Warm Duck Breast Salad With Hazelnut Dressing

Duck seems to intimidate a lot of people, but it is no more difficult to cook than a steak. You just have a little more time for a larger glass of wine as you prepare it. The trick with this bird is to cook it on a lower heat than you normally would to sear meat. You need to slowly melt the fat, which you’ll pour into a heat proof bowl and save for two good reasons. You don’t want to deep-fry your duck breasts and also you can save the fat for cooking. It’s has such an intensely savory flavor you can use it for future cooking adventures. In a good butcher shop you can buy rendered duck fat, which chefs covet, especially when cooking potatoes. Potatoes and duck fat, when combined, create culinary magic. With a little patience and some serious duck fat pay back, you’ll see how easy it all is.
Serves 4 to 6, level of difficulty - moderate

2 large whole boneless duck breasts, skin on
Salt and pepper
½ cup (125ml) hazelnuts in skins
3 Tablespoons (45ml) golden raisins
8 ounces celeriac
1 large crisp apple
salt and pepper

3 Tablespoons (45ml) vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons (45ml) hazelnut oil
2 Tablespoons (30ml) sherry vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Honey to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Lay the hazelnuts on a baking sheet (with a rim) and roast for about 10 minutes, or until they are toasty and golden. Pull them out of the oven. Using a clean kitchen towel rub the skins off the nuts, roughly chop them and set aside.

2. To prepare the breasts, start by removing the tenderloin. Flip the breasts over and with a sharp knife score the skin about 1/8” deep, without cutting into the meat, first in one direction and then in an opposing 45 degree angle, to create a checkerboard crosshatch. Cutting the skin like this helps the fat to render out when you are cooking it, which helps you get a lovely sear on the breast.

3. Generously season the breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight.

4. Preheat your oven to 450F (230C).

5. Heat a heavy skillet over low heat until hot and then add the duck skin side down.

6. Cook the duck uncovered, over medium low heat, without turning, until most of the fat is rendered and the skin is golden brown. Expect this to take about 25 minutes.

7. Spoon off the fat as it starts to accumulate in the pan so you don’t deep fry the duck. Once you have a thin crispy sear, flip the duck over and slide the pan into your oven.

8. Cook the duck breasts for 6 to 8 minutes or until a thermometer reads 125F for rare or 135F for medium rare.

9. Pull the pan out of the oven, transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes while you put together the rest of the salad.

10. Cover the raisins with boiling water and let them soak for 5 minutes so they plump up. Drain them and set aside.

11. Whisk together all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl, and set aside.

12. Peel the celery root and cut into thin matchstick-sized pieces. Mix some of your dressing in, along with the raisins. Cut your apple in small matchstick pieces, adding to the celery root mixture as you go to prevent the apple from turning brown.

13. Add the hazelnuts in at the end of your salad assembly.

14. To serve the salad, place a mound of the salad onto each of the plates. Carve your duck breast quite thin. Lay the breast slices over the salad and drizzle any good ol’ duck juices that are on your cutting board over the dish. Serve immediately.

Wine Match – Pinot Noir

I think this has to be one of my favorite pairings in this book. First of all, I’m obsessed with Pinot Noir and duck and how their flavors work together. Pinot Noir not only complements the flavor of duck, it also has enough acidity to balance off the vinaigrette and the earthy notes in the wine are in harmony with the rich, toasty hazelnuts. Try it and see if my obsession is justified.

This recipe and wine pairing is from the book: This Food That Wine, a cookbook and wine guide available in stores across Canada.

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