. But you will always be, one in a million.
The Duck Confit that isn't Duck Confit but is...
This recipe is modified from a recipe on Epicurious.com. The 2 way, of this Duck 2 Ways with Port Cherry Sauce, is my own invention of a confit, without really doing a confit. A confit is where you cook something in oil or rendered fat and then stored in the fat. It is one of the oldest ways to preserve meats. Here, I just let the duck legs and thighs cook off its own fat, while it cooks in it. This creates a nice crispy leg and thigh, which contrasts nicely with the rare tender breast meat.
The Tender Breast
This recipe separates the leg/thigh combo from the breast, which is cut off the bone. Of course, if you didn't buy a whole duck to take apart, you could buy the leg//thigh combo AND a package of breasts. Doing the confit of the leg/thigh is pretty straightforward, preparing the breast needs a bit more thought.
When this recipe is done and ready to plate, you want the breast to have crispy skin with a rare to medium-rare interior. For the best taste and texture, you do not want to overcook the breast. Because there is a layer of fat under the skin of the breast if you don't score it, as the fat renders out, the skin will shrink and the breast meat will be exposed and subject to overcooking. So taking a sharp knife, score the skin, only through the skin and fat, not into the meat. This will also allow the marinade to penetrate the meat.
When you cook the breast, make certain the pan is nice and hot before starting the sear, skin side down. You should be rewarded with nice crisp breast skin.
Since I cut my own duck, I have the carcass to make duck stock which I used instead of the beef stock.
Duck stock is fairly easy to make, just like chicken or turkey stock, start with the bones in as small of pieces as you can. Cover them with cold water, add ½ an onion cut into wedges, a carrot cut into pieces and a stalk of celery also cut into pieces. Add a bay leaf, the sprig of thyme, some peppercorns, and salt, then simmer, slowly over fairly low heat for about an hour or so. You will be rewarded with rich and delicious duck stock.
But if you don't have that option, the beef stock works just fine.
You can buy your own duck and cut them yourself…just follow the simple instructions in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques. Or ask your butcher to do it for you.
Excellent with some Wild Rice and Green Beans with Almonds.
Serve with a Pinot Noir, either a fruit-forward one or a more Burgundian style. They will both play nicely with the richness of the duck and the sweetness of the sauce.
Julia would say Bon Appetite.
Please note, the times indicated do not include the marinade time.
Duck 2 Ways with Port Cherry Sauce
- For the Duck
- 4 duck breast halves
- 4 duck leg/thigh combos
- 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 cup dry Sherry
- For the Port Cherry Sauce
- 12 frozen dark cherries unsweetened, thawed, left whole or halved
- 1 cup low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
- 1 cup beef stock or duck stock
- ½ cup ruby port
- 1 fresh thyme sprig
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water also called a slurry
- ¼ cup cold unsalted butter cut into 1 inch thick pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Prepare the MarinadeMix the soy and Sherry together in a baking dish large enough to hold the duck pieces. Using a sharp knife, make diagonal cuts into the duck breasts about 1 inch apart in the duck skin, but do not cut into the meat. Place the duck, skin side up, into the marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to six. (Conversely, you can put all of this into a zip-top bag, remove as much air as possible and seal; place the bag into a baking dish, in case of leaks - this is my preferred method to marinate anything.)
- Prepare the Confit Leg and Thigh: Heat the oven to 400°F. After at least the minimum marinating time, remove the leg/thigh combo and place in a baking dish that just holds them snugly. Cover with foil and place in the oven; bake for 1 hour, remove the foil and bake 1 hour more. (Leave the breasts in the marinade until ½ hour before you are ready to cook them. Remove them and bring to room temperature.)
- Meanwhile, bring the cherries, chicken stock, beef or duck stock, port and thyme sprig to a boil in a saucepan. Simmer until reduced to 1 cup. , can be quick on high heat, or slower on a slower heat. I like to do slower to allow the flavors to develop.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; pat the duck breast dry then place, skin side down, into the skillet. Cook until the skin is crispy, about 10 minutes; turn and continue to cook to your desired degree of doneness (duck breasts should be cooked medium to rare; do not overcook or it will be tough.)
- Remove the thyme sprig from the port/cherry sauce. Stir in the cornstarch mixture; then using a whisk, whisk in the butter, a piece at a time. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper (in honor of Julia, let's use white pepper).
- Place a let/thigh on each plate. Slice the breast and fan out. Spoon the port/cherry sauce over and serve.