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Pan Seared Duck Breast and
Slow Roasted Duck Legs
By Charlie Burke

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For many, the approaching holiday season means more entertaining, usually
with special meals. Duck can be easily prepared and is perfect for special
occasions, but the difference between the breast meat and that of the thighs
and legs is greater than in chicken or turkey which makes cooking a whole
duck problematic. Although we occasionally roast a whole duck, we much
prefer to cook the breasts and legs separately, which both simplifies the
process and allows proper preparation of both.

The breast meat is leaner than that of the legs and thighs and is best seared to
medium rare over very high heat, while the rich dark meat of the thigh and leg
responds best to slow roasting at low temperature. The breast can be prepared
in minutes just before serving, as you would a steak, while the thigh and leg
pieces, nestled in aromatic vegetables and herbs and cooked in its own fat
confit-style, can be prepared a day or two ahead and reheated with a simple
pan sauce from the roasting pan. These two preparations here are served
together, presenting different textures and flavors, but either can stand alone,
in which case I would serve one whole breast per person and consider a
second leg for those with large appetites.

Duck is widely available, usually frozen in local markets, but I prefer fresh
duck which can sometimes be obtained from local farmers. Your state’s
Department of Agriculture can inform you of sources; the next best option is
special ordering from your local meat market. Breasts and leg segments can be
ordered separately which is helpful since we are serving 1 breast and two legs
for every two diners in this recipe, but it is easy to section a whole duck and to
carve the whole breasts off the bone, leaving the carcass to make a great stock
and using leftover meat for soups and other preparations. Be sure to save the
fat which can be stored covered in the refrigerator for weeks. Try roasting
potatoes or vegetables with a little duck fat for extra depth of flavor.

Two servings:

1 duck breast
2 duck legs with thigh attached
1 ½ tablespoon herbes de Provence
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ cup chicken or duck stock
½ cup Cassis or Port
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

To prepare legs:

Prick the skin all over with a sharp fork. Liberally salt and pepper and press
half of the herbes de Provence into the skin. Place the parsley, thyme and bay
leaves, along with the chopped vegetables into a shallow oven proof baking
dish (I use a glazed terracotta dish with 3 inch sides) just large enough to hold
the legs and thighs. Place into a preheated 300 degree oven for 3 hours.*

At 3 hours, remove the legs from the baking dish and place on a baking rack in
a dish or pan to collect the drippings  (if one fits into the original baking dish,
use that). Roast at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Keep warm in a very low oven
until serving.

Strain the liquid and vegetables in a mesh strainer over a bowl, pressing on
them with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid. Skim the fat from the bowl.
Pour the liquid into a saucepan and add stock and Cassis or Port. Boil over
medium-high heat until reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Taste the sauce, adding salt and pepper to taste. Keep the sauce warm

*This can be done up to 3 days in advance; cover the baking dish with foil and
keep refrigerated in the fat. Bring the legs to room temperature and finish
them as above.

To prepare duck breast:

Score the skin and fat deeply, slicing across the skin every ½ inch, then turn
the breast 45 degrees and repeat the scoring so that the skin and fat have
diamond shaped segments. Liberally salt and pepper and rub the herbes de
Provence into all surfaces.

Heat a heavy sauté pan or cast iron skillet over high heat. Place the breasts,
skin side down, into the dry pan. Cook for 5 minutes and then drain the fat
from the pan. Continue to cook on the skin side for 5 additional minutes. Turn
and cook approximately 5 minutes until the breast is rare to medium rare.
Remove the breasts from the heat and let set for 5 minutes.

Slice the breast into1/2 inch slices. Plate one leg and ½ of a breast per person
on warmed plates and pour sauce over both.

This is a very flexible recipe, which can be done in one cooking, starting three
and a half hours before serving and sautéing the breast as the legs are
finishing on the rack, or it can be done ahead, with final preparation taking
only half an hour.

I like this simple sauce with its touch of sweet fruit from the Cassis, but the
sauce can be varied, by omitting the Cassis and adding dried fruit, such as
cherries or currents. I would serve it with a fruity red, such as a fine Zinfandel
or a Pinot Noir.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH
Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  
Along with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Pan Seared Duck Breast and Slow Roasted Duck Legs
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