I first went to Paris in 2003, it changed my life for ever – my culinary life, to say the very least.
We stayed at a boutique hotel in the 17th arrondissement. Every morning on our way to the metro, we would pass a pâtisserie teeming with sweet aromas of the breakfast pastries. So in the afternoon on our way back, we would go inside and get a slice of cake or tart to indulge in our hotel room. Gâteau au fromage blanc and Tarte amandine are our favorites. They were so simple, no addition of fruits or garnishes. I still remember how delicate they tasted. I had never tasted anything that good in my life. I went back to Paris the following year and brought them back with me on the airplane. It was a big packing nightmare, but the flavor lingered on just a little bit longer. Ever since then I had my heart set on baking. I hope that one day, my memory will guide me to successfully reproduce the decadence, on this side of the Atlantic.
One Sunday morning we ran into a produce market on Rue des Lévis. Back then, farmers market was a rarity in the US. Fascinated by all the fresh seasonal produce, seafood, rabbits(yes, with the skin on) and pheasants(yes, with the feather on), we were immediately drawn to the roasted chicken legs hanging in one of the glass cases. Unlike the greasy rotisserie chicken in the US grocery stores, these French ones looked the perfect golden brown with crispy skins and most importantly, no dripping fat. We bought a couple. By the time we reached our hotel room, the chicken had already gone cold. We ate it anyway, and they were flavorful inside and out. We enjoyed it immensely. Before Paris, I had always thought that the flavor is in the sauce. After Paris, I realized that given a good cut, when cooked properly, the sauce is completely unnecessary.
I prefer my bird prepared tout simplement, sans sauce.
Seared Duck Breast
2 duck breasts, skin scored into a crosshatch pattern
Season the duck breasts generously with salt. Place both duck breasts in a saute pan large enough to accommodate without crowding. Bring the pan to a medium-low heat to render the fat from the duck. Periodically remove the fat as a lot of it begins accumulate in the saute pan. This is a low and slow process, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Once the fat has rendered and the duck skin is crispy and brown, once again remove the excess fat from the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and flip the duck to sear the bottom. Once the bottom is brown turn the duck so skin side is down.
Remove the duck from the pan and let rest for 8 to 10 minutes.
Once the duck has rested, slice it on the bias and serve
Recipe adopted from Food Networks Seared Duck Breast with Pomegranate Molasses by Anne Burrell
Note: Duck fat is a common pantry staple in Southwestern France (think duck confit). Low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat, duck fat is one of healthiest animal fats. Incredibly tasty, it imparts a umami quality to vegetables and mushrooms, and is the perfect fat to partner with potatoes.