As an adventurous-eating child growing up in Hong Kong, I have always loved the taste of ducks. My favorite has been the traditional Chinese Peking duck with its thinly sliced crispy skin wrapped in a pancake with scallions and hoisin sauce. I especially loved it when the chef comes out with his tall chef hat and carved it table side. It was so fascinating to me. Maybe that's why I had fantasized making Peking duck for the grand buffet for graduation but since there was a time constraint, I had to abandon the idea.
So this week when I arrived at my local farmers market and saw the Hudson Valley Duck Farm was there, I made a bee line toward the booth. One of the ladies there showed me a new heritage breed called Lola. She is a cross breed between a Pekin (Long Island) and Mallard. Unlike the other breed that has a great deal of layer of fat under its skin, Lola has a much thinner layer of fat. She also said since the fat under the skin was so thin, there's no need to score the skin to render the fat. As she noticed that I was really interested and declared myself as a duck lover, she went on to say if I love duck then I must try this breed as this is a duck lovers' duck due to its strong duck flavor and its gamier taste. So of course I was sold!
When I was ready to test this recipe, I wanted to make a sauce to accompany the duck. I thought since I have some blueberries at home, I'd make a blueberry sauce. Lately I have been eating a lot of blueberries because of its natural source of antioxidants and its proven health benefits. It also helped that I had pints at home since there was a sale in my local supermarket that week. I also wanted to use the Chinese black vinegar made out of black glutinous rice. It'd give the sauce a balance of sweet and sour and lighten the richness of the duck. You can usually find this vinegar at your local Asian markets. If you don't have the black vinegar, you may substitute with balsamic vinegar. I also want to cook the duck simply with just some salt and pepper so I can really taste the duck flavor.
Pan-seared Duck Breast with Blueberry Chinese Black Vinegar Sauce
2 duck breasts (about 1 1/4 pound)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
2 cups of blueberries
1/2 cup of the Chinese Black Vinegar (preferably the Chinkiang brand)
1 cup of chicken stock
1/4 cup of sugar
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1 tbsp of cold unsalted butter
Combine the blueberries, vinegar and chicken stock in a pot and cook until the liquid comes to a boil. Lower the heat and add sugar then gently press the blueberries to release the juice to the sauce. Simmer in low heat until the sauce reduces and thickens. It should take about 15-20 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, be sure the duck breasts are pat dried to ensure the skin browns nicely. Then carefully score the skin in a crisscross pattern. By scoring the skin makes it easier for the fat to render, even though the lady told me not to score the skin on the Lola as the skin is much thinner, I decided to follow the traditional method when cooking duck breasts. Heat a skillet with medium heat, season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Put the skin side down first and let the fat rendered for about 5-6 minutes. Once the fat is rendered, you may want to gently pour out the fat and save it for another use. Turn the heat up a bit higher to crisp the skin and cook the meat for another 5 minutes. When you see the meat is starting to cook through, gently flip over and finish cooking the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Set the meat aside and tent with aluminum foil. Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes before you slice it so it'll stay juicy. The duck should be served rare to medium rare. While the meat is resting strain the blueberries, add the butter to thicken the sauce, then add salt and pepper to taste.
The sweet/sour sauce of the blueberries and black vinegar gave the meat a depth of flavor and the simple way of cooking the duck really lets you taste the delicious "red-meat" flavor. I am so happy to have met Lola as she is definitely a duck lover's duck!