I am incredibly fortunate to live near San Francisco. Being a “foodie,” the highlight of Saturdays is the world-renown Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Plaza. Frequented by many of the premiere chefs in the area, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, it is a thrill to wander through row after row of fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade products. At the height of the summer it can be overwhelming with heaps of produce, all calling out to be taken home and turned into something delicious.
Because of the access to the incredible produce of our area we also have a plethora of people making jams, jellies, pickles, seasoned vinegars, etc. Just about anything you can imagine is available. One of our more illustrious producers is June Taylor who makes some of the most amazing fruit jams, marmalades, conserves, and syrups on the market. She regularly has a booth at the Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Plaza.
A few summers ago I had a bottle of her Blackberry-Lemon Verbena Syrup. While trying to figure out what I could make with it I realized that I had some duck breasts in the refrigerator. Hmmmm, duck and blackberry. Oh yeah! So I went home and got to work creating a new family favorite. I marinated the duck breasts and used the syrup to make a glaze. A little sweet, a little savory, it hits every chord. Serve with some mashed potatoes, oven roasted cauliflower and steamed green beans for a healthy, indulgent meal.
When you grill duck on a hot fire, beware that you may get flare ups from the dripping fat. Use a two-tiered fire, start the duck on the hot side of the fire and as soon as you have grill marks, flip it over to brown the other side and then move it to the cooler side to finish cooking. Always use tongs instead of a fork to move meats on the grill. If you do get flare ups, do not put it out with water. Fire needs oxygen to burn so the most efficient way to stop it is to put the top on the grill (or close the top) until the fire goes out.
If you aren’t accustomed to cooking duck, give it a try. It makes any day a special occasion. Because it is so rich, a little goes a long way and you can stretch it even further if you use it as a topping to a salad, in a pasta dish, or stir-fry. You can of course use this technique with chicken or pork and have excellent results as well. If you don’t want to grill the duck you can pan-fry it too. Save the rendered fat and fry potatoes in it for a real treat!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can buy June Taylor’s products at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. For those in other parts of the country and world, she sells her products on the web at http://www.junetaylorjams.com.
Kitchen Skill: How to Score a Duck Breast
Scoring the fat cap on duck breasts releases (renders) most of the fat leaving you with crispy, crunchy skin. If you don’t do this, your dish will be swimming in fat. Using a very sharp knife, slice the fat cap on the duck breast, being careful not to cut into the meat itself. Cut 4 or 5 slices on the diagonal one direction and the same number going the opposite direction creating a diamond pattern. This will be the side you present on the plate so you want a pretty design. Cook the duck, fat-side down fairly slowly to render the fat without burning the skin.
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 2 whole boneless duck breasts
- 3 tbsp Blackberry-Lemon Verbena syrup (from June Taylor) or 1 cup fresh or frozen berries, thawed
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 3 tbsp dry vermouth or dry white wine
- Marinate Duck: Combine marinade ingredients and put in a zip-top bag. Add duck breasts, seal the bag, and rub until all surfaces of the duck are coated. Refrigerate for about 30 to 60 minutes.
- Make the Glaze: While the duck is marinating combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes to blend flavors. Keep warm. If using berries instead of syrup, cook over medium-low heat until berries break down and give off their juice, smashing with the back of a spoon. Strain and keep warm.
- Grill Duck: Light a fire in a charcoal grill (use a charcoal chimney) and let charcoal develop a covering of grey ash. Heap the coals on one side of creating a two-tiered system. Place grill over hot coals, spinning it occasionally so all sides get hot. Scrub it clean and brush with vegetable oil (use a paper towel dipped in oil and a pair of long tongs to avoid getting burned) helping the duck to release easily.
- Remove duck from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Score top skin and fat in a diamond pattern – being careful not to cut into the meat beneath it (see Kitchen Skill above). Place on hot side of grill, skin side down. Cook for about 6 minutes or until skin is well browned but not burned, and the fat has been rendered. Flip it to the opposite side if it is cooking too quickly. When both sides are browned, move duck to the cooler side of the grill and place the top on. Cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°F on an instant read thermometer. Duck is best served medium-rare otherwise it becomes tough and chewy.
- Remove from grill and transfer to a cutting board. Tent with foil and rest for about 10 minutes. Slice diagonally and serve with glaze.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings