duck and figs

September 16th, 2009 · 26 Comments

the duck breasts had been in my freezer since last november. they were vacuum sealed by d’artagnan, wrapped in freezer paper and although shoved to the back of a bin, i hadn’t forgotten. i just hadn’t heard them calling. until the figs…

the figs came from texas via an eccentric friend who pulled up to my front door in a hummer loaded down with gifts and stories – and as this one goes there’s a very old woman way out in the back woods just a few hours out of dallas with a little home canning operation. and she’s got fig trees and so, i scored a few jars of spectacular preserves. but even better, i got some of the most beautiful fresh brown figs which delighted me to no end. most of them were eaten just plain. no goat cheese or prosciutto, no speck, mascarpone, bacon or gorgonzola. 15 naked figs became lunch, with none of the aforementioned accoutremonts necessary. because to me, figs are absolutely exquisite just on their own. and then what couldn’t get eaten, got cooked.

i cut them up into quarters discarding the stems and threw them in a small saucepan. i added sugar, sherry vinegar, a lot of minced fresh rosemary and salt and pepper. after 15 minutes or so it was good, but i needed a bottom note, so on a whim i added a heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder – and there it was. beautiful. i opted to puree it all up and the finished product was somehow pretty spectacular.

the magret moulard breasts were large – nearly a pound each. they cross breed a muscovy and pekin and feed them a lot of corn and you get what i suppose are very large ducks which are in turn favored for their very large livers and well, it’s a foie gras thing. the less details the better… and the breasts become kind of steak like – rich and juicy. but although they are quite good, i still find myself missing the gamey flavor of duck from years gone by.

and this is my problem with duck. but these are the good problems to have in life, right? and believe me, i’ve had this conversation before with various purveyors, and all in all i think the only answer may be to buy a rifle and shoot my own wild game. but being that this is highly, but highly unlikely, i suppose i just need keep my memories in the past and remain forever grateful for the present. afterall, duck is good, regardless.

but hey. does anyone else remember when duck was great?

ok. a little story for you… when i was a kid growing up in nyc, we dined out a fair amount. WHENEVER there was duck on the menu, i ordered it. it was my thing. my favorite. and if it was a l’orange, well that was even better. somehow this made my father crazy. so much so that one day at a lovely inn in connecticut on new years’s eve, i happily ordered my duck, handed the waiter my menu and my father looked at me sternly and loudly exclaimed, "this is not your last meal. order something else." the rest of the details are sketchy but i never forgot that. it’s become a bit if a joke with me and my kid.

regardless, duck breasts are quite simple to cook. i heated up my large cast iron pan, and after a liberal seasoning on all sides, the skin and fat are gently scored (not too deep) in two directions and the breasts are placed skin side down. cook over a medium flame until most of the fat is rendered and skin color is a deep golden. then you brown the meaty side and after they are done, i hold the breasts on their edges with my tongs while the sides cook through. it’s not a long process and the edge of the pan comes in handy as a good assist – just lean it up there. usually, this is about all it takes to get the breasts cooked leaving the centers nice and pink. the whole process is about as simple as one could wish for.

some chard was cooked down in just a bit of the duck fat and seasoned. the meat was sliced and it was all plated in no time flat.

and now a question. does anybody out there remember a restaurant in nyc, many years ago on the upper east side that served ONLY DUCK? my mother took me there when i was a kid and it must have been 35 years ago…if anyone can name it, you win something. i’m not sure what – but it’ll be fabulous…

Tags: duck · fruit

26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 maybelles mom // Sep 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    J– always orders the duck. I love to tease him about it…We just bought a fig tree. lets see if we get any next year. if so, we will be making some with duck.

  • 2 lo // Sep 16, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    The mere thought of this dish has me wishing that (somehow, some way) I could get locally grown figs! We’re trying to be so good for the eat local challenge… but gosh, the drool! Fortunately, I think I have a good source for locally raised duck… the kind of duck that hunts and pecks and fills its belly with all that makes a duck great. Maybe my soul can be redeemed after all :)

  • 3 krysta // Sep 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    when i was a kid if we went out to eat i’d always order calamari. my dad said something along the same lines as your dad. i didn’t understand it because at least i wasn’t ordering a hamburger.

  • 4 Robert // Sep 16, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Fret,
    Happily make it my last meal………nice work.

  • 5 Melissa // Sep 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    You ordered duck every time?? Wow. I’ve only had a bite of duck and it was greasy, at a Chinese (sort of… you know what I mean) in Florida in 2001 …that just made me miss my dad. Odd.

    Anyway, not a good first impression for me or for Steve. We’ve been a bit loath to try it since. Though of course I know I should.

    And it’s not like I’d know it wasn’t great great. ;)

  • 6 Amy (Minimally Invasive) // Sep 17, 2009 at 3:22 am

    This is heaven.

  • 7 Jen // Sep 17, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Your recipe looks wonderful.
    Duck memory (sadly, not what you were hoping) : a friend shot a duck on my property and he and my ex-husband tried to cook it. They chipped a knife on the porch preparing the bird and then it tasted like mud. Turns out it was a mud duck and that’s what they taste of.

  • 8 The Italian Dish // Sep 17, 2009 at 6:06 am

    It sounds like you were a gourmand even as a child. God, I love duck. My husband won’t eat it so I don’t prepare it at home but order it a lot when we got out. Your dish made my mouth water. I’m starving.

  • 9 Hillary // Sep 17, 2009 at 9:06 am

    I had an amazing duck dish topped with cherries in Europe. Yours reminds me of it!

  • 10 Brooke // Sep 17, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve got to be the only person in the world who is not crazy about duck. Especially duck fat. That being said, I would give it another try for this dish. Figs make everything better in my world.

  • 11 Claudia // Sep 17, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    That was funny. I also order duck quite a bit in restaurants as it’s not my husbands favorite thing. Though, he is getting more used to it, since I’ve been making confit and serving that and duck breasts anyway.

  • 12 Chefectomy // Sep 18, 2009 at 12:20 am

    K…little story here for ya”, half of my family is from NYC and whenever I used to dine out and duck was on the menu I ordered. So see, there you go…Your duck looks sublime and I totally mean that.

  • 13 maggie // Sep 18, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Mmm. Was just thinking duck was the perfect thing to go with a bottle of wine we received recently…this looks brilliant.

  • 14 Rachel (S[d]OC // Sep 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Your childhood sounds a lot like mine. I tended to always want duck in restaurants. I remember when I was 11 my family took my brother out to dinner for his HS graduation and I had a duck and I tore into that thing like a savage. My face was covered in grease and plum sauce and I remember one of the people at the table saying it looked like I had just gone out and killed hte duck myself.

    I’m grateful for duck breasts because duck is another thing Sir Pickypants won’t eat, so making a whole duck isn’t practical for me. To this day I’ve never cooked a whole duck.

    You’re not alone in eating just figs for a meal. I am really inspired to actually use them in a sauce for duck. I’ve done them in a sauce for chicken twice. Time to try another meat.

  • 15 Lauren // Sep 19, 2009 at 8:55 am

    it’s a classic line. but then, you used to say it to me about tuna.

  • 16 laura // Sep 19, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Ciao, Claudia. I just discovered your website and I have thoroughly enjoyed the bits I have been able to savor on this quick stop-in. I live in Florence, Italy, and I have a friend here who also blogs (Judy Witts (http://divinacucina.blogspot.com/) and I think you might enjoy her as much as I do.
    In any case, thank you – it’s been great fun visiting and I hope to stop in again soon. laura
    p.s. I also hope to hear some of your music!

  • 17 we are never full // Sep 19, 2009 at 10:04 am

    cute cute story! i actually can say i do not remember what duck used to taste like b/c i think i was 18 or 19 the first time I ate duck (so that was only about 14 years ago, sadly). i’ve heard stories about how much gamier all the meats used to taste (chicken, beef, duck) back in the day and i’m hoping we can at some point get back to even being able to purchase that type (for a heafty cost, i’d imagine). all i can say is that i have experienced duck like the old-school stuff you’ve described – but only in italy and france in the back woods areas and only at a place that was tourist free and way off the beaten path. it’s almost like a different flavor. so delicious.

    anyways, this looks awesome. the figs are just sweet enough to enhance the duck i’d imagine. it almost looks like i could take some of that fig puree to school with me and eat it for a mid-day snack!

  • 18 Peter // Sep 19, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Wait… Brooke doesn’t like duck fat? What?

    I’m having impure thoughts about duck now. It’s going on the list for this week, methinks.

  • 19 rachel // Sep 20, 2009 at 11:32 am

    A perfect pair or should I say trio, I’d be happy with the chard cooked in duck fat, well sort of obviously I prefer the whole plateful.
    I never cook duck which is silly as I really like it.
    That fig puree looks delicious, we have a glut this hot and heavy september in Rome so once I have had my fill straight… I might just try this.

  • 20 SpinachTiger // Sep 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I have never cooked duck. It’s on the list. You make it sound simple. The cocoa touch seems genius to me.

  • 21 Jack // Sep 24, 2009 at 8:46 am

    I love duck ,but never thought of serving it with figs I’m sure the puree was a perfect complement to the duck and chard; however, it could have been plated differently. Enhanced or not, breasts so succulent and beautiful shouldn’t be hidden by figs. I’m just saying…..

  • 22 Joseph // Sep 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    your making me hungry! mmmmm

  • 23 Abby @ mangerlaville // Sep 29, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    AT Delfina in SF, they serve an amazing duck with figs. They take the pan that they seared the duck and deglaze, add duck stock and smash figs into it. They let this reduce and add fresh figs at the end. A different interpretation from yours, but the flavor combination is undeniable: DELICIOUS

  • 24 Steve // Apr 25, 2010 at 4:40 am

    The mere thought of this dish has me wishing that (somehow, some way) I could get locally grown figs! We’re trying to be so good for the eat local challenge… but gosh, the drool! Fortunately, I think I have a good source for locally raised duck… the kind of duck that hunts and pecks and fills its belly with all that makes a duck great. Maybe my soul can be redeemed after all :)

  • 25 Ian // Apr 26, 2010 at 3:38 am

    The mere thought of this dish has me wishing that (somehow, some way) I could get locally grown figs! We’re trying to be so good for the eat local challenge… but gosh, the drool! Fortunately, I think I have a good source for locally raised duck… the kind of duck that hunts and pecks and fills its belly with all that makes a duck great. Maybe my soul can be redeemed after all :)

  • 26 Patrick // Apr 26, 2010 at 7:45 am

    cute cute story! i actually can say i do not remember what duck used to taste like b/c i think i was 18 or 19 the first time I ate duck (so that was only about 14 years ago, sadly). i’ve heard stories about how much gamier all the meats used to taste (chicken, beef, duck) back in the day and i’m hoping we can at some point get back to even being able to purchase that type (for a heafty cost, i’d imagine). all i can say is that i have experienced duck like the old-school stuff you’ve described – but only in italy and france in the back woods areas and only at a place that was tourist free and way off the beaten path. it’s almost like a different flavor. so delicious.

    anyways, this looks awesome. the figs are just sweet enough to enhance the duck i’d imagine. it almost looks like i could take some of that fig puree to school with me and eat it for a mid-day snack!

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