Letting the skin dry out overnight is key to Crispy Duck Breast with Cherry Port Sauce. (TMS)
Valentine’s Day — which is sneaking up on us — is one of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants. For me, it is a time to enjoy a lovely meal at home with good friends. I can’t think of a better dish to serve than crispy duck breasts. Easy to prepare for a novice cook, duck breasts are the best combination of a crispy duckling and the meatiness of a good steak.
Quick to put together and much less messy than roasting a whole duck, duck breasts are a perfect main course for a small dinner party. The key to achieving a crisp skin is letting the skin dry out overnight in the fridge.
You can gather guests in the kitchen as you cook. This recipe serves 4 to 6, depending upon how large the duck breasts are and how big your guests’ appetites are. If you just want dinner for two, simply halve the amount of duck breasts — however, I would make the whole sauce amount in this recipe. You can never have too much sauce! Try to find fresh duck breasts, as the frozen variety tend to become rubbery. Muscovy or Hudson Valley ducks are preferred.
For Valentine’s dinner, pair the duck with herbed rice or orzo pasta. The sweet red cherry sauce is a vibrant contrast to the crispy brown skin. Bright green broccoli spears complete the menu. I vote for an Oregon Pinot Noir to drink. For dessert, anything chocolate (check out this mousse recipe), of course, and maybe a late harvest dessert wine to cap off the evening with sweet thoughts.
Crispy Duck Breast with Cherry Port Sauce
Remember to start this one day ahead of serving.
4 (¾- to 1-pound) boned duck breast halves with the skin left on
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium shallots, minced
¾cup veal or duck stock
1 ½ tablespoons orange honey
3 tablespoons tawny port
¾ cup fresh pitted Bing cherries (you can use frozen, if fresh is not available)
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pound the duck halves between two pieces of wax paper with a heavy pan or a mallet to even out the thickness. Score the duck breasts with a very sharp knife by cutting crisscross lines on the skin, making sure not to cut into the duck meat. Place them on a baking sheet and cover loosely with wax paper. Refrigerate overnight to allow the skin to dry out for a crispy end result.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet, large enough to fit the four halves, on medium-high. Saute the duck breasts, skin side down for about 5-7 minutes or until the skin is very crisp and nicely browned. Turn over and saute for another 5 minutes or until the duck breasts are medium rare. Remove and place on a wood carving platter and loosely cover. (If you prefer medium, cook another 2 minutes on the second side). Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings and saute the shallots for a minute or until softened, stirring the brown bits up. Add the stock, honey, port and cherries, and increase the heat to high. Reduce the mixture to a light glaze, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the 1 ½ tablespoons butter to thicken and add sheen to the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice the duck breasts thinly on the diagonal and arrange on serving plates. Spoon over the sauce and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Advance preparation: The duck may be prepared up to one day ahead and refrigerated, though the sauce needs to be made the day you’re serving.
Per serving: 420 calories; 24 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 16 g carbohydrates; 192 mg cholesterol; 264 mg sodium; 31 g protein; 1 g fiber.
Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks and a James Beard award-winning radio show host. seriouslysimple.com