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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 actually 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, 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 none the less 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.
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.
Since I cut my own duck, I have the carcass to make duck stock which I use instead of the beef stock. But if you don’t have that option, the beef stock works just fine.
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.
*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 nice with the richness of the duck and the sweetness of the sauce.
Please note, the times indicated do not include the marinade time.
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