Bruce's Blog

a handful of dimes and a jukebox

I picked up these cute little duck breasts at the Japanese market Nijiya on Sawtelle in Los Angeles.  Usually I end up with a basket of incredibly fresh fish for sashimi, but the duck called to me.  I had been floating around several ideas for them until I decided to make a salad, along the lines of a Thai beef or squid salad.  First I mixed up a dressing which also served as a marinade for the duck.  I mixed the juice of two limes, a few cloves of garlic finely chopped, about a tablespoon of sugar, some hot red pepper flakes, and some Thai fish sauce, perhaps a couple of tablespoons.  Thai food has a concept of balancing hot, sour, salty and sweet, and you can see those represented in those flavors.  Finding the right balance is what makes it 1) good and 2) Thai, and the best way to know if you’ve got it is to taste it.  Exact measurements never work every time, not all fish sauce is the same, not all limes are the same, etc.

So after I mixed those, I whisked in some very good olive oil.  I usually have 2 or 3 different types of olive oil on hand, and when it’s going directly on something to eat like a dressing, use the very best, and also try to balance it with the food it’s going on.  Olive oil from the south of Italy tastes very different from olive oil from the north.  I’ve been using a very nice Californian olive oil from Trader Joe’s for cooking.  You need to taste it and use your own judgement and taste.

Then I cooked the duck breasts.  I poked the skin, which was still attached, with a sharp thingy to help the fat render and also to keep it from stretching the breast as the fat shrank.  You always see recipes that say to poke holes in the skin but not to let it poke a hole in the meat.  I always thought this was mysterious until I came up with the idea of “pinching” the skin, so that you grab it and pull it up slightly from the meat and then poke through both sides of the pinched section.  Easy as that, two holes in the skin and none on the meat.   I got the pan pretty hot then cooked them on the skin side for about 4 minutes and then flipped them over and gave them 2 minutes on the meat side.   I then put them on a cutting board skin side down, and cut them in slices through the meat, but didn’t slice the fat, so they were still in one piece per breast.   I then put them into the marinade for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a pan with some olive oil and rendered duck fat.  When I think of duck fat, I instantly think of potatoes.  I had some little baby potatoes from the Farmer’s Market, so I sliced them into quarters and sauteed them until done in the duck fat.

I had some nice mesclun from the Farmer’s Market, so I used that as a bed.  We’ve been getting these really nice little round carrots lately, also from the Farmer’s Market.  I don’t know the variety, but they are great.  I through those on the mesclun, some sliced cherry tomatoes, some sliced mushrooms and when they were done and cooled slightly, the sauteed potatoes.   I had some crumbly Mexican cheese that I got for making something else, and threw a bit of that on it too.   I think goat cheese or any other kind of cheese that you’d normally put on a salad would work fine.

Finally, I sliced the rest of the way through the duck breasts.  I waited to do that until I was ready to plate it, because I wanted to be able to assemble it very orderly on the plate.

I took the marinade and drizzled it over the mesclun and the duck slices.   It was incredibly simple to make, and honestly one of the best things I’ve ever made.  The duck breasts cost about $4 each and the other ingredients were very cheap.  I’d say each plate probably cost $5 and I’d think $15 a fair price for this dish in a restaurant, and honestly, it was that good.

Simple, fresh, clean and very, very tasty.   My wife will certainly insist that I make it again. 🙂

Categories: Cooking

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