On the cutting board

I found two beautiful duck breast magrets at the local supermarket for only 27 kuai total(less than $4, and about the same price as two nice chicken breasts, but bigger!). I had nothing special planned for Christmas Eve dinner (to do something special for major holidays here you have to have reservations for forever in advance, and Walker and I just don’t think that far ahead), and so I just had to incorporate my fabulous grocery store find. I spent two days looking through recipes online. Two days trying to avoid making duck l’orange. So I am choosing to modernize a classic duck l’orange with some modern flavors for my Christmas Eve dinner.

I chose to make this recipe, but as always, making some changes.

For sauce

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably dark amber or Grade B)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo (brought back from Mexico, not bought in China)
  • 1 (3- to 4-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For duck

  • 2 (1-lb) boneless duck breasts with skin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Duck magrets rendering their fat

Kate’s Method for a Medium Rare Duck –

  1. Score the fat side of the duck breast, then rub with salt and pepper on both side. It’s very important to score the meat on both diagonals (don’t hit the flesh!!) so that the fat will render. You can skim the fat and use it for cooking a different dish of characteristically dry meats. Duck fat is a fabulous thing to keep in the freezer. Better than butter.
  2. Over med/high heat, place (patted dry) duck breast, fat side down, on hot pan. Remember to pat dry so it browns properly.
  3. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes depending on the size of the duck breast.
  4. Turn over duck breast and cook another 2 minutes.
  5. Remove duck breast to a baking dish and bake at 160C for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove and let rest on cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing.

For a Fabulous Sauce –

Boil all sauce ingredients in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, skimming foam occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about 1 cup, 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand while duck finishes.

Sliced duck magret covered in orange chipotle sauce and garnished with orange zest

But I couldn’t just let it stand with a duck breast, even if it was fabulous. So I went through my cookbooks until I found a recipe that I thought was perfect. It’s Nigella Lawson’s Cherried and Chick Pea’d Couscous, from her book How to Eat. Her recipe calls for:

  • 2 tsp Marigold bouillon powder (Ev, you can find veggie stock bouillon)
  • 350g couscous
  • 40g dried sour cherries
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 60g pine nuts
  • 400g tin chick peas
  • 30g butter

She says to “boil the kettle. pour boiling water into a measuring jug to get 450ml, add the boillon granules or crumbled 1/2 stock cube, then pour into a saucepan and bring to the boil again. Add salt. Put the couscous in a bowl, mix in the cherries, cumin and cinnamon and then turn into the pan of boiling water. wait until it starts to boil again, put the lid on and take the pan off the heat. meanwhile, put a thick frying pan on the hob and, when it’s hot, toast the pine nuts. when they are beginning to turn golden, remove them. Heat through the canned chick peas. When the couscous is tender and has absorbed the liquid , add the drained warm chick peas, stir in the butter, then half the pine nuts, and turn out on to a large heated plate and sprinkle with remaining pine nuts. You will probably have more couscous than you need here, but I feel that making less than this looks so miserable and unwelcoming. Anyway, it tastes good the next day. The best way of reheating it is either by steaming (a sieve suspended over a pan of boiling water will do it) or a quick burst in a microwave. Eat hot with some freshly snipped spring onions stirred into it and some harissa to the side.”

Um… That seems to be a lot of trouble for couscous. I’m doing it my way. Let’s start by measuring out the correct amount of water first, and then bring it to the boil only once, thank-you-very-much-Nigella.

Instead I just tossed all the ingredients in together, minus the pine nuts (which I did toast). I threw the chick peas and the butter in at the end, so they didn’t absorb too much water, and I substituted dried cranberries instead of cherries. I threw those in with the water too so that I could reconstitute them. Make them juicy and a little acidic again. Seriously. See how long my paragraph is? See hers? Why? And you can bet your ass I’ll be heating it in the microwave and not in a sieve suspended over a boiling pot of water. I mean really. The only camp thing I did to it was to roast a head of garlic, mash it like it was a potato, and stir it in.

And then a little fresh spicy frisee salad, dressed with champagne vinegar, pomegranate juice (I squeezed it – we don’t get POM but you totally could use that) and olive oil, salt and pepper. I also sprinkled some thick diced oranges, blanched snow peas (throw them in boiling salted water, let them go until their green is greenest, pull them out and drop them into a bowl of ice water), and thin sliced radishes on top for a little texture.

Critic’s Comments:

Duck breasts over couscous with a frisee salad

“This is some of the best duck I’ve ever had.” – Keep in mind folks, that we used to live in Beijing, a place that was famous for its duck.
“The couscous was a little salty, but the sauce on the duck counterbalanced it really well, so it tasted really fresh and clean and was just delicious. It was best when you had the juice from the duck with the couscous.”
“The salad was a perfect way to finish it off.”

I swear I don’t prompt him to tell me it’s fabulous. It’s just that he is a bad critic. Though he did say the couscous was a little salty… Maybe I over did it on the garlic a bit. Something to think about next time.