I don't know why it appealed to me -- it shouldn't have, really. One of the few things I don't appreciate when it comes to food is sweet sauces with meat. It just seems wrong somehow, the flavors jarring in my mouth. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, as with any rule, though I can never figure out the 'logic' of my palate. I suppose it suffices to say that I like what I like, and that's that.
It helps that I love duck. And I also enjoy pomegranates, though they were first introduced to me late in life. (I think it's because my mother found eating them too bothersome, having to pick out each aril at a time, so I never had any growing up.) It could have also been that the photo of the finished dish was simply mouthwatering. Whatever it was, I decided that I had to make it, and make it soon.
That day ended up being today, just a few days after the recipe's creator posted it to LiveJournal. I was at 99 Ranch purchasing some ingredients to make broth-boiled kale, when I saw that they had fresh duck. I decided it was a sign from the gods (even though I'm pretty sure they always have it). Unfortunately I had to either buy an entire duck, or buy no duck at all. I was determined at this point to try the recipe, so I opted to get it. It was around 4lbs in total, and I asked if they could butcher it for me. I only meant for them to cut it into 8-10 pieces, but I was misunderstood and they ended up cutting it up into much smaller pieces. It was probably just as well, given that the bones were still present and I couldn't have sliced it as neatly as the recipe called for anyway. I then went to Fred Meyer to purchase some POM juice, and ended up getting the 1.4L bottle, because it was on sale and I can never pass up anything on sale. I was expecting it, but still, I must say -- this stuff is pricey.
For some reason I wasn't very hungry tonight, and I didn't end up even starting to cook until 7:30pm. Surprisingly, the meal was done by 9pm -- for such an 'involved,' fine dish, it actually did not take that much time. I believe that is mostly due to the use of a mandolin. As it says on Fotocuisine, you don't need a mandolin to make matchstick fries, the French have been doing it for ages by hand, but I'm not French, nor a professional chef, so the mandolin was a huge time saver. What I thought was going to take an hour in itself ended up taking about 10 minutes. I highly suggest getting one, as it really does have so many uses. I bought mine for less than $20 on Amazon, if I remember correctly. Sure, it's a cheap plastic one, but it does the job. The key to handling a mandolin is to treat it like you would a predator -- with a healthy amount of respect. Be very careful around it and keep your eyes on what you're doing. You're dealing with sharp blades; it would be all too easy to slice yourself up instead of your food.
The first thing I did was julienne a potato (fairly large) into matchsticks. I should have sliced them lengthwise for longer sticks -- I'll remember for the next time I make these, which will be soon, since I still have a potato left! I put the matchsticks into cold water (it's supposed to be ice water, but I realized too late that my freezer hasn't been making ice for several months now, as I turned it off when it started to get cold. Then again, it's so cold here that the tap water is pretty 'icy' anyway!) while I prepared everything else.
Next I sliced up a shallot. Shallots smell so wonderful.
Meanwhile, I mixed the POM juice and chicken broth (yes, I used canned -- if I didn't make broth from scratch for chicken pot pie I wasn't going to make it for this!) in a measuring cup.
This is what the sauce looks like once everything's been added: shallots, POM juice, chicken broth, brown sugar, white vinegar, black peppercorns, and lemon zest. It needs to simmer for while (I think I did about 45 minutes). It's nice because you have time to prepare the other ingredients while this is reducing.
I picked out the duck pieces that I wanted to use -- the meatier bits. I'll probably use the rest to make a broth tomorrow.
Here the duck's been placed skin-side down into a heated Dutch oven. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Dutch oven? I decided to use it instead of a regular pan because a) it's great for browning; b) it cleans easily; and c) it's oven safe. I had a little trouble here because I was a bit too conservative with the heat, so it took the duck a long time to brown. I figured out eventually that it should be on medium high, which would allow the duck to brown in 5-8 minutes. Next time I'll know!
Once the skin has browned, the duck gets removed to plate and the fat rendered from browning gets put into a wok along with some peanut oil. While the oil heated I washed the dishes that I had used so far.
Dry the matchstick potaotes, then drop them carefully into the oil. I learned something else tonight -- don't overfill when deep frying! It took the second batch of potatoes, which I overloaded, forever to turn golden (I ended up cranking up the heat), and probably soaked up way more oil than they should have. Adding that many at a time probably dropped the heat down too far. In any case, once the potatoes have turned into golden matchstick fries, remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. The most challenging part of this step is not eating up all the fries before you're supposed to serve.
While the fries were cooking I halved a pomegranate and removed the arils from one half. I did this in a bowl of water -- a trick I learned from my cousin on how to quickly de-aril a pomegranate with minimum mess. The pith floats to the top so it's easy to just drain the bowl of water and the pith will follow.
Once the sauce has simmered for the recommended amount of time, it should be reduced to about 1/2 cup. At some point -- apparently I neglected to take a photo -- the duck will be placed back into the original pan (or Dutch oven, in my case), then baked in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes. The duck is then set aside again, but meanwhile more fat has rendered. Add flour to this fat to create a roux -- the recipe says 1 tsp, but I guess I had extra fat so I ended up adding more like 2 generous tsps to make it look right. Whisk that up, then strain the reduced sauce into the roux (removing all the solids). Whisk constantly until the sauce has thickened. Though you start out with 2 cups of liquid, this small bowl of sauce is what you should end up with.
To serve, put a heaping portion of fries onto a plate (or platter). Arrange the duck artfully on top (if you have boneless breasts, you'll also want to slice them up). Drizzle the sauce over the duck, then scatter the pomegranate arils on top. I also served with a small container of sauce, to dip the duck meat into while eating.
Unique, flavorful, and a definite keeper!
This recipe was created by Fotocuisine, and I've detailed the ingredients and the step-by-step method for their recipe below. In some parts I've paraphrased or clarified for my own use. I really recommend that you go to the original recipe site and read the instructions there -- there are many wonderful photos that accompany the recipe -- I just needed to put all the information in one place to print out for when I was actually making the dish. It's easier to see what steps can be done concurrently that way -- at least for me.
Seared Duck Breast with Pomegranate Juice Reduction by Fotocuisine
For the sauce:
- 1 cup POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 tbsp champagne vinegar (or any white wine vinegar)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 8-10 black peppercorns, whole
- 1 packed tsp zest of lemon
- 1 medium shallot, sliced
- 1 tsp olive oilsalt to taste
- 1 tsp flour with leftover duck fat (to make a roux)
For the seared duck breasts
- 2 duck breasts, skin and fat scored
- 1 tsp olive oil
- salt to taste
- handful of pomegranate arils for garnish
For the matchstick potatoes
- 1 Idaho potato, sliced into matchstick-thick spears
- duck fat from sautéed breasts
- peanut oil to top off
- salt to taste
To make the sauce:
- Thinly slice a medium shallot into slices and brown slowly in a bit of olive oil over medium heat. This takes about 10-15 minutes, and poking them a bit with a wooden spoon every couple minutes helps, especially near the end.
- Once the shallots are browned, add chicken stock and POM juice.
- Stir in vinegar, black peppercorns, and brown sugar. Add 1 tsp packed lemon zest.
- Once the mixture starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and simmer (no big bubbles) for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce has reduced down to about ½ cup. When it reaches ½ cup, it should be removed from heat.
To make the potatoes:
- Using a mandolin, slice into matchstick fries. When done, place the spears into a bowl of ice water to keep the potato from oxidizing.
- When the duck fat is ready from the duck breast preparation, add some peanut oil to the pan.
- Dry the potatoes, then add to the oil.
- Fry until golden, then dust liberally with salt.
To make the seared duck breasts:
- Slice the skin on each duck breast, cutting through skin and fat, but not the meat. Score about 1 inch apart.
- Heat a pan with nothing in it. Wet your fingers with water and flick the pan; if the droplets skitter and dance on the pan, it’s ready. Add a thin glaze of olive oil, about a tsp, and spread it around the pan.
- Place the duck breasts, skin side down, into the pan. It should sizzle and splatter a bit, but should not smoke (if it smokes, that indicates the heat is up too high).
- When the skin of the duck has turned golden brown and there’s a pool of fat in the pan from rendering the duck fat, remove the duck and set aside. Transfer the duck fat to another pan. At this point it’s ready for the fries.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Using the original pan (not the one that was used for the fries), heat on medium high. Place the duck breasts in the pan, this time skin-side up. Once they begin to sizzle, place them, in the pan, into the oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the duck breasts and set them aside.
- Add about 1 tsp of flour to the duck fat still in the pan and whisk to make a roux. When this has been incorporated, strain the reduced pomegranate sauce into the roux (removing all the solids). Whisk constantly over low heat until the sauce is thick and shiny.
- Slice the duck breasts at an angle, about the location where they were scored earlier.
- To serve, heap fries in the center of the plate, then arrange the duck slices over them. Drizzle the sauce over the duck, and scatter pomegranate arils over the plate.