Mardi Gras/Maslenitsa? Check: friends came over for dinner this weekend, bringing a special Pauillac wine they lucked into. To celebrate, I put on my toque and made duck in cherry sauce, roast potatoes, steamed spinach.
At this time of year I click with the Lenten spirit – at least the pre-Lenten one, heh, of a celebrating the end of winter with an animal fattishly festive dinner. This was my method for 2017: I let the wine lead. Staying with the classic pairing of Bordeaux with duck in a cherry and/or pepper sauce, I found plenty of luxurious duck/cherry recipes out there, but they were all a little…too…unctuous. To compromise, I toned down a recipe from Epicurous (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/seared-duck-breast-with-cherries-and-port-sauce-353376) with a sauce treatment I found in Cooking Light recipe (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/duck-breast-with-cherry-pepper-sauce ). Here’s how I did it:
1. Make the Cooking Light sauce with these changes: ditch the dried cherries and use the drained canned ones (this ensures you will have nice juicy plump cherries in your sauce, which isn’t cooked long enough to reconstitute dried cherries), and save the honey to add at the end, along with the cherry puree (make only half, and omit the butter).
2. Keep fat on duck breast. Score, salt, and pepper the fat side. Pre-warm a nonstick pan over almost-high heat, and add duck, breast-side down. Cook until skin is deep golden brown, about 7 minutes; as fat renders, pour it into a bowl so you’re not frying the duck in its own fat, and so you can save the duck fat for another use. (Be sure to leave about a teaspoon of fat in the pan when finished cooking the duck, however.) Turn duck over with tongs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes more (interior temperature 125F for medium-rare). Cover with foil and a few dishtowels while you make the sauce.
3. Saute 1 Tbsp finely minced shallots in the duck skillet, using the remaining teaspoon of duck fat to help collect any browned bits into the mix. Add the Cooking Light sauce, amended as above. (Note: you MUST use homemade beef broth!) Cook for a few minutes, until sauce is reduced by half. Add the canned drained cherries and warm up. Taste. Add honey and the Cooking Light cherry puree to taste, add salt and pepper to taste (it should be ever so slightly peppery), and serve hot over warm up, and pour over sliced duck.
The sides for this dish were roast potatoes, which I made according to the Roastie Gospel of Jamie Oliver. Given the absence of Maris Piper potatoes in New York City (prove me wrong if you can!), I tried both peeled Idahos and strip-peeled red bliss, both organic. I used the mix of olive oil and butter, and added fresh herbs (thyme to the Idahos and rosemary for the red bliss) at ¾ through the roasting process. My guests and I couldn’t really tell the difference so I served them together! (The taste profile was very similar but of course the red bliss got crustier thanks to their mostly-remaining skin.)
Since I am not in the mood these days to hand-craft every part of my dinner parties, the dessert course this time was FoodKick’s amazing flourless chocolate cakes. Individually sized, these wee dark beauties pack a wallop of chocolate richness, and at the end of this dinner, we could only manage about half of a cake each.