Years ago duck was only available either in fancy restaurants or as a whole bird you ordered ahead of time from the butcher. Today most butchers carry vacuum sealed duck breast such as those prepared by D’Artagnan.
Unlike chicken or turkey, duck can be eaten rare. Like other fowl, its fats are found chiefly in the skin, but even after the skin is removed duck meat maintains the best of its flavor.
Indeed, duck is the perfect summer entrée – intense, toothsome, flavorful, but not terribly fatty.
Slice the breast over a salad of mixed greens with a side of string beans and new potatoes. Balsamic vinegar goes very well, or spiced marmalades. If you don’t mind firing the oven for a bit, try roasting diced potatoes, carrots, beets, zucchini, or anything else in the market. Let cool, mix with chopped green salad, and toss with a vinaigrette. Pair with a burgundy.
At the dZong house Mary served duck breast with sautéed swiss chard, mache salad, and roasted rhubarb (with ginger and stock), all fresh from the garden. As an appetizer sautéed with a shallot were crostini of black trumpet chanterelles collected in the Catskills woods.
Duck half breast comes with one side skinned. A thick layer of fat covers the other side, and this layer becomes your friend in the pan or under the grill. Pan sautéing is the easiest for this household because the Henry range has a fan that ventilates outdoors.
Eight minutes with the fat side down yields a dark brown layer of pure flavor. Be sure to score the fat beforehand so that more of it touches the skillet surface. When you turn to brown the meat side you may find your pan too deep in fat. Mr. Henry likes to skim along the way and save the fat for frying potatoes.
Now your pan is perfectly hot, its surface covered in duck fat, the finest of frying oils. Brown the meat for a few minutes more, or finish in the oven if you prefer. Remove and let rest a good ten minutes. Mr. Henry prefers the texture of duck breast at room temperature.
The whole affair is incredibly quick, easy and painless. It’s no wonder restaurant menus are dotted with duck breast preparations.