For supper on Christmas Day, I like to cook something that is slightly out of the ordinary. This year I opted for duck breast. When cooked in a skillet over high heat on the stove top, you can get a crispy crust with a nice medium rare interior.
Preparing the duck breasts for this style of cooking takes very little effort. After rinsing and drying the breasts, cut a crosshatch pattern through the skin side without cutting into the meat. This will leave the skin covered with diamond shapes that increase its surface area and will allow more of the fat to render while it cooks. From previous experience, I knew this would be straight-forward method to prepare, so it was just a matter of picking side dishes and a sauce.
One of the favorite choices for vegetables in my house is a mix of root vegetables roasted in the oven. On this occasion, I had carrots that were three different colors (orange, yellow and white), parsnips, garlic and a bag of Trader Joe’s Teeny Weeny Potatoes. I peeled and cut the carrots and parsnips into equally sized pieces and tossed them onto a pan with a head of garlic that I had separated into individual cloves (leaving the paper on) and the potatoes. I drizzled a tablespoon or so of olive oil over the veggies and seasoned them with gray sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then they went into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. I turned them over in the pan about half way through.
Because of the richness of the duck meat, I thought a tangy and sweet sauce would go well. I chose to make a shallot-infused balsamic vinegar reduction. I started this sauce by slicing four shallots and cooking them over medium heat in a tablespoon of olive oil until they were caramelized and light brown. This took about 25 minutes. Then I removed the shallots from the pan, leaving as much of the olive oil behind as I could.
While the shallots were cooking, I preheated a cast iron skillet on another burner. When I took the shallots out of their pan, I laid the duck breasts into the preheated skillet, skin side down. As the fat rendered from the skin, I scooped it out of the pan so the meat would not shallow-fry in the pan rather than saute. I resisted the temptation to check on the progress by setting a timer for eight minutes. When the time ran out, I flipped the duck breasts (flesh side down) and reset the timer for seven minutes. After I checked the interior temperature with a thermometer, I set them on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes before slicing them into 1/2 inch thick pieces.
To make the rest of the sauce, I added two cups of balsamic vinegar to the shallot pan and increased the heat to high while the duck was cooking. Once the
liquid started to bubble up, I reduced the heat to medium and began whisking to make sure nothing burned on the bottom of the pan. I continued to do this until the sauce became as thick as molasses. To finish the sauce, I whisked in two tablespoons of butter to slightly temper its tanginess and provide a nice sheen.
To provide an additional color to the plate, I steamed a head of broccoli. This is an easy way to prepare as it just takes a few minutes to cut the florets off the head and a few more to cook. I have a microwave steamer, so it is as easy as adding a bit of water to the bottom of the steamer, put the veggies in the basket and the lid on the top. Pop into the microwave for two and half minutes and voila!
Other than tasting the meal, building an attractive plate from the food I had prepared was my favorite part. I assembled a base of the roasted root vegetables that would serve as a platform for slices of the duck. I fanned a few of the slices on top of the base and ladled on some of the sauce. I added some of the broccoli to provide more color and sprinkled a few of the caramelized shallots over the top for a contrast in texture. We had a nice bottle of 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau to go along with the meal (Thanks, Meredith!).