I had to finish defrosting the duck in some cold water.
When I’d go to a new market or butcher shop, one of the things I’d look for is to see if they carried duck. I really hadn’t found any in my area that I felt safe using. There are several Asian markets in the city next to my town and while they carried duck, they were a scary experience. They weren’t really clean and frankly smelled gross. Maybe they were OK, but I have had food poisoning several times in my life from eating other’s food and it is not something I wanted to inflict on myself or my guests. I became aware of a Korean Market called H-Mart which had opened in a city about 20 minutes away. H-Mart is an Asian supermarket that is the cleanest market I think I’ve ever been in. They have an amazing selection of products and this isn’t even a Super H-Mart. I went down there just before the 4th of July weekend and picked up two packages of duck breasts and a whole duck. Now that I had the goods it was time to find the right recipe.
The orange pomegranate sauce was simple but tasty: Initially it used pomegranate concentrate, honey, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper. The orange wedges are reserved and added to the sauce during the last 5 minutes of simmering.
One of the things that scared me a little about duck was dealing with the excess fat that duck brings to the table. I had picked out a recipe called DUCK BREAST WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, a cookbook I’d been given for Christmas. In a strange twist the Pomegranate concentrate, which is used a lot in Indian cooking, was not to be had at H-Mart the Asian market, but at my local supermarket. The recipe used the Orange Pomegranate sauce before grilling, during grilling and after grilling. BTW these were three batches that I ad in separate containers to avoid contamination. You certainly don’t want to use a sauce that has been brushed on uncooked duck for your grill sauce or final sauce. The recipe had you place a couple slices of duck and the pomegranate sauce on small tortillas that you rolled up. I decide to serve the duck instead on a bed of rices with vegetables , with the orange wedges from the orange pomegranate sauce mixed in. All of this was to be topped with the orange pomegranate sauce.
The duck breast skin was scored in a crosshatch pattern to help release the fat
The duck breasts took a more than a day to defrost and I had to resort to soaking them in cold water for about 40 minutes, switching out the water 20 minutes along. Once defrosted, the four duck breasts were trimmed so the skin did not extend past the sides of the duck. There were also some narrow lose flaps of skin on the bottom side that I removed, these are evidently the tenderloins. Where I was going to thin slice the breast these pieces would have just broken off into little useless pieces. I made the orange pomegranate sauce next which involves separating the orange into wedges which you reserve at this time, all the time collecting the orange juice for use in the first version of the sauce. I started heating the sauce and also heated a frying pan to medium to render the fat out of the duck breast. The duck breasts had the skin (but not the meat below) scored in a cross hatch pattern to help release the fat. The idea was the breasts would be placed in a the frying pan skin side down over medium heat and cooked for 5 minutes to let the fat render out through the cross hatches in the skin.
The duck breast are on the frying pan, breast side down using medium heat per the recipe
Now as I have mentioned in my blog entry called HIGH TECH THERMO, I have a thermometer that uses infra red readings to measure the temperature. I shot the bottom of the pan to make sure I was at the right temperature. After 5 minutes I didn’t see as much fat as I expected, but when I turned the duck over the skin was beginning to brown and the edges of several pieces were beginning to char. So it was time to pull the duck., but I wasn’t convinced I had all of the fat rendered out. I placed it in a bacon rack to drain and brushed it with one batch of the orange pomegranate sauce. Then it was off to the grill which had been pre-heated to medium high. I placed the duck breasts on the grill breast side down and within 20 seconds I had flares, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Mt. St. Helens erupted.
After 5 minutes at medium heat the skin was starting to brown and the edges getting crispy. My time was up but I wasn’t convinced all of the fat had rendered out.
That answered the question on whether all the fat had been rendered out. I had a real problem on my hands as i had flare ups that were at least two feet high and moving side to side quite a bit too. Believe it or not I couldn’t just reach in with my tongs to try to move the breasts. Due to the out of control flames I had to don my grill gloves which go up nearly to my elbows. I will say it was scary reaching in there even with the gloves. I first tried moving them but the flames didn’t even subside, they simply followed me where ever I went. What I tried next was turning them over so they were skin side up. This stopped the flames and I’d occasionally flip it over and cook it skin side down. At this point I was rather disgusted because I now had blackened duck for a recipe that wasn’t called cajun duck. I reduced the overall cooking time to make up for the high heat the flames would have produced. This part I actually got right because the duck was cooked correctly internally. I had to pull the duck off to the side to brush on the second batch of the pomegranate sauce to finish up. As I walked back into the house I was shaking my head thinking I’d screwed up my first attempt at duck. I was afraid all you would taste is char.
The top side of the duck, shown here, had nice grill marks, the side with the flareups was blackened and like one giant grill mark.
Once the duck was inside it was rested for 5 minutes before carving. While this was happening the orange wedges were laced in the last batch of the pomegranate sauce. As I sliced the duck, it was good news / bad news. The good news was my adjusted time for the flareups was good. The duck was cooked correctly internally. The bad news was the blackened skin, I really didn’t think there was going to be any getting around that. The next step was to place the bed of rice with veggies on the serving platter. I then used a wide fish spatula to pick up the slices from each of the 4 breasts which I’d fanned out on the cutting board as I was slicing the duck. So I now had 4 areas on the rice with fanned out duck breast slices. I removed the orange wedges from the pomegranate sauce and arrayed them between the duck slices in a cross pattern. Lastly I poured the pomegranate sauce over the entire platter , duck orange wedges and rice.
The orange wedges went into the orange pomegranate sauce for a 5 minute soak while the cooked duck rested
It was with great fear I took my first bite. To my great surprise the duck tasted great. The orange pomegranate sauce completely masked any burnt or charred flavor that would have been coming from the skin. It was quite excellent actually, and the proof is two people completely devoured the serving for four. I decided even my father would like this because it didn’t have the unpleasant flavor some duck I’ve tried did. My dad had a lot of duck when he was in Asia when he was in the army. While the duck was great, when I thought about what had happened to me it made me a bit angry. I followed the recipe to the letter. I usually try to do this first time out on any recipe. The step where you rendered out the duck fat had clearly failed. I had the right time and temperature and any more and the duck would have begun cooking on the stove. So how could the cookbook writers have let this pass? If they made the recipe as written, it couldn’t possibly have worked for them. Very disappointing, particularly for what they charge for some of these books.
I was amazed and happy to discover that the wonderful taste of the orange pomegranate sauce completely masked any potentially “burnt” flavor and the duck was excellent
I made the first duck breasts on Monday July 5th and the plan was to make the second round of breasts next Saturday for my parents to try. This gave me a few days to get to the bottom of things. I spoke to a friend who makes duck often and was told not to use medium heat. Too hot-that combination would work for cooking the duck all the way in the frying pan. Instead of 5 minutes on medium, 10-15 minutes on low was more like it. Looking around at some other recipes gave some credence to this. Part of the problem here is you do not want to cook the duck on the stove since you are planning to do the actual cooking on the grill. I assumed my worries were over if the low heat for 10 or 15 minutes was right. I mean I had done this once before, there should be no surprises right? Wrong!! I was trying to bring the orange pomegranate sauce to a boil and I had the heat at the lowest setting while I started rendering the fat in another pan. I looked away for about 30 seconds and I suddenly heard that hissing boil over sound we all dread. I got it off the heat right away but the sauce was half boiled away. Fortunately I had enough ingredients to whip up a second unexpected batch.
After that things went smoothly. I heated the duck for 15 minutes and got quite a bit more fat out. This time I had two different sized pairs of breasts. The smaller pair looked like they were starting to cook so I pulled all 4 breasts. When I got out to the grill I did get some minor flareups from the bigger breasts, so in retrospect I probably should have kept the bigger breast on for a minute or so. This duck was a big hit with my parents. My dad hadn’t been told what he was having, so as not to prejudice him ahead of time. After a few bites, he asked what it was we were having because it was real good. When I said duck, he said huh and went back to eating. He was the first to finish so I know he liked it. So all in all with a little luck thrown in, my first attempt at duck breast was a big hit. I will describe the ROTISSERIE PEKING DUCK I also made this same week in a future blog post. If you are thinking of making duck do make sure the recipe takes steps to deal with the fat or you too will experience flareups the likes of which you have never seen.