Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Root of the Problem

One of my favorite ways to come up with new recipes is to find inspiration at the farmer's market. I love taking food that's in season and using that as a jumping off point for creating an entire dish. Walking through the stalls is sometimes the best way to see what you should be making, and explains why so many restaurants are offering the same types of dishes based on the same seasonal ingredients. Unfortunately, I've been feeling a bit...well, blahhhh about the winter selection of fruits and veggies that I've been seeing at the greenmarket for the last few months. There's only so many days in a row that I can stand to bring home another form of root. I've already roasted them, sauteed them, pureed them into soup, added them to stews and shaved them into salad. Having pretty much reached my limit where winter vegetables are concerned, I decided that I deserved to splurge a little at the market and took a closer look at the game meats stall.

While I didn't quite feel like buying yet another gourmet sausage, or even a whole pheasant, I spotted a fridge full of amazing fresh duck breasts. I didn't have much experience cooking duck myself, but it's one of my favorite proteins, and it always seems easy when others make it, so I gave it a go. My initial plan was to cook the duck in Asian style spices and serve it over a bed of roasted winter root veggies. But after some thought, I realized that the fatty duck would best be paired with a slightly lighter bed of veggies, like some sauteed baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms (and it would help give the dish an entirely Asian theme). When researching how to make the duck itself, I took a few tips from my favorite Chinese chef, Kylie Kwong. Her recipe for chili-salt duck became the base for my recipe. She starts by steaming the duck until it's half-cooked, then dredges it in a chili-salt flour mixture before frying it. I took it a step further by making the flour mixture extra spiced with cayenne pepper, Chinese five spice, and ground sichuan peppercorn.

The flour-spice mix gave the duck breast a nice subtle spice and and crispy crust. I served it along with a few lemon wedges to help cut the grease (although it wasn't actually all that greasy in the end), and some ground sichuan pepper and salt for dipping and extra spice. The bed of veggies was great, and paired well with the duck. I diced the bok choy stems for crunch, and let the leaves wilt, and left the shiitakes in fairly large pieces for a little texture contrast. I would have preferred the duck to be a little bit more underdone (it's red meat, so you can serve it medium-rare), but all in all for my first duck breast attempt, I think it was good. Here's how to go about it for yourself, and tomorrow I'll tell you a little bit about the salad I made to start the whole meal off (baby arugula with pomegranate and clementines).

Crispy Spiced Duck Breast with Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms

2 duck breasts, skin on and scored in a diamond pattern
2 Tbsp flour
3 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground sichuan pepper
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
2 bunches baby bok choy, chopped
1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp malt or cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Shao Hsing wine or sherry

1. (For the duck): Season duck breasts lightly with salt and steam in a bamboo or metal steamer until half cooked (about 12-15 minutes depending on their thickness). Remove to a plate and allow to cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine flour and spices in a bowl and set aside. When the duck is cool to the touch, dredge it in the flour mixture. Heat enough oil to cover the duck halfway and add the duck. Fry on both sides until crispy and medium rare. Let rest 5-7 minutes for juices to redistribute.

3. (For the veggies): Heat 2 tsp vegetable oil and garlic in a non-stick skillet. Cook one minute until fragrant, then add bok choy. Add shiitake's and soy sauce when the bok choy is half wilted, and cook for another few minutes until they begin to soften. Add vinegar and wine and cook until greens and mushrooms are cooked through.

4. After it's rested, slice the duck breast thinly and serve over the bok choy and shiitakes. Serve with lemon wedges and extra sichuan pepper and salt. Enjoy!


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