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Recipes: Easy ways to transform duck breasts into a special dinner

Their full flavor and air of sophistication suit them well for Valentine’s Day.

duck breast

Photographs by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.

Even though duck breasts are easy to cook, they still feel fancy to me. Their full flavor, rich, meaty texture, and air of sophistication suit them well for a special dinner — perhaps for Valentine’s Day?

Duck is fatty and risks ending up greasy. That’s why I trim duck breasts aggressively, carefully score the skin (to provide an escape route for the fat underneath), and cook the breasts over medium heat, so they have to spend a little longer in the skillet.

SAUTEED DUCK BREASTS

Serves 4 

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The duck breasts I see in stores vary dramatically in thickness and weight, ranging from 6-ounce halves to 1¼-pound whole breasts. I developed these recipes with boneless halves that weigh about 8 ounces before trimming, so be sure to adjust the cooking time for the second side of the breasts if yours are different. If I’m cooking larger halves, I’ll often use 3 to serve 4 people. If you don’t mind having a half left to use another day or freeze, consider following suit.

4        boneless duck breast halves, about 8 ounces each, or 2 whole boneless duck breasts, about 1 to 1¼ pounds each

Salt and pepper

If necessary, separate the 2 breast halves. Cut away any overhanging skin and fat around the edges. With a sharp paring knife, cut 4 or 5 diagonal slashes in the skin on each half, taking care to cut down to, but not into, the flesh. Dry the halves well and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper.

Place the duck breasts skin side down in a large nonstick skillet, set the skillet over medium heat, and cook, undisturbed, until fat is rendered (pour or spoon the fat out of the skillet occasionally) and the skin is deeply browned and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes (if necessary, adjust heat to prevent scorching). Turn the halves skin side up and continue cooking, undisturbed, until an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part registers about 125 for medium-rare to 130 to 135 for medium, 2 to 8 minutes longer. Remove the duck to a plate, tent loosely with foil, rest for at least 5 minutes, and use in one of the following recipes.

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DUCK BREAST AND RADICCHIO SALAD WITH RED CURRANT- WALNUT OIL VINAIGRETTE

Serves 4 

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1½    tablespoons red wine vinegar

Anthony Tieuli

TIP: Rendered duck fat is much loved for roasting, especially root vegetables and potatoes. It doesn’t make the veggies taste like duck, but it does give them a savory undertone. Sauteeing the duck breasts from this recipe will leave you with a couple of tablespoons of fat, but you can get more by reserving the skin and excess fat that you trim off the breasts and rendering it in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook until the skin is deeply browned, occasionally spooning or pouring the liquid fat into a bowl. I pour the collected liquid through a fine strainer to remove any brown bits, cool it until it hardens, and then refrigerate in an airtight container. It keeps well, though I try to use it within a couple of weeks.

2        tablespoons minced shallot (about 1 very small)

Salt and pepper

1½    teaspoons Dijon mustard

2½   tablespoons red currant jelly, warmed until just fluid, and cooled

1½    tablespoons toasted walnut oil

1         tablespoon mild-flavored extra-virgin olive oil

1         medium-small head radicchio (about 7 ounces), cored and torn into roughly 2-inch pieces

2        medium Belgian endives, halved and chopped into ½-inch-wide strips

1         cup torn flat-leaf parsley leaves

1         recipe Sauteed Duck Breasts, rested and at room temperature

½      cup arils from 1 pomegranate

In medium nonreactive bowl, whisk the vinegar, shallot, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the mustard and red currant jelly and whisk to combine. Vigorously whisk in the walnut and olive oils. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

In a very large bowl, toss the radicchio, endives, parsley, and two-thirds of the dressing. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary and spread the salad on a large serving platter. Working quickly, diagonally bias-cut each duck breast into ½-inch slices. Arrange the sliced duck over the salad, drizzle with the remaining dressing, and sprinkle very lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter the pomegranate arils over the salad and serve at once.

SAUTEED DUCK BREAST WITH LINGONBERRY-GINGER PAN SAUCE

 Serves 4

Jarred lingonberries are available at many supermarkets, usually alongside the jams and jellies. Champagne vinegar is mild; if you don’t have any, you can use unseasoned rice vinegar or 1 teaspoon cider vinegar.

1         recipe Sauteed Duck Breasts, duck resting and skillet still hot

¼      cup minced shallot (about 1 medium)

Salt and pepper

1½    tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger

2/3     cup low-sodium chicken broth

¼      cup lingonberries

1         tablespoon champagne vinegar, or more, to taste

3        tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

After sauteeing the duck breast halves, pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet. Adjust the heat under the skillet to medium-low, add the shallot and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half, about 3 minutes, adding any juices accumulated from the resting duck halfway through. Add the lingonberries, vinegar, and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, to incorporate and heat the lingonberries, about 1 minute. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, or vinegar if necessary. Add most of the parsley and stir to incorporate. Spread about half the sauce on a warm serving plate.

Working quickly, diagonally bias-cut each duck breast half into ½-inch slices. Fan the slices over the sauce, top with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve at once.  

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to cooking@globe.com.
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