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…