Duck

The key to the duck’s crisp skin is letting it dry out overnight in the refrigerator, so start this the day before you plan to serve it. Quick to put together and much less messy than roasting a whole duck, the breasts are a perfect main course for a small dinner party. You and your guests can gather in the kitchen as you cook them up. This recipe will serve 4 to 6, depending upon how large the duck breasts are and how big your guests’ appetites are. Try to find fresh duck breasts because the frozen variety tend to become rubbery. Muscovy or Hudson Valley ducks are preferable.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

Boned duck breast halves, with the skin left on ( 3/4 to 1 pound each)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the sauce

3 medium shallots, minced

3/4 cup veal or duck stock

1 1/2 tablespoons orange honey

3 tablespoons tawny port

3/4 cup fresh pitted Bing cherries (use frozen if fresh are not available)

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Pound the duck halves between two pieces of wax paper with a heavy pan or a mallet to even out the thickness. (Or have your butcher do it.) Score the skin with a very sharp knife by cutting crisscrossing lines on it, making sure not to cut into the duck meat. Place the breasts on a baking sheet and cover loosely with wax paper.

Refrigerate overnight to allow the skin to dry out.

In a skillet large enough to hold the 4 breast halves, melt the butter over mediumhigh heat. Sauté the duck breasts, skin-side down, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the skin is very crisp and nicely browned. Turn over and sauté for another 5 minutes, or until the duck breasts are medium-rare. Transfer to a wooden carving platter and loosely cover. (If you prefer medium, cook for another 2 minutes on the second side.) Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

To make the sauce: Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings from the pan and sauté the shallots over medium-high heat for 1 minute, or until softened, stirring up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, honey, port, and cherries and increase the heat to high. Reduce the mixture to a light glaze, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the butter to thicken and add sheen to the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper. Slice the duck breasts thinly on the diagonal and arrange on serving plates. Spoon over the sauce and serve immediately.

Recipe copyright Diane Rossen Worthington, courtesy of Chronicle Books

Photograph copyright Yvonne Duivenvoorde