The year before John died, a friend gave us some ducks. Dead ducks. We took them out and laid them on the kitchen counter. They smelled kind of fishy. We thought about cooking them for Thanksgiving dinner. I’d heard that ducks were good eating. When I passed along my plan to a friend as we drove to a church board meeting, she laughed and said that ducks are terrible to eat. (“Mud ducks! That’s probably what they are. And that’s what they’ll taste like. Mud!”)
Discouraged, we moved the duck corpses to the big freezer where they rested for a few years until I finally threw them away. Over the years, I heard about turducken. I sometimes saw ducks in the freezer section at HEB. I never thought about cooking them until Bob’s son, Bobby, shot some ducks and brought them home for us to cook.
He called them “red heads” and “teals” and “widgeons” and “pintails.” He didn’t call any of them “mud ducks” which I’ve since discovered usually refers to gadwalls, a common looking grey duck. A mud duck is also slang for an unattractive woman according to the Urban Dictionary which is just the kind of information you get when you google the words “mud duck.”
Duck season in south Texas ran for most of November and again from early December to late January. Every morning when Bobby wasn’t working, he was out the door and on the duck hunt. He was up before the crack of dawn no matter how foul the weather. Pun intended.
I worried about cooking the ducks. Bobby’s always proud of his donations to the family dinner table and I try to make sure that the food turns out better than edible. I’ve watched enough episodes of Top Chef to know that duck can be over-cooked. Bob had heard about frying them, but I lucked into a recipe at the Epicurious.com website. Adjusted, it turns out really well. This is our adjusted recipe.
Duck Breast with Balsamic
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tbsp ginger
2 tsp Emeril’s Essence (recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/emerils-essence-recipe/index.html)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 single duck breasts
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup apple juice
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
In a gallon zipper bag, combine the garlic, ginger, Essence, salt, and pepper. Add the duck breasts, seal, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the duck breast for 2-3 minutes; turn and sear for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 3 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the duck breasts to a plate and cover.
To make a balsamic jus, return the pan to medium-high heat, add the apple juice, and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the juice reduces. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook to reduce for a couple more minutes.
Cut the duck breasts into diagonal slices and serve drizzled with the balsamic jus.
The original recipe (which you can find at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/369209) calls for fresh ginger which we don’t usually have so I used the spice rack variety. Chinese 5 spice powder is used in the original recipe instead of the Emeril Essence. I didn’t have it at the time but have since found it. It wasn’t hard to find; it’s in HEB’s. I tend to think if I haven’t heard of something, it must be exotic and expensive. It is neither and it tastes good, too, but I prefer using Emeril’s Essence.
Also, we don’t have alcohol in the house so although the original recipe calls for white wine, I’ve found apple juice is a fair sub. Oh! And I think this is the most important thing. I don’t know if we have midget ducks or what, but the Epicurious.com recipe calls for 5 minutes each side and 5 minutes in the oven. That’s too long for our duck breasts. It took less time.