October 1, 2008
Duck and red wine make a natural pairing, and when you throw one of my favorite ingredients into the mix—dried, sweetened cranberries (sometimes referred to as “craisins”)—the “wow” factor goes up incrementally. This original recipe I created for my Wine Press Northwest food-and-wine-pairing column is easy enough for everyday dining, yet elegant enough for company. A touch of balsamic vinegar adds a complex sweetness, while Dijon mustard gives the sauce a subtle punch. Try the duck with a berry-rich, yet mellow Merlot. In the nose and on the palate, when quaffing Merlot, look for both sweet and black cherries, blueberries, and plums followed by musky hints of cigar box, chocolate, and leather. A whiff of mint or cedar/wood and a soupçon of sweet spices, such as nutmeg or cardamom, may also be present in these luscious, velvety wines.
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 whole boneless duck breasts, split and trimmed of excess fat and nerve tissue
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed or frozen orange juice
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the cranberries in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. With the tip of a very sharp knife, score a criss-cross pattern at 1/4-inch intervals across the skin side of the duck breasts. (Do not cut all the way through into the meat.) Season the duck breasts on the flesh side only with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of allspice over the flesh side only of each breast.
3. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet (nonstick works well for this) over low to medium-low heat. When the skillet is hot, arrange the breasts skin side down without crowding. (Don’t add any extra fat; the fat rendered will be enough to cook the breasts.) Cook, draining the melted fat if needed, until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and brown, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Turn the breasts, cook 1 to 2 minutes, and transfer to the oven. Cook 5 to 6 minutes more (for medium rare).
5. While the breasts are cooking, make the sauce. Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat and add the wine, honey, orange juice, and balsamic vinegar. Stir until the honey dissolves and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced slightly, 6 to 8 minutes.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drain the cranberries and discard the liquid, then stir the cranberries into the sauce. Cover and keep warm until serving.
7. When the duck breasts are done, remove from the oven and transfer (skin side up) to several thicknesses of paper towels to drain any extra fat. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing each breast on the diagonal into even pieces.
8. To serve, arrange the sliced duck breast in the center of a dinner plate. Spoon the sauce and berries over the duck and serve immediately.