Duck Breast with Cherries

Duck is one of my favorite birds. It’s like the pork of the sky and sea. Super versatile, duck is used in many classic preparations around the world, especially in China and France. Since my culinary education was more European, I learned how to make items like duck confit (where the leg is slowly poached in its own fat), duck rillette (where the confit meat is shredded, seasoned, and made into a spreadable topping for crusty bread), and other charcuterie items like terrines and galantines. The bones make a delicious and deeply flavoured stock for all kinds of applications as well. And of course, there is the breast.

Duck breast needs to be cooked in a certain way, so the fat is rendered sufficiently and the skin gets crispy. Duck breast is also normally served in restaurants slightly pink in the center – duck eaters generally don’t have to worry about that pesky salmonella bacteria. While it’s also very easy to cook, duck breast presents itself as a gourmet meal, especially with a beautiful sauce made from cherries. So, think about this recipe the next time you want to impress your in-laws.

Duck Breast with Cherries
Serves 4

Ingredients

4                            duck breasts (ideally from Muscovy hens –
                              they are the ideal size per person) to taste salt and pepper

Sauce
1 cup                    fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half
½ cup                    chicken stock
2 tbsp                   honey vinegar, or another slightly sweet vinegar like balsamic
1 tbsp                   chives, chopped
1 tbsp                   cold butter

Garnish
1 bunch                swiss chard, washed and roughly chopped
1                            large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1                            garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp                     nutmeg, freshly grated
to taste                salt and pepper
1 tbsp                   butter

Method

Score the skin of each duck breast (using the tip of a sharp knife) in a crosshatch pattern. Try to only score the skin and not cut through into the meat. This allows for the fat to escape more easily while rendering. Season the breasts with salt and pepper.

Place a large pan over a medium-low heat on your stovetop. Place the duck breast in the cold pan, skin side down, and let the duck slowly cook for about ten minutes.

While the breasts are cooking, start your garnish. In a separate pan, heat the butter over a medium heat. Add the shallots to the pan and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sweat for an additional minute, then add the swiss chard. Stir frequently until the swiss chard is well sautéed – about four minutes. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take the pan off the heat and reserve.

Back to the duck. After cooking for ten minutes on the skin side, much of the fat would have rendered and the breasts should be ready to flip. Turn the breasts over and raise the heat to a medium high. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes and then remove the breasts form the pan and place on a plate to rest.

Strain the fat out of the duck pan (reserve in your fridge for all kinds of future uses, like roasting potatoes), and place the pan back on the stovetop over a medium high heat. Add the cherries and chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spoon scrape any of the duck bits off the bottom of the pan. When the stock has reduced by half (about two minutes), add the vinegar and the chives. Reduce for a minute before taking the sauce off the heat and stirring in the cold butter, allowing it to emulsify into the sauce.

To serve, divide the swiss chard onto the center of four plates. Place the cooked breast on your cutting board, and slice each one on a slight bias into about five or six slices. Fan each breast over the chard. Finally, divide the sauce evenly over each breast, and serve.

I mentioned roasted potatoes above – if you have the time I recommend roasting some potatoes before starting this recipe, as they go really well with the dish but take a bit more time. Enjoy!