Pan-roasted duck breast, parsley salad and sauteed mushroom risotto
“I messed up; I’m sorry.” Those five words can help you so much, whether at work, with your spouse, or in my case, with dinner.
A hunter friend of mine scored big the last time he went duck hunting, and he was nice enough to give me 4 pairs of duck breasts – still on the bone, mind you, so duck stock is in my near future. I’d never cooked duck before, so I was excited to try it out on my family AND have it as our first meat-centric blog post. I researched different methods and preparations and decided it was best to just Keep It Simple, Stupid: season with salt and pepper, sear on the stovetop and finish in the oven ‘til they’re medium rare – medium at the most. We’ll get to my mistake further down.
So after I removed the duck breasts from the breast bone (with considerable effort and expert help from Jackie), I started on the two side dishes. We make risotto a lot, but we’ve only recently been including sautéed mushrooms in the mix, and now we’re hooked. Portobello, shiitake, oyster . . . it doesn’t matter to us. Mushrooms + oil + hot pan = golden brown and delicious. Unfortunately (kinda), risotto is so delicious that it deserves its own post, so I’ll have to skip over it for now.
I wanted another element to cut through the richness of the duck breast and creamy, cheesy risotto, plus I wanted to feel like I was eating somewhat healthy, so I made a parsley salad with a red wine vinaigrette leaning toward the acidic side. This was delectable and just what was needed to balance the other dishes, but the parsley leaves were a little chewy. Next time I’ll definitely make more of an effort to pick all the leaves from the stems and probably roughly chop them to cut down on this.
Here’s my moment of humility: the risotto and parsley salad were either done or getting done, so it was time to pan roast the duck breasts. Seared in a hot pan with some oil – easy. Remembering that the duck came from a hunter and not from a grocery store, so the breasts vastly varied in size – not as easy. I should have placed the bigger ones in the oven to finish cooking through and removed the smaller ones to rest in the meantime. Instead, half of the duck breasts were perfectly, and I do mean perfectly, cooked. The other half were cooked to well-done and had the consistency of over-cooked chicken livers. Not inedible, but not what I was going for by a long shot.
Why bring it up at all? Because for a long time when I was first learning to cook and trying new things, if something went wrong I would kinda throw a temper tantrum. It seemed soooooo easy for Jackie and others to walk in to the kitchen, throw some random assortment of ingredients in a pot and come up with something mind-blowing. While I, on the other hand, struggled with still burning toast sometimes. The difference this time for me was I realized nothing bad happened. Yeah, there were some over-cooked duck breasts, but I didn’t poison someone, I didn’t lose a Michelin star, I didn’t get yelled at by a bleach-blonde Englishman. I did, however, learn how to do it better next time.
I think one thing that keeps people out of their home kitchens is the fear of trying something different, doing something wrong and disappointing the people you tried to cook for. While that’s certainly kept me from failing as much as I would have, it also kept me from learning all that I could by burning the toast and then figuring out the right setting. The point is to COOK, and cook as well as you can at this very moment. Food will burn, sauces will over-reduce, cakes will fall, things will be crunchy when they’re supposed to be soft and vice-versa. You don’t have to do everything perfectly all the time to cook for your family and friends. They’re supposed to like you anyway, right? Then what does it matter if the chicken is dry? Learn what you did wrong and how you can do it better next time.
I certainly did, and next time I’ll have duck breasts so tender and tasty people will sing my praises far and wide. And all I had to do was over-cook the first batch.
Roasted Duck Breasts
4 boneless, skinless duck breasts (This is what I had to work with.)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat your duck breasts dry and season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan on medium-high heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Once the oil is shimmering add the duck breasts and cook 2-3 minutes on both sides till golden.
Remove smaller breasts to rest tented under aluminum foil at this point and place pan with larger breasts in the oven to cook until medium to medium-well, 5-7 minutes. When pressed the breasts will feel a little soft, but bounce back (giggle) or when an internal temperature of 130 degrees is reached.
Rest duck for 5-10 minutes tented under aluminum foil and serve.
Parsley salad with red wine vinaigrette
1 bunch parsley, washed and patted dry, leaves picked (freeze the stems to add to stock)
½ carrot, diced small
Parmesan cheese, shaved
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Instead of the usual 3:1 ratio for the vinaigrette, try to be a little more heavy-handed with the acid. That’s why I included lemon juice (from half a lemon in my case) to tip the scales toward the acidic to cut through the richness of the rest of the dish.
You know the drill: put a little Dijon mustard in a bowl, add vinegar and lemon juice and whisk until combined. Drizzle 2-3 times that amount of oil, whisking constantly, until the dressing is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place the parsley and carrot in a bowl and drizzle some of the vinaigrette around the edges. Toss to coat, season to taste, top with parmesan and devour.
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