People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
03/03/2010 Duck breast with dried cèpes and walnuts (Magret de canard aux cèpes secs et aux noix) Clay pot
For 4 servings:
4 small skin-on fresh duck breasts (or two large ones) 1 1/2-2 oz. dried cèpes (aka porcini) from France or Italy* Pinch sugar 3 T. unsalted butter 1/3 c. walnuts, freshly shelled if possible, broken into pieces 3 T. capers, rinsed 6 cloves of garlic 2 T. aged imported sherry vinegar 1 red onion, thinly sliced 3 T. walnut oil Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
*In my experience, cheaper dried cèpes from other countries such as those of eastern Europe are extremely gritty and have little flavor.
2-24 hours before beginning, trim the excess fat from the edges of the duck breasts with a sharp knife, then slash the skin diagonally 3 or 4 times, cutting through the fat but not into the flesh. Salt and pepper liberally on both sides. Wrap and refrigerate. Put the cèpes to soak in about 2 cups very warm water, with a small pinch of sugar.
About 1 hour before serving, drain the cèpes, conserving the soaking water in a small saucepan. If the mushrooms are French or Italian, they shouldn't be dirty. If they are, rinse them briefly but thoroughly; then strain the soaking water through a moistened coffee filter to remove any grit. Reduce the soaking water to around 2/3 cup and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a heavy saute pan, cook the duck breasts skin side down over low heat, pouring out the fat as it accumulates. Cook for around 30 minutes, until most of the subskin fat has melted out, and the skin is golden brown and crisp. Put a platter in a warm oven. Then turn the breasts, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until just seared on the flesh side. The breasts should be very rare. Transfer them to the warm platter without stacking, tent with foil, and keep in a warm place while you finish the dish. Pour the fat out of the skillet but reserve it as is for the sauce step below.
About halfway through the cooking of the duck breasts, heat the walnut oil in a clay poêlon or a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cèpes and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt, cook for 5 minutes. Add the capers and the walnuts and continue cooking until everything is beginning to brown and become crisp.
Meanwhile, deglaze the duck skillet with the reduced mushroom water over medium high heat. Allow to reduce slightly. Pour in any juices that have accumulated around the duck. Add the vinegar, whisk in the butter, and adjust the seasoning.
Slice the duckbreasts horizontally about 1/4" thick. Fan the slices attractively on the platter, scatter the mushroom garnish over. Pass the sauce at table.
Note: This dish will surprise you with its tantalizing woodsy flavors and robust contrasting textures. The sauce is very 'short'--meaning there's not much of it--but long on flavor. This recipe is an excellent lesson in why you should never discard dried mushroom soaking water!