Fri Oct 19, 2012
The end of the Meatwave season doesn't mean there's an end to grilling—that never stops—but it does bring along a fundamental shift in my cooking. While the summer is filled with recipes designed to feed hoards of hungry Meatwavers, the off-season brings along the prospect that I'm usually only grilling for two, and sometimes one. I much prefer the former approach, taking great pleasure in sharing my grilled creations with the masses, but there is some things the fall and winter affords that I wouldn't necessarily be able to do on a larger scale because of cost or process. Steak is the most common culprit falling into this category, but there's another love of mine that usually goes missing during the Meatwave season, duck breasts.
I'm actually pretty happy to have some time to go small scale and really focus more into the details of cooking—without the frantic pace of the Meatwave, I can dedicate more attention to refine grilling technique. Duck breasts are one thing I've had a fair amount of problems with in the past, never achieving the crisp skin, with not too much fat, while the meat is cooked perfectly medium. It's one of the more difficult culinary equations, but I was determined to finally get it right.
I started with scoring the duck skin in hopes that these slits would allow more of the fat sitting right underneath the skin to render out over high heat.
Wanting to add some nice flavor into the duck, I picked up a Bobby Flay recipe that sounded pretty awesome, combining a spice rub with a glaze for multiple layers of flavor. The glaze itself was a simple, but intense reduction of orange juice and blackberries that created a strongly tart and fruity sauce.
The spice rub was also relatively uncomplicated as well, but one I would have thought to put together myself. It combined mustard powder, paprika, chile de arbol, cinnamon, five-spice powder, and coriander. This very earthy spice mixture was rubbed into the duck breasts before grilling.
My main goal in cooking was to figure out how to get that crisp skin—anything less is a substandard duck breast in my opinion. I figured the best way to do this would be to hit the skin with direct high heat. What a headache this ended up being. There was a constant stream of flare-ups thanks to the fat dripping onto the coals—although this meant another goal of rendering the fat was taking place—and the duck had to be moved out of the intense flames that ensued frequently.
Although a bit of a pain and requiring extreme vigilance, once I flipped the breast over it was all worth it, the skin was beautifully crisp! Ah, such a nice feeling, the hard part was over, now just cooking the meat to medium and I would be done and could sit back and bask in my success.
While the breast finished up cooking, the glaze was brushed on about ever minute. I became so intent in brushing the breast and building up that glaze that I accidentally let the duck cook over medium. D'oh.
Still, that was a minor miscalculation compared to the feat I achieved with the crisp skin paired with a thin, but tasty, layer of fat resting between the meat and skin. That triumph was taken down a notch though when the overall flavor of the breast was not the powerhouse I expected. For some reason I find this a lot with Bobby Flay recipes, what sounds like an amazing amalgamation of flavors on paper doesn't quite live up to expectations in the final product. This may all be precipitation though, with my mind over promising before tasting. To give proper credit, this was still a fair enough mixture of earthy, sweet, and fruity flavor that complimented and didn't overpower the meat, and while it may have not excited me so much, the possibilities of all I can do with duck breasts now that I have a successful method down is thrilling.
Spice-Rubbed Duck Breast
Adapted from Bobby Flay
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 15 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 35 Minutes
- 4 servings
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 pint blackberries
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 4 duck breasts
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil
- Bring orange juice to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until juice is reduced by half, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add in blackberries and cook for 2 minutes more. Place a fine mesh strainer on top of a bowl and strain juice mixture into bowl. Discard solids.
- In a small bowl, mix together mustard, paprika, chile de arbol, cinnamon, five-spice powder, and coriander. Set aside.
- Score duck skin diagonally every 1/2-inch. Brush duck breasts all over with oil and season with salt and pepper. Rub spice mixture onto skin side of each breast.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place duck breasts on grill, skin side down, until browned and crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip and continue to cook, brushing duck every minute with orange-blackberry glaze, until an instant read thermometer registers 130 degrees when inserted into middle of breasts. Remove duck from grill and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve.