I grew up believing that simple foods are often the best. This minimalist philosophy is perhaps most evident in summer, when the greens are greener and the berries sweeter. I often jest that my recipes are simple because I’m lazy, but in all honestly, it’s because I believe that good ingredients need little embellishment.
As a marketer, I know that the key to selling more product is to evoke an emotional reaction from your consumer. It’s what drives people to make impulsive purchases that were never planned or part of the budget. While I try to restrain myself from extemporaneous purchases in most of my life, food is one area where I let my emotions run free, and I give free rein of my wallet to my every whim.
That’s because the most evocative foods are also the most inspirational. This dish for example, is something I came up with, using all the flavors of the moment. Plums are at the peak of their season, green topped baby carrots are sweet and crisp, and the odd baby-melon looking Sour Mexican Gherkins practically leapt off the table and into my shopping bag. St. Germain, or elderflower liqueur, is another ingredient that has been on my mind lately, with its ambrosial lychee-like aroma.
I also happened upon a $5 stick of cultured butter. When I say “cultured” I don’t mean that the butter has had an education in etiquette. This is the European style of making butter, where the cream is fermented first, giving it a wonderful depth of flavor reminiscent of cheese. It’s especially good when it’s browned, and the milk solids have had a chance to caramelize.
While I’m always excited to be cooking with duck, I recently found Moulard duck breasts, and despite the price, I found myself happily emptying my wallet for this hybrid. It’s a cross between the fatty Pekin duck and the leaner Muscovy. Moulard combines the best traits of both species producing large, relatively lean breasts with a ton of flavor.
Armed with these inspired ingredients, this dish practically made itself. The skin on the breast is fried in its own fat until the skin forms crisp islands of deliciousness, hovering over the flavorful meat. The carrots are blanched and fried in browned butter, which is then used to baste the duck. The ruby-red sauce consists only of pureed plums with elderflower liqueur, whisked with the browned butter to form an emulsion.
This is all plated with the tart Mexican Gherkins and a variety of fresh plums, which I deliberately scattered about the plate to represent how the dish practically made itself.
- Score the skin side of the duck in cross-hatch pattern through the skin and into the layer of fat, this allows the fat to render out faster, which in turn helps to crisp the skin. Since the skin needs to be a dry as possible to ensure it crisps up, pat it dry with paper towels, then generously salt and pepper both sides of the breast. Put a heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat and allow the pan to warm up (but it shouldn't be too hot). Add the duck breast, skin side down and let it fry undisturbed until the skin is golden brown and crisp (7-10 minutes). Tip the pan and remove excess fat as it renders out.
- Flip the duck and cook until it reaches your desired level of doneness (use an instant-read thermometer). Rare: 125xb0 to 130xb0 F, Medium-Rare: 130xb0 to 140xb0 F, Medium: 140xb0 to 150xb0 F, Medium-Well: 150xb0 to 160xb0 F, Transfer the duck to a plate and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- While the duck is resting, make the sauce and the carrots. For the sauce, take the 2 plums you pitted and chopped and add them to a food processor along with the St. Germain, honey and salt. When the plums are completely pureed (there shouldn't be any bits of skin visible), pour the puree into a small saucepan and cook over medium low heat.
- For the carrots, add 2 tablespoons of good butter to a clean pan. Fry the carrots with a pinch of salt until they are tender and slightly caramelized on the edges. Transfer the carrots to a plate. Return the duck breast to the pan you just took the carrots from and baste with the browned butter. Transfer the duck to a cutting board, then pour the remaining butter into plum sauce, and quickly whisk it in.
- Slice the duck and arrange the slices onto two plates. Add the carrots, then scatter the gherkins and plums around the duck. Spoon some sauce over everything, then serve immediately.