Once upon a time, long, long ago, I went to the City of Lights – Paris, France – and ate one of the finest meals of my life. I barely spoke any French but managed to order the duck breast at Les Enfants Perdus in the 10th arrondissement. It came with a lovely purée of parsnips and a light salad. It was simple, beautiful and delicious.
It’s been about a year since my last trip to Paris and this Sunday I am leaving for Italy & Spain. I thought I’d get myself in the mood for food by re-creating that amazing meal at home. Here’s how I did it.
2 boneless Muscovy duck breasts with skin on (about 1/2 lb. each)
2 big handfuls of arugula
2 lbs. parsnips, quartered and cored
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium shallot, minced
Fresh thyme sprigs
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss the cored parsnip quarters in a bowl with salt and a long pour of olive oil.
4. Arrange the parsnips on a cookie sheet (with foil for easier cleanup) and bake for 15 minutes.
5. While the parsnips are roasting, score your duck breast skin with the tip of a sharp knife. Cut through the skin and fat, but not into the meat. This will help the fat render out from underneath the skin and make the skin crispy.
6. Turn your roasted parsnips, then put them back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes. They don’t take long to cook, so be careful not to burn them. They are done when a knife slides easily into the thickest part.
7. When your parsnips are done roasting (they should look like the photo below), put them into a food processor or use a stick blender to purée them. Throw in a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter or olive oil to help them along. Purée until creamy. Use a little bit of stock to loosen up the mixture if it’s too thick. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Cover and put in a warm spot.
7. Pat the duck breasts dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper on both sides.
8. Heat up a stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat until it’s pretty darn hot but not burn-anything-that-touches-it hot. If you flick some water at it, the droplets should sizzle and bounce around. Once hot, lay down your duck breasts skin-side down. Don’t use oil, the fat in the duck skin will render out and create more than you need. Once the skin starts to turn golden (about 5 minutes), drain the fat in the pan off into a jar (you can use this for cooking later, and never pour fat into your drain), turn the heat down to medium-low, and slowly render out the rest of the fat until the skin is a deep golden brown, another 7-9 minutes or so.
9. Turn the head back up to medium-high. Flip the duck breasts so they are meat-side down. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until medium-rare or medium. Don’t overcook them.
10. Remove duck breasts from the pan to a warm plate in a warm place, and let them rest for a couple of minutes. Don’t cover them, the skin will lose it’s crispness.
11. Drain the fat off the pan into a jar and save for later use.
12. Next, toss your minced shallots and a couple of sprigs of thyme into the hot pan that you cooked the duck in. Cook these over medium heat for about a minute, scraping up the fond as you go, and then pour a cup or more of white wine into the pan and reduce by 2/3. It should look like it’s boiling ever so slightly, otherwise it will take forever to reduce. Continue to scrape up any fond in the pan, it’s packed with flavor. Pour in any juices that have leaked out of the duck that’s resting on the plate. Once the pan sauce is reduced, turn off the heat and toss in a tablespoon or more of butter. Melt the butter into the sauce and strain the whole shebang into a small jar.
13. Next, make your salad dressing. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar and olive oil into a small jar with a lid. Add some salt & pepper, then put the lid on and shake it up. Put your arugula into a bowl and pour the dressing over it, then toss.
14. Time to plate! Put a big scoop of roasted parsnip purée onto a plate and then lay the duck breast over it. Lay a sprig of thyme over the duck breast as a garnish. Put a handful of the dressed salad next to it. Now, pour some of that delicious pan sauce you made around the parsnip purée but try to keep it out of your salad.
Voila! Delicious, Paris-inspired meal. You can make it even better by pairing the perfect wine with it. I paired a really nice Arbois Chardonnay by Jacques Puffeney (2010) – $26 from Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco. This wine is slightly oxidative but still really fresh and food-friendly. Jura wines are some of the best food-wines I have come across. Alternatively you could pair it with a nice Burgundy or even a domestic Pinot Noir. Have fun with it! A good wine pairing should make both the food and the wine taste better than they do by themselves.