You're sitting in a candle-lit wine cellar, enjoying a multi-course meal with friends. Peering down, a slew of dazzling silver utensils are displayed, in order of height, resembling cadets ready to march into battle. As the servers flawlessly pour the varieties of wine, the nectar cascades into the glasses; a natural aeration from bottle to crystal goblet. As courses are presented, one in particular proves to be an unforgettable play on textures, flavors and brilliant combination: duck breast with crispy skin, mango-turmeric puree, bourbon-poached figs and roasted rosemary Brussels sprouts.
Why does this work.
Duck is often sauced with fruit, as the fruit contains an essential acid that compliments and 'counterbalances' the rich duck meat. For example, the French classic, canard a l'orange (duck with orange sauce), employs the bitter element of oranges to sooth the gamy meat. Rather than creating the expected, challenge yourself to take advantage of other fruits. In this case, mango.
While mango is a very sweet fruit, I used turmeric, smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper in order to add a more 'earthy' and 'smoky' flavor to the sweet puree:
2 cups of mango chunks
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smokey paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup of water
Simply blend all ingredients together and serve at room temperature.
For the duck breast:
Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin on the duck breast in a criss-cross pattern (a 'hashtag' if you will):
#duckbreast #crispyskin #quack
Suppress the urge the desire to snap a selfie at this point and put the phone down. Please.
#chef #foodie #cooking #nomnomnom
You know what I'm talking about. And yes, we all do it.
Sprinkle both sides of the duck with salt and pepper. Be sure to push the seasonings into the scores on the duck breast skin too. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until high, then reduce the heat to medium. Do not add butter or oil to the pan. Rather, place the duck breast, skin-side down, in the skillet. Do not touch the meat at this point, but allow the skin-crisping process to occur organically.
As the skin begins to cook, it will render. The fat is literally melting away. You will notice the pan begin to fill with the rendered duck fat; do not pour off the fat, as the fat from the pan helps to render the fat in the skin.
The amount of time for the skin to crisp depends on the thickness of the duck skin being rendered, size of the duck breast being cooked and temperature of the heat on the stove. I generally check the skin after about 5-7 minutes. Again, be sure to cook on a medium heat, as a high-heat will burn the duck skin, as opposed to achieving a crispy-crust. Once the skin looks crispy, flip the breast. At this point, I will baste the meat with the rendered juices in the pan. Simply tilt the saute pan to collect the rendered fat in a spoon and pour over the duck skin. This basting action will allow the rendered fat to continue to crisp the skin, while keeping the meat tender. "Drying-out" will not be an option. After about a minute of continual basting, pour off all but 2 tsp of fat from the pan (reserve this duck fat (aka. 'liquid gold' for another use).
At this point, I will often lightly 'paint' the crispy duck-skin with Dijon mustard and sprinkle with freshly chopped rosemary. The rich tang of Dijon seeps into the duck skin and the rosemary adds a fresh aromatic flavor. Return the duck breast to the skillet, skin side up, then place in a 400 degree oven. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, until just under medium-rare. Why the oven? The oven will help the skin to crisp even further, while keeping the integrity of the juicy interior. Transfer the duck to a clean plate and loosely cover with foil as you allow it to rest.
FYI: This is the most important element of the cooking process- allowing the meat to rest. You may have flawlessly employed the perfect technique to achieving a crispy duck-breast skin; however, if you immediately cut into the protein, then all of your hard-work will be for naught.
Why? By allowing your meat to rest, the proteins are re-absorbing the juices internally. If you immediately cut into the meat, then the coveted juices escape onto the plate, as opposed to in your mouth. Allow the meat to rest at the very least 5 minutes. Ideally, aim for 10-12 minutes of resting.
When plating, dollop a large spoon of the mango puree on a white plate. Carefully push the back of your spoon across the plate, "smearing" the puree into an artistic brushstroke. This 'ray of sunlight' is the base for your dish. Carefully place a few roasted Brussels sprouts on the yellow-line. Remember, aim for odd numbers: ergo, slice three brilliant pieces of your perfectly-cooked duck breast. In order to "show off" your skills, prop the sliced duck breast up on a few of the Brussels sprouts (to keep from simply lying 'flat' on the plate). By stacking food in the presentation, you can create a more 3-D visual for the consumer. Add a few bourbon-poached figs to surround the duck breast, then finish with a touch of chive oil (you could even do truffle oil here) and micro-greens.
Fun fact: When consumed sans the skin, duck breasts are as lean as white meat chicken or turkey. Ergo, aim to consume less of the crispy skin (I know... the most flavorful element of the plate!) Whether you end up eating the skin or not, I recommend cooking with the skill still intact, as it will guarantee a better flavor and prevent the meat from drying out. If you want to avoid the extra fat, simply cut away before serving (the fat is in the skin, not the meat).
And guess what... should you 'fail' during the cooking process, fret not. The brilliant aspect about cooking in your home? You may always try again. Sometimes flavor profiles simply do not pair well together. Sometimes you will over-cook a piece of meat. Sometimes soup may over-boil. The point is, ask yourself what happened... what went wrong? Learn from your mistake, then simply try again. But you'll never know unless you try!
"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement." - C.S. Lewis