Sunday, June 6, 2010

Happily Wrong: Duck Breasts with Honey, Ginger, and Lavender

Chefly Husband once presented Mom with a duck dish. She looked...polite...and said she'd try it, but had never cared for duck. "It's so greasy." Well, Momma was wrong, and happily so. Properly prepared duck isn't greasy, and it's delicious. As we march through The Wine Lover's Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine from lighter wines to heavier, from whites to reds, we hit this recipe, straddling the gap.
Duck Breasts with Honey, Ginger, and Lavender
Recommended Wine: Viognier
Alternative Wine: Pinot Noir

Viogner is an incredibly aromatic wine. This recipe intends to capture this character with a combination of equally aromatic ingredients--snappy ginger, exotic lavender, and the sweet scents of vanilla and honey. The sauce offers lushness that works texturally with the fullness of the wine as well. The red meat and intriguing spice of the dish can also accentuate the cherry-spice character of pinot noir.

2 whole boneless duck breasts
1/8 teaspoon mixed whole peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon white-wine Worcestershire
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried lavender (see Note)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Garnish: tarragon sprigs

Cut whole duck breasts into two halves lengthwise and trim all excess fat from the ends and sides of the breast. With the tip of a sharp knife, score the fat side of the breasts by cutting an X in the middle of the breast.

Marinate breasts in half of the crushed pepper, Worcestershire, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, lavender and shallot slices. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, combine wine, stock, vanilla, remaining 1/2 teaspoon ginger, reserved crushed pepper, and sliced shallots removed from the top of the duck breasts, and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and reduce liquid by half. Add honey and tarragon and reduce further to sauce consistency. Remove from heat and swirl in butter. Season to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

In another large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Place duck breasts in pan, skin side down, and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes until lightly brown. Turn breasts and continue to cook on meat side for 2 to 4 minutes until medium rare. The juices should run pinkish. Do not overcook the duck.

Remove breasts from the pan and slice at an angle. Fan breasts on the plate and top with the sauce. Garnish with sprigs of tarragon. Serve with wild rice studded with dried cherries and minced green onions.

Note: Dried lavender is a delightfully aromatic herb that can be purchased at most health food stores. It is excellent on Grilled Lamb with Olive Sauce ..., and it keeps very well stored in an airtight jar.

Serves 2 as entrée.
Oh, yes, please. One thing The Wine Lover's Cookbook does consistently and well: sauce. Sauce. Sauce. And there's hardly ever a sauce that isn't finished with a swirl of beautiful butter.

Do not, please, substitute margarine when you are sauce-making. Your sauce will taste of corn, not of creamy goodness. If you can't have butter for whatever reason, just leave it off. Leave it off, and feel a bit sad, because you have to know you're missing out on incredibly beautiful stuff. Margarine will ruin your sauce. Don't do it. In Sauce World, you are better sad without butter than sad without butter but with margarine.

I'm not a big viognier fan. I live in DC, so I'm smack dab on top of some of the best viognier in the US--Virginia is known for it. I like it fine in blends, but as a straight varietal it leaves me a bit cold. I once went to a tasting at Horton down near Charlottesville; they had a vertical tasting--so, bottles of the same kind of wine from a span of years--of their viognier. I told the winemaker what I just told you: I don't particularly care for the stuff. He was excited, not because he thought he could change my mind or palate, but because I would be able to focus on the differences from year to year, and not get carried away with myself just because I loved the wine.

It made sense at the time. When I'm tasting shiraz, odds are I'll be carried away and stop being critical/analytical.

This is all a convoluted way to say: I'd serve this with pinot noir. I love pinot noir with duck, and I think it'd stand up nicely to the unctuous sauce and strong flavors here.

If you're intrigued by this recipe, but a bit short on time, I'd say you should go out and buy a smoked duck breast, slice it (on an angle, as above), and serve it with crackers and strongly-flavored honey. And pinot noir. It's not going to be anywhere near the same, but you're still going to be happy.

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