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

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

I’m not even going to pretend that this is healthy, although honestly, it could be worse. Once you try it, you won’t care in the slightest. Picnics, family BBQs, feeding whosoever is in your bubble, or dropping it off to those with whom you cannot break bread at present. This is hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful legumes. I won’t say it’s uncomplicated either—it’s full of several little steps­, which can be broken up and tackled in stages. 

Why is this a salad, rather than a warm side dish? Mainly because I use a vinaigrette to dress the lentils. But instead of oil, duck fat is warmed up and used along with the reduced pan juices. I got this idea from the brilliant Brad Long, chef and owner of Café Belong and Belong Catering, and sometimes star of the Food Network smash hit Restaurant Makeover. His Brown Butter Vinaigrette, born out of necessity, provided me with the understanding that different types of fat can stand in for oil in a salad dressing. Duck fat is delectable in any recipe. Here it is paired with the vinegar from my Smoky Onion Pickles, and the pickled onions, paired with a sweet mustard. Fresh tarragon makes this feel like the most French thing you’ll eat all summer, and well into the fall.

I made use of pre-made duck confit, but roast duck legs would work perfectly here. As long as the skin is crisped and thrown in with the shredded meat, you should have plenty of hearty flavour to boost your lentils, with or without pan juices. 

The other cool trick I learned this week is that sous vide lentils are their own thing entirely. I usually put puy lentils in the pressure cooker, not caring if some become mushy. Preferring it in fact, for lentil and potato soup. I’ve tried cooking them carefully on the stovetop to preserve them in distinct and unbroken form, only to find that the age of the lentils can create wildly varying results. And they require an exceedingly watchful eye. Sous vide lentils, on the other hand, can be left for hours without any fear of disintegration, and leaving you free to turn your attention to other matters. You can cook them in a Ziplock bag, but I cooked them in mason jars.

This salad can be easily doubled for a crowd. Makes a nice side dish or a main with a wholegrain sourdough and an endive salad. 

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

Hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful lentils, this salad uses pickled onions and crispy duck for a hefty wallop of umami.
Course Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Canadian, French
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • Sous vide device (optional)

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup puy or beluga lentils
  • 2 ½ cups water 
  • 2-4 fresh bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp sea salt 
  • 1 whole leg of duck confit (or 2 roast duck legs)
  • 1 cup tarragon, washed and chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • ½ cup smoky onion pickles 
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • ½ cup vinegar (from the onion pickles, or white wine or champagne vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard  
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ cup duck fat, warmed
  • ¼ cup pan juices 
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 pats duck fois gras (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve, then place them in jars or bags with water, bay leaves and salt. Set sous vide devise to 190ºF (87ºC) and cook for 90 minutes, or up to 3 hours. Open and let cool. Drain and set aside. 
  • Alternatively, bring lentils, salt, bay leaves to a boil in 4 cups of water, then simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes.
  • Place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes. Let cool. Rub off most of the skins, then chop roughly with a knife or pulse in a food processor until roughly ground. Set aside.
  • Remove the duck from its bag, pouring the juices into a small pan. Bring juices to a boil, then reduce over medium heat until you have about ¼ cup. 
  • Reheat duck in a cast iron frying pan, browning and crisping the skin. Remove the skin and crisp it on all sides. Melt any fat under the skin. Reserve ½ cup of the fat.
  • Remove duck to a cutting board, let cool slightly. Shred with hands. 
  • Chop onion pickles (use fresh mild onions or shallots if you don’t have the onion pickles) into a fine mince. Chop tarragon and parsley, then throw all three into a bowl with the lentils. 
  • Make the vinaigrette: put the vinegar, garlic cloves, capers, mustard, salt and pepper together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour over the lentils, onions and herbs. Warm up the duck fat in the pan. Toss together thoroughly. 
  • Add half of the hazelnuts and the duck meat and skin, and chopped fois gras, if using, and toss again. Top with remaining hazelnuts and a few sprigs of tarragon. 

Notes

You can use your own sous vide duck, buy it, or roast a couple of duck legs to use instead. 
If you happen to find duck foes gras, adding it in will take this dish from decadent to doubly delicious. 
Keyword #duck, #lentils, #salad
Cheesecake feature image

New-fangled CHERRY CHEESECAKE

Fruit-filled, sous-vide, light and fluffy, this is the most flavourful cheesecake you will ever have

Welcome to the Cheesecake Revolution. This new ingredient-method mashup gives you a unique type of cheesecake: one with the fruit flavour in the batter, not on top.

I devised this cheesecake recipe for my audition for the first season of The Great Canadian Baking Show. Sad to say that I did not make it on, but the producers were incredibly gracious and I left the audition feeling lucky to have been invited to participate. What do you think—should I audition again? Maybe let me know after you’ve tried this cheesecake. 

This recipe is special thanks to two things: the miracle of sous vide cooking, and freeze-dried fruit. At the time, this was a really innovative use of ingredients and method, although both commonly used by foodies now.

Freeze-dried fruits are everywhere nowadays, but I first learned about them when I saw this post on the Serious Eats website by the brilliant Stella Parks (aka Brave Tart): Super Thick Fruity Food Processor Whipped Cream

Freeze-dried cherries are available all year around.

The idea is that you pulverize freeze-dried fruits with sugar into a fine, Kool Aid-like dust, and then blitz it with whipped cream. The fruit is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs some of the moisture from the cream, leaving an extra-thick, smooth, fully flavoured whipped-cream topping. I thought, if you can do this with cream, why couldn’t you do it with cream cheese? I wanted a cheesecake that was flavoured throughout, not just plain vanilla with fruit on top. 

Looks like chunkier Kool Aid.

Well, turns out that if you try to beat fruity sugar into your cream cheese, it doesn’t get all that light and fluffy.  But if you add to it the sour cream and let it sit while you make the rest of the batter, it supplies a fulsome, hearty flavour to your batter. 

Where it got tricky in devising the recipe is that you need granulated sugar to help aerate the cream cheese as you beat it, too. Obviously sugar in the cream cheese AND sugar in the fruit could lead to a cloying, tooth-aching mess. But both require it. So I had to reduce the sugar in each part of the recipe as much as possible while keeping it at a functional base level. Too little sugar in the cream cheese and your cake will be dense. Too little sugar in the fruit mixture and your fruit powder will harden as it is processed. After several trials, I hit a version that is just right.

This recipe owes much to Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cordon Rose Cheesecake from her classic Cake Bible (as does my Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, for those who love spice). I tried to replace the lemon juice with cherry juice, but it needed the tang to avoid being overly sweet. I’ve increased the amount of cream cheese to make up for the absorbent fruit powder. I’ve increased the vanilla both to add liquid and make a more assertive base note to complement the cherry flavour.

Once you try this cheesecake, you’ll be sharing it with all your friends. My taste testers were certainly enthusiastic, agreeing that all the experimentation along the way was well worth it. If you don’t have a sous vide device, you can cook this batter in the usual way. It just won’t be as fluffy and light, but then some people prefer a cheesecake that is more dense.

Almond cookies make the perfect crunchy accompaniment to this mousse-like cheesecake. @somachocolatemaker

Top with freshly made cherry sauce, crumble amaretti, and top with whipped cream. Or dark chocolate sauce on freshly pitted cherries. Or mixed berries, or lemon curd, or….you get the idea.

New-fangled Cherry Cheesecake

Theresa
This original cheescake uses freeze-dried fruit to saturate the batter with cherry flavour. Sous vide makes it lighter and fluffier, but you can make it in a traditional cheesecake pan and water bath as well.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 8 servings

Equipment

  • Sous vide device or oven
  • Mason jars, 16 x 4oz, or 8 x 8 oz jars OR cheesecake pan
  • Stand mixer
  • Food processor or mini-chopper

Ingredients
  

  • 3 pkgs cream cheese Philidelphia brand, if possible
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 tsp freeze-dried cherries (60 grams)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp cherry flavouring 
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions
 

  •  Attach your sous vide device to a heatproof container, then fill ¾ full of water. Preheat to the water to 80 °C or 176 °F
  • Make the flavoured cream first: into the bowl of a food processor (small bowl or mini-chopper if you have it), pulverize the cherries with ½ cup of sugar until it mostly resembles a fine dust. A few little pieces are okay but bigger chunks mean you need to pulse a few more times. Stir into the sour cream and let sit. 
  •  Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and blend with remaining 3/4 cup of sugar using the whisk attachment. Beat for 3 minutes on medium high speed until light and smooth, scraping down the side as needed.
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time on medium low speed, scraping down the sides after each addition
  • Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until combined.
  • Stir fruit and sour cream mixture again, trying to make sure as much of the fruit sugar has dissolved as possible, squelching any little pockets you find with a brisk stir.
  • Beat into the cream cheese mixture gently until fully incorporated, no more.
  • Cast the batter into your jars using a ladle or serving spoon. Fill to just below the rim, leaving about a half inch of space between the cheesecake and the lid. Screw on fingertip tight (see here) and place gently in your preheated water bath. Use tongs if you like to avoid getting splashed by hot water. .
  • Cook for 90 minutes.
  • When they are done, use those tongs again to remove the jars to a tray or a flat tea towel on a hard surface. Let them sit until they have cooled to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. 
  • Top with freshly made cherry sauce, crumble amaretti, and top with whipped cream. Or dark chocolate sauce on freshly pitted cherries. Or mixed berries, or lemon curd, or….you get the idea.

Notes

  • If the cherries aren’t powdered with some sugar they can turn sticky and hard.
  • If the bowl of the food processor is too big, the cherries won’t pulverize into a small enough pieces.
  • Cherry flavouring is really strong – err on the side of caution. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away. Add with care.
  • This recipe works really well with freeze-dried raspberries as well, and I’m sure blueberries would do too. Strawberries tend to be too mild in flavour to stand up to the tang of the cream cheese and sour cream.
Keyword #cheesecake, #cherrycheesecake, #sousvide

Banana chai cheesecake

As many of you know, what we in North America call a chai tea latte is known as masala chai in India. Masala is the spice blend, and chai means tea. How such a redundant and confusing moniker was ever adopted here, who even knows. As such, the title of my cheesecake ought to be Banana Masala Cheesecake or even just Spiced Cheesecake, but I think I’m going to run with the bastardized version for the sake of recognition. Also, I like how it sounds. 

I devised this recipe while studying in the Tea Sommelier program with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada (THAC). This is my spice blend added to The Cake Bible‘s banana cheesecake, which is then cooked sous vide in little mason jars. It’s a light and fluffy custard, more tangy than sweet.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pkgs of cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp masala spice mix*
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • fresh bananas and whipped cream for serving

Preheat the water bath to 80°C (176° F) .

Mash two very ripe bananas until you have approximately a cup. Add in the lemon juice, vanilla, grated ginger and salt. Smush it all together and set aside.

Put the spice blend and the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and stir together. Add in the cream cheese and beat until smooth.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Beat in sour cream until incorporated, then the mashed banana.

Cast the batter into mason jars—I use a ladle or a serving spoon to make sure I don’t spill on the edges of the jar. If you do, just wipe with a clean cloth—you want a good seal. Fill until just below the screw top. Put the lids on and turn them until fingertip tight.**

Using tongs, lower the jars into the water, stacking them up if need be. Cook for 90 minutes, then remove and let cool to room temperature before putting them in the fridge. Chill for 6 hours or preferably overnight. They’ll last for two weeks in this state.

To serve, open the jars, top with slices of banana, dollops of whipped cream and a pinch of masala spice to top it off. If you like crunch, add toasted ground pistachio or cashews, or crushed cookies. Pair with masala chai made with the same spice mix, or contrast the sweetness with a fortifying Assam or Ceylon black tea.

NOTE

  • If you don’t have a pre-made spice blend, and you don’t want to make the once I’ve suggested in this post, then I recommend ½ tsp ground cardamon, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and ¼ tsp white or black pepper, and a pinch of ground cloves. If you don’t use the fresh ground ginger, use ½ tsp ground.
  • “Finger-tip” tight means that you screw the lid firmly, but it’s possible to open it just using your finger tips.
  • The size of the jars is not a big concern. You can use 4, 6, or 8 oz.
  • If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you can absolutely make this in a cheesecake or springform pan in a water bath. Bake the cake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour. Remove it to a rack and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.