Seared Duck Breast With Blueberry-Chipotle Sauce

by elleryturner

Bartering.  It’s a method of aquiring food that’s as old as the human race and has, somewhere along the way, fallen out of style.  I, being the proponent for saving money and eating well that I am, fully encourage bartering whenever possible.

So when a friend of mine asked me to watch his dog for the night in exchange for fresh duck breast (retrieved by said dog the very same morning), I jumped at the chance.  Not only is the pup a sweetheart, she tires my own four-legged friend out.  But most importantly, the only thing I love more than fresh duck, is free fresh duck.  With duck hunting season in full force, it’s not hard to find someone around here willing to part with a bird or two.  If you don’t have a friend who’s a hunting enthusiast, you can find fresh duck (for a price) at some specialty stores, and frozen in most grocery stores.  If duck is simply out of the question, you can still make this recipe with an inexpensive cut of steak, or pork chops.

Now that I had the duck in my posession, what to do with it?  I was brought back to my summer in Florence, Italy when my friends and I visited Acqua al Due, a restaurant famous for it’s Blueberry Steak.  I’ve always remembered that blueberry sauce, and love fruit with a gamey meat, so I decided to give it a go.  I knew which main ingredients I would build my sauce off of, but was a bit nervous winging (duck pun intended) the rest of it.  The fact that my roommate, Merritt, practically licked her plate, gave me the confidence I needed to tell you to try this sauce.  You need it in your life – if only to completely blow your friends away at a dinner party.

The chipotle pepper gives a great bite to the sauce, and even though you’re only using a little bit, buy a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and – surprise, surprise – freeze the rest.  When a recipe calls for it, hold the freezer bag under running water for a minute to soften, and shave off whatever pepper you need.

4 small duck breasts

1 and 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tblsp sugar

1 tblsp white wine vinegar

1 tblsp fresh grated ginger

1/2 tbslp finely chopped chipotle pepper

Step 1: Combine all ingredients except the duck in a sauce pan on the stove, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let simmer.

Step 2: Liberally salt and pepper the duck breasts while heating 1 tblsp olive oil in a heavy pan on the stove.  I like to use my dutch oven to sear meat, as it distributes heat evenly for a good crust.

Step 3:  Add your duck to the pan and don’t move it!  The worst mistake you can make when trying to get a nice sear on a piece of meat is to mess with it in the pan.  Put it down in the hot oil and don’t touch it until it’s time to flip.  Otherwise, you won’t get the brown color you’re looking for.

Step 4:  Sear duck for about 4 minutes on each side for a medium rare (which is how I like my duck), slightly longer if you like less pink.  Be careful not to overcook – pouring the hot sauce over the duck during plating will continue to cook the duck.  Transfer your seared duck to a cutting board and let rest.  This gives the chance for the juices to redistribute – cutting a piece of meat before you’ve let it rest will make all of the juices run out and the meat to become dry.

Step 5: Pour your simmering sauce into the pan you used to cook your duck, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom.  That is pure flavor right there.  Turn off the heat on the pan that is now holding your sauce – the risidual heat will help it continue to thicken without burning.

Step 6:  After your meat has rested for several minutes, slice the breasts on an angle.

Step 7: Plate your duck, spooning the sauce over the top.  I served with mashed sweet potatoes (boil the potatoes until tender, mash with 1 tbslp butter, a splash of milk, and salt and pepper), and lightly sauteed green beans and garlic.  The sweet potato is a great pairing for the tangy, spicy sauce.

Sauces are often overlooked in home cooking, but they can really make the difference between a good meal and a great meal.  This sauce is not only inexpensive – using several staple ingredient –  but an excellent one to keep in your back pocket and break out for a special occasion.