My friends Sabrina, Sean and Dave and I have a new tradition of cooking Sunday dinner together. We collaborate (guys vs. girls) and take turns taking the lead. This weekend I was in charge. I had 4 duck breasts in my freezer that where begging to be eaten.
I love to cook French. I’m probably the best at making French and Cajon foods. For some reason I really embody the flavor combinations. But lately I’ve been obsessed with Vietnamese. I guess its homesickness, since I have not seen my mom in a while and I miss all of her cooking (yes she is Vietnamese). So I wanted to make a fusion Vietnamese and French duck.
At first I was going to serve the duck over rice with asparagus on the side. But I felt that white rice was just too boring. Plus Sabrina wanted to make rice pudding for desert, so potatoes where the natural choice. Have you ever had the duck confit at Les Hales restaurant? I’ve had it at both the DC location and the downtown NYC location. At the DC location it came with an amazing side of oven roasted cubed potatoes with truffles and frisée, sort of a salad. First heat the oven to 500 degrees. It is essential to have a hot oven for roasting potatoes. I cut about 10 small red potatoes into 1/4in cubes. (Yes this took a long time, about a half an hour but the oven was nice and hot afterwards.) Toss them with salt, pepper, minced garlic, thyme and olive oil. Place them on the middle rack in the oven. Wash your bunch of frisée, tear it into more bit size pieces and leave it to dry. Mix up a quick dressing for the salad. I added two tablespoons of large grain Dijon mustard to a tiny bit of balsamic dressing, but you could easily make the dressing from scratch with olive oil, red wine vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper. After 30 minutes, give your potatoes a toss and sprinkle them with a few generous tablespoons of truffle oil. Put them back in the oven for 30 minutes. Pull the potatoes out to cool, they will be nice and crispy brown. After letting them sit for 15 minutes, it should be easier to scrape them off of the bottom of the dish. Toss the potatoes with the frisée and the dressing. If you are feeling decadent, shave a black truffle into the mixture before you toss.
The critical aspect was the sauce. I basically combined two classic sauces from both cuisines. Caramelized black pepper pork is a staple Vietnamese dish and the French love a good green peppercorn cream sauce. So I combined both! Go ahead and start to make the sauce when you put the potatoes into the oven.
First off I marinated my duck breasts in a healthy amount of fish sauce. Then I started working on the sauce. Chop up half of a Vidalia onion or else 3 shallots… which ever you have on hand. In a heavy saucepan, put about 1/3 a cup of sugar on medium heat. Just let it sit there, as the sugar will turn a golden brown. If your pan is not heating evenly, you can swirl the unmelted sugar into the browning sugar. Be careful not to get it too dark or let it burn. Pull it off the heat and let it cool a tiny bit. Pour in a few tablespoons of fish sauce, it should bubble in the molten sugar. Ad about a cup of half and half, the shallots and a few tablespoons of green peppercorns (discard the brine if you have jarred peppercorns). Heat this on the stove, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved from the bottom of the pot. Now let the sauce cook on medium till it gets thicker and reduces. Taste the sauce to make sure it tastes rich, not too sweet and is salty enough. It helps to squish the peppercorns with the back of the spoon to release some of their flavor.
Cooking the duck breast is really easy. Heat a heavy non-stick skillet on the stove top, on medium-high. A cast iron skillet works really well. Place the breasts in the pan skin side down. After 7 minutes check to see that the skin is caramelizing nicely. Once the skin is a golden brown, flip the breast (there will be tons of fat in the pan from the melting fat under the skin) and place a thermometer into one of them, at the thickest part, from the side for maximum surface area. Once the breasts hit 150 degrees, turn the heat off and let the breasts slowly reach 165. Once they hit that, move the breasts to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes and then slice them.
Sabrina quickly balanced some asparagus and then tossed them in a quick garlic lemon zest butter.
To plate, heap on a generous portion of the potatoes, neatly lay out some asparagus spears and fan out several pieces of the breast. Spoon two generous tablespoons of the sauce over the breasts and serve with a good French style pinot noir.