The “hungry” hubby and I were tossing around the idea of taking the “French Cuisine Boot Camp” at the Culinary Institute of America this summer. Some of our friends might think this as a weird plan for a vacation; who in their right mind would prefer to wake up early and report by 6am to class than to take a relaxing week by the beach in an exotic tropical island. Don’t get me wrong we do enjoy those idyllic getaway vacations but going through the catalog for the class and imagining myself at the CIA for a week is a very exciting notion. I know it would be nothing like Michael Ruhlman ‘s experience as detailed in his book The Making of a Chef but it would probably be the closest I can get without quitting my day job.
The class is arranged by regional cuisine and the one I am most interested in is Southwest France, which is discussed on the fourth day. My enthusiasm for this subject springs from “The Cooking of Southwest France” by Paula Wolfert, which has a wealth of information on one of my favorite foods to eat: duck! Duck can be quite a frustration for me because a lot of restaurants cannot cook it the way I like, but those few times I’ve had it right it can be absolutely phenomenal. Even at home, cooking it is a hit or miss. I have tried cooking different types of duck breast like Moulard and Muscovy, but now I’ve decided to try the Pekin duck breast. The recipe I had in mind calls for a shallot vinaigrette and marinating the duck but I did not have enough time to do that so I cooked the duck breast as you would a Moulard that does not need to be marinated first. The method of cooking, pan–sautéed reminded me of T.W. Barritt’s suggestion of just searing a duck breast in the pan to seal in the flavor and to yield crispy skin, so I guess this would be the perfect time to test this process.
Pan-Sautéed Pekin Duck Breast with Shallot Vinaigrette
4 boneless Pekin Duck Breast
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)
About 1 hour before serving, remove the duck breast from the refrigerator and while the fat is still cold, use a sharp knife to score the skin in a small 45 degree crosshatch pattern at a 45 degree angle. Dry the breast and sprinkle the sea salt and pepper.
Heat a large heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add the duck breast, skin side down and immediately reduce the heat to moderately low. The fat will start to render and skin will turn brown in about 8 to 10 minutes, tilting to spoon of the fat. Season the flesh side with salt and pepper and flip the duck breast to brown the flesh side about 3 to 5 minutes. Cook the duck to the desired temperature; pinch the meat under the skin side to test for doneness. If it springs back quickly, the meat is rare; if there is some give, it is medium.
Remove duck and tent with foil to let rest for about 10 minutes. Slice meat crosswise on the bias. Serve with shallot vinaigrette on the side.
2 large shallots
3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. minced fresh chives
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
pinch of salt, sugar, freshly ground pepper
Soak shallot in balsamic vinegar for 10 minutes. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and let stand until ready to use.
As I have stated before, I do not like medium rare duck, so I was pleasantly surprised that even as I cooked the Pekin duck breast to medium well, it was very tender and succulent. I always had problems cutting the duck breasts on the bias until I figured it out while cutting biscotti; that it was best to start cutting diagonally starting at the center, that way you have a baseline for both ends. The shallot and chives stand up very well to rich texture and taste of the duck. Be sure to use nicely aged balsamic vinegar for the vinaigrette so it does not interfere with a nice glass of Cabernet to have with your duck! I am very pleased with this method of cooking duck breast and I think this will be my preferred technique from now on. I have seen another method, which uses the broiler, but I think this procedure is good if you want your duck rare to medium rare. I will still try the broiler method, after all this test kitchen will try everything especially if it has anything to do with duck!