This might sound unorthodox, but I prefer staying in to going out on Valentine’s Day. Nothing sounds better to me than a quiet dinner at home: starting our dinner off with leisurely cocktails and snacks and progressing to a quiet, delicious meal that involves just the two of us. Frankly, I don’t even mind the clean up after.
Instead of seating schedules and being ushered out of the restaurant because other couples are waiting, we sit as long as we want to, linger over dessert, and talk, all without being asked how we’re enjoying our food. Because, let’s face it, when you’re eating duck breast, cured with garam masala, you’re most certainly enjoying your dinner.
This duck comes from an amazing cookbook, Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts. I’m sure that by now you’ve heard lots about this book and with good reason – it’s fantastic. The book is filled not only with great recipes, but also with helpful and smart tips from chefs. I keep coming back to the book and reading it over and over and I want to cook so many things from it, that I stopped putting little sticky flags on pages that I like – there are already too many.
That it happens to be a Melissa Clark recipe is pure chance. I originally geared to make this for my friend Tina’s belated birthday dinner. She requested duck and Andrew specifically wanted duck breast. In the book, Adam describes this duck as a masterpiece, and he’s not wrong about it – this is one of those dishes you cook and then can’t believe that you just made something this delicious.
I made a trial run for me and Andrew (cue the sobs from having to eat so much duck so often!) following the recipe to a tee to have a good frame of reference, and by the night of Tina’s actual dinner, I fiddled with a few things to put my own spin on the dish, namely by adding anardana and amchur powders (pomegranate and mango, respectively) that I had picked up at Kalustyan’s the week prior. I also had to fiddle with the heat a little bit to fully render out the duck fat, which by the way, you should never ever throw away and lovingly stash away in a jar. Duck fat transforms roasted potatoes, latkes, eggs, or anything else that needs flavorful fat.
If the above treatise means that some readers out there take this as a carte blanche not to take them out to dinner, please don’t blame me. I’m happily in the minority on this. As for Andrew, he will be giving a talk in Boston, so no dinner at home for the two of us. Rain check, then.
Duck Breast With Garam Masala and Grapes
Adapted, slightly, from Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts
In making this dish, try to get decent, but obviously not top shelf balsamic vinegar. I know that Trader Joe’s is actually not too bad and will serve you perfectly here. Fairway (if you’re in the NYC area) sells giant bottles of very good balsamic for about $20. And it’s shockingly good for the price. As for the exotic ingredients I added on my subsequent experimentations, I can’t, in all reality, mandate you get hard-to-find ingredients like anardana or amchur powders; but garam masala has become very common in grocery stores. If you want to expand your spice cabinet with these two ingredients, you will be able to use them in many things like chana masala, or other dishes where you want a slightly savory-tart taste. The lemon, though a decent substitute, proves to be too acidic for my palate, though in a pinch, I use it and no one has complained thus far. I wouldn’t, however, use lemon in place of those two ingredients – just skip them all together. And if you happen to be making this when cherries are in season (especially sour cherries), use them in place of grapes – I have a feeling they will make the dish even better.
1 whole duck breast (approximately 2 pounds)
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon anardana (dried pomegranate powder), optional
1/4 teaspoon amchur powder (dried mango powder), optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1. Using a paring knife, score the duck breast by cutting a crosshatch pattern into the fat. Make sure you cut all the way through the fat but not through the meat itself. The point is to expose as much of the fat’s surface area to the heat as possible so it renders quickly. Season the duck on both sides with the salt, pepper, garam masala, anardana, and amchur (if using). Let sit, at room temperature, for about 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat an ovenproof skillet (do not use nonstick) on medium-high heat for a minute or two. Place the duck in the skillet, fat side down (it should immediately sizzle), and don’t touch it. Let it cook like this for 4 to 8 minutes. Lots of fat will melt out—that’s a good thing. Use tongs to turn the meat over. The skin should be a deep, chestnut brown and the fat should almost all be melted away. If you still see white, continue cooking on the fat side until it’s gone (but without letting the skin burn). If you feel that the skin is caramelizing faster than the fat is melting out, lower the heat and keep monitoring the duck breast. Because duck breast varies in its fattiness and everyone’s stovetop is different, this is a bit of an art than a science.
3. Place the skillet in the oven. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then take the temperature of the duck breast. It should be 120˚F for rare and 130˚F for medium rare (shoot for 125°F). Remove the duck to a cutting board to rest.
4. Pour off the duck fat for another use (it’s great for frying potatoes). In that same skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the grapes and cinnamon and stir for a minute. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and honey, stirring and cooking until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute.
5. Thinly slice the duck, on the bias, and fan it out on a platter. Spoon the grape sauce on top and serve.