Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Going Quackers Over Duck

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We used to have duck every once in a while, picking up a roast duck from a Chinese BBQ shop from time to time. I used to love the stuff; tender, flavourful meat and its coveted crispy, super-delicious skin. However, we've had it less and less frequently as I got older, mostly because I wanted to stay away from the fatty duck, as delicious as it is. Neither do we make duck at home, thus our only opportunity to eat duck is when we dine out. My dad requested duck for his birthday, and I was happy to oblige the birthday boy. I personally have never worked with duck before, so making duck breast rather than roasting a whole duck would be easier for me to handle.

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The meal started off with a Cream of Tomato Soup, a perfect way to highlight fresh, sweet summer tomatoes. The soup doesn't use a lot of cream, which keeps this pureed soup on the lighter side. The addition of garlic, onions, a bit of tomato paste and various herbs helps intensify the flavours of the soup. Served some homemade Herb & Garlic Focaccia, great to soak up the remnants in the soup bowl!

After a bit of digging around, I decided to settle on Duck Breast with Port-Cherry Sauce, since I had all the ingredients (besides the duck breasts) readily available in my pantry. I did divert from the original recipe a bit. I added a bit of morello cherry preserves that was sitting in the fridge to heighten the cherry flavour in the sauce; it added some sweetness to the sauce, as well as a hint of cinnamon which surprisingly tasted delicious on the duck. I also boiled down the sauce for over an hour, much longer than the suggested 15 minutes, which really helped to concentrate all the flavours. The recipe also asked that the duck be marinaded in a soy sauce-based marinade, which I thought would be too overpowering for the duck and the sauce. Instead, I did a dry rub of orange zest, parsley and thyme. As we all know, orange and duck are a classic pair, so the orange zest on the duck breast was a delicious addition to the gamey-ness of the duck meat.

I rendered off the duck fat for about 8 minutes, and then finished them in the oven for another 6 to 7 minutes for medium-rare. (The duck breasts I used were super thick. You should adjust the time accordingly depending on the size of your duck breasts.) Sliced the breasts and served them with a Wild & Brown Rice Pilaf and Green Beans with Caramelized Onions & Almonds, along with the port-cherry sauce. The flavours of the duck and the sauce were superb, and I was glad that we had some extra duck leftover for the next day; it's just as delicious cold and served on top of a mixed green salad.

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If you want, you can always store the rendered off duck fat in the freezer for use later on. Duck fat, as scary as it is, is packed with flavour, and makes any dish taste even better when it is substituted for butter. Granted, I'm not suggesting you use duck fat every day, unless you want to clog up your arteries, but for those rare special occasions, it doesn't hurt to amp up the flavour-metre.


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