Sunday, March 4, 2012

French-Inspired Sunday Supper - Duck Breast with Orange Chili Glaze

What better way to wrap up a weekend packed with family, friends, and our ever-present list of household chores, than with a great meal? Sunday supper is a tradition in our house, one that we indulge in these days if we are lucky enough to have a few hours to spare at the end of the weekend. For us, it's usually a slightly more involved meal than we would attempt on your average weeknight.

This custom of cooking fancier meals on Sunday came about when I was dating my now husband. Back then, we lived somewhat far from each other, so I'd really look forward to seeing him on weekends. As a way to send off what was always a good time, I'd create a menu that we would shop for and cook together each Sunday night. Then we'd say goodbye, and I'd get into my purple Saturn and drive home to Brooklyn, often with a bit of a lump in my throat because I wouldn't be seeing Mr. Wonderful for another three or four days. Or maybe I'd be teary eyed nine out of ten Sundays. There's always going to be a weekend when you think, "enough of that guy, I can't wait to see my cat!"

French-Inspired Sunday Supper Menu:
~Mache Salad with Beets
~Breast of Duck with Orange Chili Glaze
~Mashed Sunchokes 

Let's start with our simple salad. Mache, also known as Lamb's Lettuce, is a salad green that has enjoyed increased popularity here in America over the past decade. It's a milder tasting lettuce first cultivated centuries ago in France. Though due to its clean flavor and attractive look, it is often seen as a garnish or micro-green on haute cuisine plates, mache makes a lovely salad in its own right. 

Mache, Photo: NK

Here's an interesting article on mache:

Soon enough, I came across a recipe for mache salad that included other very french components like shallots and tarragon. When I saw that it also included beets, which I just love, I was sold. Here's my quicker interpretation of a salad featured in Food & Wine Magazine that was contributed by one of the kings of French Cuisine, Jacques Pepin:

Easier Mache Salad with Beets
Recipe Adapted From Food & Wine
Serves 3 

2 Pre-Cooked Beets such as Love Beets Brand (Available in gourmet stores) or 2 whole beets from the can
1 1/4 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
Beet Matchsticks, Photo: NK
3/4 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 a small Shallot, minced 
1 teaspoon minced tarragon 
1 Tablespoon of Peanut Oil
1 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh ground Pepper
1/4 Lb of Mache 

Cut the beets into matchsticks and transfer them into a bowl.

In another large bowl, whisk mustard with the vinegar, tarragon, and shallot.

Whisk in both the peanut and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add a drop of vinaigrette to the beets and toss to incorporate.

Add the mache to the remaining vinaigrette and toss well. 

Combine beets into the large bowl of mache and serve right away.

Next up, I wanted an easy, starchy side for our duck breast. Since I am not a huge potato fan, I thought it might be nice to try to make an easy preparation of Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes. Sunchokes aren't artichokes at all. They are actually the underground tuber of the sunflower itself. They look a lot like ginger root or funny looking, gnarled potatoes. 

Sunchokes are another ingredient most often seen in restaurant dishes, but thanks to increased marketing here in the US, they are more widely available to the everyday cook. Unlike potatoes, they can be eaten raw, and their taste, somewhere along the lines of a water chestnut with a hint of turnip-y flair, is actually quite pleasant, even before cooking. They have a more complex flavor than potato, another reason I really like them.

Sunchokes, Photo: NK
Sunchokes can be prepared in the same manner as potatoes, whether roasted, mashed, or even sautéed. Their skin is so thin that peeling is not necessary. What's French about the sunchoke? Not a heck of a lot, since sunchokes were actually first discovered here in the US after having been grown by the Native Americans and used as sustenance by the early American settlers.  

They are sort of French by association. When the French navigator, Samuel de Champlain, came to the US on expedition he made sure to bring this unique tuber back to France with him where it was further cultivated. For today's dinner, we mashed the sunchokes using a very easy recipe, but if you'd like to try them raw, here's a great way: Sunchokes are somewhat difficult to get to a fine mash, so I chose to leave in some texture. If you would like them smooth I would recommend cooking them ten minutes longer and perhaps blending them with an immersion blender. 

Mashed Sunchokes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 3 

1 Lb Sunchokes, cut into 1 inch pieces. You can peel them if you choose, but not necessary
1 Cup Whole Milk
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil 

Place sunchokes in a large saucepan. 
Add milk and extra water if needed, until chokes are covered.
Season with a good amount of salt and boil over a medium-high flame.
Once boiling, immediately reduce to a simmer and cook until sunchokes are tender - about 40 minutes, skimming off the milk skin periodically.
Drain, reserving cooking liquid.
Return sunchokes to saucepan and add olive oil (I used duck fat instead and it was delish!). 
Mash with a potato masher until desired texture is achieved.
Stir in a few tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid to moisten to desired consistency.
Serve right away or reheat before serving.

Let's be clear here, our duck recipe, though inspired by the French classic Duck A L'orange, is by no means a traditional dish. Duck A L'Orange is somewhat involved, and includes many more ingredients. It is supposed to be made with bitter oranges, so our use of bitter marmalade to cut down preparation time is somewhat similar. This recipe is so easy, impressive, and just tres magnifique. It's a great choice for a special Sunday supper or dinner party. The chili component, which is totally nontraditional, adds a bit of interest that makes this glaze really irresistible. Enjoy with my apologies to the great "traditional" French chefs out there. 

Duck Breast with Orange Chili Glaze
Adapted from & Raymond Blanc Method for cooking duck breast 
Serves 2

2 Duck Breasts
1 teaspoon Sherry Vinegar
1 Orange, Juice of one half set aside, the other half cut in segments for serving
4 Tablespoons Orange Marmalade
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 

Preheat the oven to 375.

Score the skin side of the duck breast by cutting on the diagonal across the breast, then turning the breast to cut again, creating diamond shapes.

Season the duck with salt and pepper. 

Render the fat by putting the duck breasts, skin side down, in a large frying pan on the stove top over medium heat. Cook for a total of 10 minutes, pouring off the fat every two minutes until the skin is crispy and a golden color. Reserve the duck fat for another use.
Next, turn the duck onto the flesh side and sear one more minute.

Golden and crispy Duck Breast ready for the oven, Photo: NK

In a small bowl, make the glaze by combining marmalade, red pepper flakes, sherry vinegar and orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
Orange and Chili Glaze, NK

Line a baking sheet with sides using parchment paper. Place the duck fillets fat side up on the baking sheet and spread the glaze generously over the top of each one. Arrange orange segments around the duck and pop in the oven for 8-12 minutes. We cooked ours for 10 minutes, which is ideal for a perfect medium rare.

Check for desired doneness and let rest for about 5 minutes outside the oven. 

Transfer duck and orange segments to plate, drizzle more glaze on top, and serve.

Bon Apettit!!
Duck Breast with Orange Chili Glaze, Sunchoke Mash, and Mache Salad with Beets, Photo: NK

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