I have said many times how much I enjoy shopping for food and how much I appreciate the new foodstuffs to tempt us on this side of the Atlantic. We live a 15 minute stroll from Union Square and its Green Market. Dad and I enjoy wandering down on a Saturday and seeing what is in season and looking at the meats and cheeses. As we spend longer here, we have begun to recognise the various producers and we know whose offerings are the best. We particularly like the goats’ cheese chocolate truffles although these are only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have tried bison – very lean and it took a couple of efforts to get it right. There is a lamb producer and we have tried and enjoyed the merguez, chops and steaks. Our biggest favourite, though, is the Hudson Valley duck breasts. These breasts are huge and one serves both of us.
I first ate duck in the classic dish Duck a l’Orange. It was a favourite item on the menus of the 60s and 70s, and spawned Papa’s joke that when you were eating duck, there should only be two of you at the table, you and the duck! Oldie but goodie, and I can see the twinkle in his eye as he said it. From there, it was duck in the various Chinese dishes. I much prefer Crispy Aromatic Duck to the more famous Peking Duck. I find Peking Duck rather too fatty though I know that’s the point of the dish. Traditionally, the skin and fat is served with pancakes; the meat is minced and served later with lettuce; and the carcass is boiled during the meal to provide soup at the end of the meal.
Our myriad visits to France introduced me to Magret de Canard and the various sauces. My favourite still remains the one I ate at Le Bateau Ivre in Alpe d’Huez. The duck breast was served with griottines (morello cherries) and was quite simply superb. My attempts at cooking duck breast were not hugely successful – I always overcooked the meat, although the skin was fine. Dad had a go, and basically nailed it first time. I could be annoyed or jealous, but really I’m just happy that one of us can cook it! So for Tom and Daisy who ate this in New York and have bought duck breast for tomorrow, this is Dad’s Duck Breast, as cut and pasted from his email.
Dad’s Duck Breast – Ingredients
- Duck breast – normally one per person
- Salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 190 Deg C.
With a very sharp knife, make long criss-cross cuts through the skin of the duck breasts (all the way through the fat layers, down to, but not into, the underlying flesh) so that the cuts form a diamond pattern (with about 10 – 15 mm sides of each diamond) on the skin.
Heat a non-stick frying pan on a high heat for a minute or so. Salt and pepper the duck breasts and put into the pan, skin side down first. Brown for about a minute on the skin side, and then for about a minute on each other exposed side of the breasts. This will generate a lot of hot fat, so have a bowl handy so that you can pour the hot fat out of the frying pan into the bowl. Take care in doing this because the duck breasts will slide to the edge of the frying pan as you are trying to pour off the fat. An alternative to doing this with the breasts in the pan would be to take them out of the pan while the fat is poured off (so have a plate handy for this moment) and then put them back in again afterwards.
Repeat a minute in the frying pan for the skin-side down first, and then for each of the other sides of the breasts.
Transfer the duck breasts to a grill pan (skin side up) and put into the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes. Exactly how long depends on the size of the duck breasts and how pink you want them to be, so you may want to take them out after 10 minutes and cut into them to see what’s going on inside.
Put the plates you are going to serve the duck on into the oven for the last couple of minutes of the cooking time so that they are pre-heated.
Plate and serve. If you want to be dead posh, cut the breasts into slices about 5 mm or so and serve that way.