Smoky Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Duck lends itself to sous vide cooking and strong flavours, so don’t think I’m part of a cult that only cooks sous vide and with tea. Although that’s not a bad basis for a cooking obsession. But I sincerely believe that this recipe is transformative to a duck breast in the best way. So don’t assume I’ve gotten lazy. Assume that you’ll love this.

As it is sous vide, it’s oddly easy to make on a week night, as you can make it ahead. Of course, with many people working from home, you could take a 10 minute break, pop the duck in the water bath and return at your convenience to quickly brown these darlings when you please. And dry duck breast is a tough, miserable business. Sous vide can keep it lower temperature longer, preserving the texture and eliminating the risk of over cooking.*

My husband loves every bit of this and eats the fat without hesitation. The smoky and salty flavours permeate the fat and flesh, and fill you up, so that all you need is a side green or a salad as accompaniment. Ina Garten’s mashed rutabaga is also perfect with this, but you don’t need it.

You simply wash and dry your duck breast. Salt it all over. Throw it in your cooking bag and pat Lapsang Souching liberally all over your duck breast until you’ve covered both sides. Pack it generously with fresh bay leaves and forget about it for a few hours. The tannins in the tea and bay leaf will tenderise the duck breast and infuse it with delicious smokiness, like duck bacon but meatier.

If you have time, chop an onion in a fine dice, put it in some melted butter in a pan, and stir it in. Leave it on low for an hour or two while you go back to work. When you are ready to brown your duck breast, you’ll have some lightly caramelized onions as a home base for some quickly sautéed Swiss chard. The bitterness of the greens is balanced by the sweet onions and rich duck.

I thank Kenji Lopez-Alt for his sous vide duck recipe. The man was an engineer before he switched to food. You can trust that his calculations are precise, and in the name of food safety I would never vary from his recommendations of cooking times and temperatures. That said, I stick to the very lowest recommended cooking time because I like my duck breast as rare as is permissible.

*(FOR YOU NON-SOUS VIDE BELIEVERS: don’t trust that sous vide cooking is safe? Read this by Cook’s Illustrated. New to sous vide? Read this by Serious Eats engineer-turned-chef J. Kenji López-Alt.)

Kenji is not a snob and so recommends IKEA Lingonberry jam with your duck breast. I don’t doubt him for a minute. Blackcurrant jam would be more French and is what I like, having had it on pigeon every chance I got in France. But I am trying to cut sugar, which is changing my palate. Also, most jam tastes more of sugar than fruit. So I have devised a sauce that has all the flavour of black currant, all of the sour, and as much sweetness as you like. But the black currant is the thing.

This dish goes well with a medium bodied, peppery red wine but is also just a fabulous with a Blanc de Noir. In Toronto this is pretentious. In France this is just Tuesday. We won’t be in France for a while, so let me dream.

The blackcurrant sauce is a reduction of freeze-dried black currents, although if you have fresh or frozen by all means use those. Black currants are high in pectin, which means a steep reduction doesn’t need any thickener. They are boiled down in red wine into a tart juice with fresh bay leaf, peppercorns and a shallot or onion. Much as I love all thing garlic, it doesn’t really work here. I have tried and it just doesn’t fit. You can add a little duck juice at the end if you can get it mostly separated from the fat, but you’ll likely just have melted duck fat in the pan, so skip it.

The resulting liquid is really very tart, but you taste the black currants first and foremost. Then you add a little honey, bit by bit, unless you have the right balance of sweet and sour. I tend to favour the sour, but you just do as you please.

Smoky Sous Vide Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Smoky tea and fresh bay leaf tenderize and flavour a duck breast. Sous vide cooking keeps from going beyond medium rare. Freeze-dried black currants dominate a red wine reduction without the excessive sugar of the more traditional blackcurrant jam.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine Canadian, French

Equipment

  • Sous vide appliance
  • Cast iron pan

Ingredients
  

  • 2 duck breasts
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup lapsang souching tea
  • 1 package fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup freeze-dried black currants
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1-4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp brandy (optional)
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Instructions
 

  • Wash and pat dry duck breast. Rub salt all over. If you have time, leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight. If not, skip it.
    When you are ready to cook, preheat your water bath to 54°C (130°F).
  • Place in a Ziploc bag and sprinkle in tea, making sure to get tea all over every part of the surface on both sides of each breast.
  • Using half of the leaves from the package, line the sides of the bag with fresh bay leaf.
  • Lower into the water, letting all the air out, and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes, up to 4 hours.
  • Heat wine and black currants until boiling, pressing down on currant and stirring them in until fully hydrated. Add in shallot, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until reduced to ½ cup. Turn off heat. Let sit until ready to use.
  • When duck is done, remove the breasts from the bag. Brush off as much of the tea as you can. If it really sticks, you can rinse it off, but if you have a clean scrub brush, try that instead.
  • Heat oil in a cast iron pan set on high heat until smoking.
  • Add duck breast and cook until sizzling, about 2 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes, pressing and moving to make sure the skin is browned evenly. Flip and cook the skinless bottom until barely browned, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • When ready to use the sauce, remove the herbs and strains out the shallot and peppercorn. You can add in a few more black currants if you like texture in your sauce.
  • Reheat reduction, adding in honey to taste. Add brandy, butter and salt to finish.
  • Slice and serve with sautéed greens.
Keyword #blackcurrantreduction, #duckbreast, #freezedriedblackcurrants, #sousvide, #sousvideduckbreast