Recipe: Grilled Cured Duck Breast with Pickled Peaches
I think that duck is for some people what rabbit is to me: frightening. While I have admitted to not making a lot of duck out of avoidance of gamy and fatty tastes, the duck cooking has never filled me with dread. Here's a lovely little SF Gate article on the avalanche of advice one might receive about duck. Below you will find a little more advice from Alice Waters (who does say score the skin and definitely brine it).
Alice Waters has created two cookbooks that I stand by, and stand by firmly: This one and Chez Panisse Vegetables. Both cookbooks are arranged by produce, so when you get that CSA box filled with lemons or the farmers market seems overrun with kale, you can figure out something to do with all of it. [The Vegetable chapter where we find page 210 is on mushrooms, so we have to wait for the rains again before I bust that baby out.] Page 210 in Fruit is rooted in the peach chapter, which boasts Pickled Peaches, Grilled Cured Duck Breast with Pickled Peaches, Vin de Peche, Peach Melba, Peach Pie, Peach and Raspberry Gratin, Peach Shortcake, Almond Tartlets with Peaches, and Peach Leaf Parfait. It's a plethora of peaches.
Peaches were first cultivated in China--in fact, there is mention of the peach as far back as the tenth century BCE--and its long history in China might be reason for the peach's association with luck, abundance and protection. A symbol of fertility, peaches often cropped up in areas of erosion. And I suppose it didn't hurt in its associations with fertility and femininity that the peach is a little fuzzy, is soft to the touch, has a cleft, and drips juices when ripe. That just sounds dirty as I type it.
Then peaches traveled to Persia along the Silk Road, and then the Persians introduced peaches to the Romans, from whence peaches get their Latin name Prunus persica. Peaches came to America with the first Spanish settlers in the 16th century and were readily adopted by American indigenous cultures. Nowadays, commercial peaches are abundant in California, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, and New Jersey, and peaches are the second largest commercial crop in the US (second only to the all-American apple).
Okay, enough on the history of the peach. Let's get cooking. This recipe takes a couple days in the preparation. You need to brine the duck for 2-3 days and you have to pickle the peaches for 1 day (or more). So get your vinegar, your allspice berries, and your peppercorns ready. We have some submerging of flesh and fruit to do.
The duck is phenomenal. Seriously, next time I see duck on the menu anywhere, but specifically anywhere that has been influenced by the divine Ms. Waters, then I am ordering it. I still don't have the skin down to brown, crisp perfection. But my slightly white, still soft attempts produced some of the best tasting duck this side of the, well, let's say College Ave. line, and I am loving it. And the brine on this duck? The brine, to risk the rhyme here, is divine. Gazowie!
The peaches were easy as sin, and they smelled so good on the stove as they simmered. That combination of allspice, cloves, red wine, and cinnamon. While I realize we're fully ensconced in summer, it smelled like winter. When I was little, we used to go to Bishop Hill, utopia on the prairie (apparently), for Lucia Nights--a celebration of Santa Lucia. Candles. Music. Hot Chocolate. Craft shops. And that smell of red wine, cloves, cinnamon. So as I stood before my stove on a July afternoon, I was transported back 25 years to winter in Illinois. Not a bad way to spend a summer day.
Finally, I have "Do I dare to eat a peach" meandering through my brain. I love teaching "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock." Isn't this a picture of the perfect peach, in that it has its imperfections? But don't you just want to sink your choppers into it? And yes, that Prufrock peach, as all peaches do, has a lot more meaning than just the fruit. Sexuality. Age. Courage. Sensuality. Eat the peach, I say. Always, eat the peach.
Grilled Duck Breast with Pickled Peaches
2 whole large duck breasts
5 quarts cold water
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
3 allspice berries
2 small dried chili peppers
6 pickled peach halves (recipe below)
1. Prepare the duck breasts for the brine. With the breasts skin side down, trim off the tenderloins and save them for another purpose. Cut each whole breast in half down the center. Trim off any excess skin protruding from the edges, turn the breasts over, and score the skin with a sharp knife, making 1/4-inch deep parallel cuts on the diagonal, 3 or 4 times in one direction and then 3 or 4 times at a 45-degree angle, to create a crosshatch. This helps the fat to render and the skin to brown.
2. To make the brine, put the cold water in a nonreactive container large enough to hold the duck breasts and brine. Stir in the salt and sugar until dissolved. Lightly crush the bay leaf, peppercorns, clove, allspice, and chili peppers and stir into the brine. Immerse the duck breasts, keeping them weighted down and submerged underneath a plate. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 days.
3. When you are ready to grill the breasts, take them out of the refrigerator and dry them well. Prepare wood or charcoal fire and let the coals burn down to medium heat; the coals should not quite be flowing incandescent red. (If the coals a re too hot, the breasts will burn, but if they are not hot enough, the breasts will not render out their fat and then golden brown). Grill the breasts, skin side down, for 10 minutes, being careful that dripping fat does not flare up and burn the duck skin, ruining it. When they are nearly done, move the breasts to a cooler part of the frill. To alleviate the problem of flaming duck fat, tilt the grill at a slight angle so the fat runs down and drips away from the actual cooking area. After 10 minutes, when the fat is rendered and the skin is nicely browned, turn the breasts over and cook for 3 or 4 minutes more. The duck should be medium-rare. To allow the juices to stabilize, let the duck breasts rest in a warm place for 10 minutes before slicing.
4. Before serving, gently warm the peach slices in their pickling juice and arrange them alongside the sliced duck breast.
2 cups water
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
2 allspice berries
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1. To peel the peaches, lower them a few at a time into boiling water for a minute or so, and immediately refresh them in a bath of ice water. When cool, use a paring knife to remove the skins, which should come off easily.
2. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. If you have cling peaches (rather than free-stone), the flesh won't slip away from the pit to make nice halves, so you'll need to cut the fruit off the pit.
3. To make the pickling solution, combine the water, vinegar, wine, honey, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and bay leaf in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add the peach segments and cook just until tender, 3 to 5 minutes: test with a toothpick or sharp knife. (Make sure the peaches are cooked through or they will turn brown.) Carefully remove the peaches with a slotted spoon; they will be quite delicate.
5. Let the pickling mixture cool slightly and then strain over the peaches. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to a week.