Al Hernandez

Ditch that turkey, upgrade to duck.

It seems like every holiday season, we consume mass amounts of turkey, most of which is bland, dry, and uninspired. I am here to tell you it does not have to be that way! Yes, I know there are many articles written about making your turkey flavorful by brining or frying, but I would rather spend the time relaxing instead. So how do I propose you have an elegant, elevated holiday meal? Simple. Ditch the turkey and upgrade your meal with duck.

For those who miss cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, wild rice, or green bean casserole as part of their holiday celebration, don’t worry. Duck pairs exceptionally well with the traditional holiday side dishes.

Duck is my favorite fowl. It’s flavorful, versatile, and relatively simple to prepare. Duck has various nutritional benefits, including being high in B vitamins, iron, selenium, and phosphorus. Duck meat has a more robust flavor than its chicken and turkey brethren. It is closer to the dark meat pieces of other poultry. It is also higher in fat, which resides primarily in its skin. Although you can remove the skin, I highly discourage you from doing so since crispy duck skin is one of the best culinary things on the planet and has some benefits besides its flavor and texture. Duck skin contains a significant amount of glycine. Glycine is a non-essential amino acid with a wide variety of benefits, including building and repairing the body’s cells, enhancing the immune system, and provides essential support for healthy skin, hair, and nails.

There are various cooking duck methods, including slow roasting, steaming, pan-frying, smoking, and confiting. Each one of these methods creates different flavor profiles and textures. Along with various cooking methods, you can choose to purchase a whole duck or a single breast or leg. The ability to mix and match duck parts gives you infinite possibilities for you and your guests. For those who love fully cooked protein, you can have duck legs, and for those who like their protein medium rare, you can serve duck breast. 

Purchasing duck has never been easier; it is available in supermarkets, Costco, and online from various sources. My go-to source is Maple Leaf Farms (https://mapleleaffarms.com/); they have been a sustainably and humanely focused farm since the 1950s. Operated by four generations of the Tucker family, their commitment to quality while being a sustainable steward of the environment and their community makes them my choice for duck.  

Maple Leaf Farms offers various duck products from whole duck to single-serving duck breasts and two packs of duck leg confit. Depending on the size of your dinner party, you can mix and match to get the proper amount of protein for your guests. 

Recipe:

Duck Breast with Turnip Purée, Caramelized Carrots, and Braised Leeks

In this recipe, meaty duck breast is contrasted by a light-textured, turnip puree topped with sweet, buttery carrots and lemon accented leeks that balance the rich, savory duck. Fruit-driven, elegant red wines such as Pinot Noir and Tempranillo pairs well with this dish and such white wines as a Chardonnay, or Riesling, or Gewürztraminer.

Ingredients:

3 large turnips, peeled and diced

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

4 T. unsalted butter

Kosher Salt 

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds

4 medium leeks, white parts only, well-cleaned

4 boneless duck breasts

1 T. Grapeseed oil 

Fresh lemon juice for serving

Turnip Puree 

Chef’s Notes: This puree can be made ahead of time and reheated just prior to serving.

Caution: When pureeing hot ingredients in a blender or food processor, fill the blender only halfway and place a towel folded several times for thickness over the top cap of the bender.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine turnips, cream, and a tablespoon of the butter. Add a pinch of kosher salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until turnips are tender. Approximately 15 minutes.

Transfer turnip mixture to a blender or food processor working in batches to blend into a smooth puree. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt. Transfer to a large bowl, cover, set aside, or refrigerate if you make this a day or two ahead of time. 

Caramelized Carrots

In a small saute pan or frying pan, melt one tablespoon of unsalted butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add carrots, and saute until tender and golden brown, approximately 10 minutes—season with salt to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Braised Leeks

In a medium saute pan or frying pan, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add leeks and occasionally saute, turning to avoid burning, around 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock, bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until leeks are tender, approximately 15 minutes. Uncover pan and braise until 95 percent of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat, re-cover, and set aside.

Duck breast 

Score the skin of each duck breast, making sure not to cut into the meat in a crisscross pattern. Lightly salt the duck breasts on both sides.

In a large saute pan, heat grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Place the breasts, skin-side down, in the pan, and cook until the skin is crisp, 6-8minutes. Spoon off and discard the rendered fat from the pan. Reduce heat to medium, turn the breasts, and cook for 3–4 minutes longer for medium-rare.

Transfer the breasts to a cutting board or plate and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes.

While the meat is resting, return turnip puree to a saucepan and reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reheat carrots over medium heat, stirring gently. Carve duck breasts crosswise into slices about 1/4-inch thick.

Place the duck breast in the center of the plate. Place a leek to one side of the duck breast and cut it in half lengthwise. Sprinkle each leek with a few drops of lemon juice. On the other side of the duck, spoon the turnip puree, dividing it evenly. Top the puree with some carrots. Serve.