Recipe: Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree & Salad

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.

Ingredients:
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
Butter
Olive oil
Champagne vinegar
Salt
Pepper

Method:
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.
Duck Skin6. 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.
Duck Finished
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.

Enjoy!

2010 Porter Creek Carignan

Carignan

One of the first atypical varietal wines I ever loved was Porter Creek’s Carignan. It’s affordable at $25, rustic, unpretentious, juicy, approachable, fresh, brambly and fruity. It encompasses pretty much everything I love about wine and it’s one I love to share with people new to wine and to bring to dinner parties.

Carignan originated in Southern Europe and is now widely planted across Italy, France, Spain & the US. Because of it’s heritage, it makes for an extremely food-friendly wine. I love to pair it with Italian-inspired dishes and tonight I will be serving it with pan-roasted chicken legs, rapini with pancetta and creamy polenta.

I’ll be on the lookout for more producers of this delicious varietal! Let me know in the comments if you know of one.

California wine in the Springtime

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In California, rosé wines are the harbinger of Springtime. They spent the winter settling and resting, preparing for being bottled. Come March, you start to see the previous year’s gently-hued, feminine wines hitting the shelves at your favorite restaurants, wine retailers and wine bars. These fresh, easy-to-drink wines are affordably priced, simple to understand and great with food.

This weekend I went up to Sonoma to pick up the new Arnot-Roberts rosé of 80% Touriga Nacional & 20% Tinta Cao. I fell in love with this wine last year. This is what I consider to be one of the best California rosé wines on the commercial market. It’s fresh, lively, complex, aromatic and full of energy. This wine is perfect for a sunny Spring day like today, even if it’s not technically Spring yet. At $22, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer wine for the money.

Rose is a truly versatile food wine; you can pair it with almost anything. Grilled seafood, pizza, barbecue, charcuterie, pork and grilled vegetables all come to mind. It’s truly a wine for grilling & Summertime, best served chilled and while sitting in your back yard on a warm night.

While we were in the neighborhood, we paid a visit to Iron Horse Vineyards (open to the public, great sparkling wines & view), Wind Gap Wines (appointment only), Dutton-Goldfield (great Pinot Noir & Pinot Blanc), and Porter-Creek Vineyards (amazing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Carignan & Syrah). Lots of the wineries in the area have released their Spring wines and we took full advantage. I tasted over 20 wines and bought more than I needed to!

You would be hard-pressed to not believe it’s Spring today in the Bay Area. I went for a hike at San Bruno Mountain State Park and saw many of the lovely native wildflowers in bloom. Forget-Me-Nots, California Poppy, Lupine & Irises. The weather was outstanding; 65 degrees but it felt more like 70.

We have had a few lackluster wildflower seasons for the last few years around here, but maybe this year will be different. Looks great so far.

Easy Weeknight Food & Wine

One of the things I’ve learned is that wine is something that should be enjoyed every day. I like to treat wine like a part of life, like cooking. It can be prohibitively expensive, and that scares a lot of people off. It’s hard to find a great California wine in the $15-$25 range; it’s even harder to find good wines cheaper than that. Wine is one of those things where, unfortunately, quality often dictates price. However, you can find some exceptional values in some of the less “popular” wine varietals such as Syrah and Carignan, in rosé wines, and in those which are grown in lesser-known AVAs.

I also think people don’t cook at home enough. Our busy lifestyles have created a culture where people often eat out for every meal of the day. It’s so hard to maintain a healthy diet when you are letting someone else prepare your food and you have no control over what is going into it. Additionally, eating out is expensive. Cooking at home may be cheaper, but it’s also time-consuming and exhausting. I prefer to prepare easy but delicious meals on weeknights.

One of my favorite weeknight meals is fresh ravioli from The Pasta Shop. This is a local purveyor of freshly made pasta with exceptional quality ingredients. You can buy them by the pound at their flagship store (linked above) or in many local grocery stores & Farmer’s Markets across the Bay Area. A package of fresh pasta is around $5 (serves 3-4) and a package of the fresh ravioli is anywhere from $8-$13 (serves 2 as an entree) depending on what the filling is.

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Every weekend I buy a package of these ravioli from the Pasta Shop stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Preparation is super simple. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the ravioli, then simmer for 6.5 minutes. Drain, then toss with good olive oil and a handful of fresh arugula leaves. Place into bowls, grind some fresh black pepper over the top, give a good grating of aged organic Parmesean and voila! One of the best meals you could imagine in less than 15 minutes.

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Tonight is our Ravioli night and this week I bought the Sweet Onion & Red Chard ravioli in Roasted Red Pepper pasta. This is totally vegetarian and $10 per pack. It’s not cheap by any means but you would easily pay $15-$20 for a plate of these ravioli in a restaurant. These aren’t your Chef Boyardee ravioli of yesteryear. They are unbelievable.

The wine I am serving with the ravioli is Broc Cellars 2011 Carbonic Carignan. This wine is fresh, juicy, fruity, lightly tannic, medium bodied and slightly herbaceous. Carignan is often used as a blending grape but is catching momentum in California as a varietal wine. They are generally very easy to drink and inexpensive. I think it will pair nicely with tonight’s pasta.

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This wine is made in a similar style as Beaujolais called Carbonic Maceration. It produces a wine that is generally lighter in body, fruity, fresh, easy to drink when young, and can be slightly herbaceous because of the stem contact during fermentation. I like to pair slightly-vegetal tasting wines with vegetarian food since they seem to really play nicely together. This particular wine is drinking nicely right now, I highly recommend you drop by the Broc Cellars tasting room in Berkeley to try it yourself and maybe go home with a bottle or three.

California Pinot Noir is food wine

Today the sun was shining and it begged me to come outside for a Sunday afternoon picnic on our local San Bruno Mountain. The timing couldn’t have been better; yesterday I made a trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and had a refrigerator full of goodies suitable for picnics. Earlier in the week, I received several half-bottles of Robert Sinskey Vineyard’s 2009 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. I wish more producers made splits. It’s the perfect amount of wine for two on a Sunday afternoon. I grabbed one of these splits, packed a picnic and found a grassy knoll to lay out our spread.

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I love to pair picnic foods and wine. A great pairing really takes what could have been an ordinary experience and makes it extraordinary. Domestic Pinot Noir is generally so agreeable that it can make a very versatile food wine. Today I paired it with L’amuse aged Gouda, pimento-stuffed green olives from Nash’s Olive Oil (available at the Alemany Farmer’s Market), sheep’s milk ricotta & McEvoy Ranch wildflower honey on a Semifreddi’s sweet baugette, hot smoked salmon, and Twin Girls Farm blood oranges.

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This aged Gouda lends itself quite well to fresh, pure, fruity California Pinot Noir. The mild sweetness and caramel-laden creamy goodness of this cheese is perfect with the rich and complex wine. It can be difficult to pair cheeses with red wine but this has been a winner ever time I’ve had it. The cheese itself is really unique and delicious. It has a sweet and savory character, wonderful creamy paste and lots of pockets of protein crystals which add loads of texture.

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Another unexpected pairing I discovered was these beautiful blood oranges with the wine. They are very similar in richness, acidity and juiciness to the wine. Blood oranges are sweeter, less acidic and more floral than their pure orange brethren and are one of my favorite seasonal fruits. Right now it’s the end of the season for these in California. I’ll miss them!

It’s days like today that remind me of how lucky I am to live in such a rich, diverse place. This picnic tasted like the California landscape that has inspired me for so many years.