Saturday, April 25, 2009

Duck à l'orange…gastrique

Ah, Wednesday. Sometimes, when it's one's own turn to choose the meal consumed that week, all creative and rational thought flees the head, and meal ideas are found sorely lacking. A few Wednesdays ago it was my choice, and having left the decision late (the day of! tsk tsk!) I 'went to' my new 'go-to' cookbook: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. Emphasis on the 'lessons' part of things; the book is comprised of many how-tos (how to 'steam, poach and simmer,' for example, or how to carve a prime rib roast) and recipes that illustrate those how-tos.

All the recipes I'd tried so far had turned out well (particularly a tasty Wednesday wiener schnitzel that I shall have to document here soon), and so when mentions of duck caught my eye, I thought, 'Hey, it might actually be doable!' See, the preparation of duck is one of those things I've always thought left best to the pros, but I've found out how terribly wrong I was.

This should come as no surprise, as I had a phase (though I'm loathe to admit it) where I thought even soup wasn't something made at home, but, of course, after many tasty homemade soups (butternut squash, french onion, hot and sour, tortilla, and broccoli and stilton to mention a few of our more recent triumphs) I concede defeat. Perhaps anything at all can be made at home!

We were about to find out that cooking duck doesn't involve some arcane process that only chefs know about – it is, indeed, poultry, and though there are lots of tasty and slightly more complicated things you can do with duck (confit, Peking), it fries in a pan much like any other meat.

Except with perhaps more fat! Michelle had found us some duck breasts of the specified size (one large breast being about a pound, which would feed two people: we needed to feed five, so purchased two large ones and one smaller one) and Alisha scored them diagonally crosswise on top of their fat layer, making sure not to cut through to the meat. They looked exactly like the ones in Martha.

They rendered a whole lot of fat out on their first introduction to the pan, skin side down (ie. layer of fat side down too). This I manoeuvered out of the pan and into a heat-proof container through a complicated wrist motion that you could only emulate if you held a heavy pan containing three duck breasts and a vast quantity of hot fat.

I read now that Martha recommends a spoon for later transfer of fat. I must say I used the wrist method throughout, but Martha does instruct, right at the beginning of her book, to fully read each recipe through before embarking on any cooking. Which is a fabulous idea, I have to say, simple, but something I often forget to do. The book is really useful as a basic primer, and it spells things out that other cookbook authors often forget. I find Martha's publications often do this, and though some might say they take you too firmly in hand, I'm quite glad they do.

While I was practising my strange hand motions, Michelle and Alisha were making the side dishes. Martha had recommended turnip and a bitter green veg to complement the sweet fruitiness of the duck dish. We made mashed turnip, though not with the traditional milk addition, of course, but with butter instead, and a second delicious side of wilted kale with butter, oil and garlic.

Lastly, Meg made the orange gastrique which accompanied the duck. A gastrique is (according to Wiki): "a thick sauce produced by a reduction of vinegar or wine, sugar, and usually fruit. It is often served over meat or seafood to add a fruit flavor to the dish. It is made in its simplest form by caramelizing sugar and then adding vinegar." Which is precisely what Meg did.

She started out the pan with just sugar, which we watched miraculously caramelize before our eyes, without burning at all. It formed these beautiful sugar dunes. The sugar was cooked until 'uniformly amber,' and then half a cup of (good) red wine vinegar was added, reduced, and finally the orange zest which Meg had julienned and simmered to remove the bitterness. It formed a delicious gastrique, which we poured over the sliced duck breast. It was delicious, and the kale and turnip mash (also something I've never tried) were fantastic too.

Caveat: if you are not a big sweets eater, or dislike mixing sweet and savoury, you'd be better off dolloping the gastrique on the side, and applying it to the duck sparingly. The gastrique can be quite sweet, even with the vinegar. Personally I think sweet sauces on duck are indispensable (orange! sour cherries!), but they're not for everyone. Similarly, I know Martha Stewart puts some people off, but do give this book a chance: it's brilliant, incredibly well thought out in terms of pacing and learning, and gorgeously designed (of course). Funnily enough, it was given to my by my brother Ben, who, on a business trip here in Vancouver, managed to stop by just in time to sample the fruits of his generosity. Lucky him – and lucky us!

Duck Breast with Orange Gastrique
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cooking School

(To serve two)

1 large duck breast (about 1 pound)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 orange, zest of one half sliced into julienne, both halves juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup best quality red wine vinegar

Score crosswise (diagonally) through the skin and most of the fat, but avoid the flesh. Season both sides with salt and pepper and place skin-side down in pan on medium-low heat until pool of fat forms. Turn breast over and cook other side for one minute. Pour fat out into heatproof bowl (you can reserve for cooking the most delicious roast potatoes ever).

Continue cooking duck until skin is nicely browned and crisp, 10-12 minutes, spooning off excess fat. Turn duck once more and cook 8-10 minutes until medium rare. Transfer to wire rack to cool, 5-8 minutes.

For the gastrique, bring a small pot of water to a boil, and orange zest and simmer for two minutes, then drain. Heat sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat without stirring. Continue cooking until 'uniformly amber,' about 5 minutes more, swirling the pan slightly when the sugar has started to melt so it can caramelize evenly. Add the vinegar and combine with a wooden spoon, then continue simmering for 5 minutes more, until reduced. Pour in orange juice, add zest, and simmer until reduced to a thick syrup, about 5 minutes longer.

Slice duck crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices, and drizzle with sauce before serving.


moyrad said...

I liked this recipe though I would have my gastrique on the side. The creamy turnip and the crunchy kale were the perfect sides.

What I like about this cookbook is that it shows pictures for most of the steps so you can gauge how you are doing, especially when you have no frame of reference for ingredients like duck. I know I've had many a moment trying to discover what action a recipe is trying to describe.

Martha may be ubiquitous but many of her products are worthwhile.
This book isn't as comprehensive as say Joy of Cooking but it provides a cooking education that JoC doesn't.

Leeeeesha said...

Laura, this meal was fun and definitely a worthy exploration, though I did find the gastrique exceptionally sweet (in a bit of an overbearing way). But as you know, my sweet tooth isn't as big as some.

The mashed turnip and kale were wonderful, though. I'd happily make those again, if you'd be so kind as to post the recipes . . .

Yay for another success in the classic-and-elegant category!

Anonymous said...

A comment about the orange peel and your remark that it was treated for bitterness first. If you buy organic oranges you will find no bitterness! In fact the peel is soft and delicious and can be eaten right off the orange. Try it sometime.