First, this is why we always place a towel on the handle of a saute pan that has just been pulled from the oven:
In my short time working in kitchens, I was so in-your-face about safety. “Hey, hot handle! Towel!” is what I’d yell during service when one of the cooks carelessly set a searing-hot pan on the counter and walked away. And in my home kitchen, I’ve always (always) slipped a glove over the hot handle as soon as it was out of the oven. But last night, drink in hand, deep in conversation with the Bear, I forgot where and who I was. Seconds later, I lifted that heavy and terribly hot thing a couple of inches in the air before the pain registered.
But despite the burns and the few hours I spent dipping my hand in cool water, last night’s meal was one of my very favorites. The duck was seared on the skin side for several minutes, and as that beautiful golden fat rendered from the skin, I spooned it onto the pan on the next burner over, which was waiting to fry up some potato pancakes. To go with the duck, I made a pan sauce with Sherry and this dried Chukar Cherries assortment of Bings, Rainiers, and Montmorency tarts.
Remember kids, always be mindful of hot panhandles in the kitchen, and always, always use your duck fat.
Seared Duck Breast with Sherry and Dried Cherry Pan Sauce
salt and pepper
dried cherries (fresh would work)
dry sherry (Port would work great here as well)
Preheat oven to 375.
Rinse the duck breasts and pat them ever so dry. Score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern, making sure not to pierce the meat. Salt and pepper the skin side.
Put a tablespoon of butter in your oven-proof saucepan and get it nice and hot on the stove before you place the duck breasts, skin-side down in it. If you’re making the potato pancakes, have another frying pan out; as the fat renders from the skin, spoon it into the pan next door. (If you’re not making potatoes to go with the duck, spoon the fat into a small container and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to make some mind-blowing potatoes).
Fry the breasts until the skin-side is golden brown and crisp and flip. Sear the other side for a few minutes, and place in the oven. At this point, my duck spent almost 10 minutes in the oven, and it came out only ever-so-slightly pink in the center — I could have taken them out a minute or two sooner. You’ll have to adjust the timing depending on the thickness of the breasts, and your personal preference for doneness. (Also, it is at this point that I start frying the potato pancakes. I have a cookie sheet waiting for the done ones, so that they can sit in a hot oven while they are waiting to be served. This keeps them from getting limp before service.)
Make the sauce: when your breasts are done, take them out of the hot pan and set them aside to rest. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of duck fat, splash a liberal amount of Sherry and stock in the pan, and add a handful of dried cherries. As the liquid heats up, deglaze the pan and let the cherries simmer for a few minutes until they soften. Add salt and pepper, and take off the heat. Let sit for a minute, and then whisk in a tablespoon of cold butter.
a few larger Yukon Golds
less than half of a sweet onion
4 heaping TBSP flour
duck fat and butter
salt and pepper
Wash, peel, and shred your potatoes and onion and put them in a bowl (I used a mandoline to finely julienne mine, and I liked how the shreds were wider than normal, while still being very thinly cut.) Blot or squeeze the potato mixture dry, though there shouldn’t be too much liquid if you’re using Yukons. Salt and pepper, add the eggs and flour, and mix it all up.
Make sure your oven is hot, and have a sheet pan ready to receive the cooked potato pancakes. While the duck is cooking in the oven, start frying these up in the hot duck fat (I added a little butter to the duck fat). I salt and pepper mine again at this point. Pop the cooked pancakes in the oven when the duck is out and resting. Serve with sour cream and applesauce.