Magret de Canard aux Cerises

Duck Breast with Cherries

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Thanks to the popularity of foie gras, we have magret — the robust breast meat of a fattened duck (the legs go for Confit de Canard). Magret has become an upmarket steak, particularly in southwestern France, and in the pan it behaves very much the same way. When pleasantly pink, the meat is rich and juicy, but be warned that overcooked magret tastes, and cuts, like shoe leather. I like it best with a sauce of seasonal fruit, starting with springtime cherries, moving through apricots and tart berries such as black currants, and on to apples, figs, and winter dried fruits. All of them can be substituted for cherries in this recipe. An appropriate wine would be a fruity Merlot or Gamay. In general, a magret serves one person, but a very large one can sometimes be enough for two.

Ingredients

Cherry Sauce

  • 8 ounces/225 g cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup/250 ml. fruity red wine
  • 2 tablespoons red currant or raspberry jelly
  • ⅓ cup/75 ml. red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons/45 g butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 duck magrets (about 12 ounces/330 g total)
  • salt and pepper
  • arugula leaves, for serving

Method

To begin the sauce, put the cherries in a small saucepan with the wine and jelly. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Set the pan aside.

Trim the excess fat from the magrets, then crosshatch the skin, cutting down almost to the meat so fat can escape. Sprinkle the breasts with salt and pepper.

Heat a heavy, dry frying pan over medium heat. Add the magrets, skin side down, and fry until the skin is very brown and crisp to extract as much fat as possible, 5 to 7 minutes or longer if necessary. Turn and brown the other side, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Test a magret by poking the center with the point of a knife to see the color of the meat. If it is too rare for your taste, continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, but remember that it will be very tough if overcooked. When done, set the magrets aside, skin side up, on a carving board. Cover them loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

To finish the sauce, discard the excess fat from the frying pan. Add the vinegar and boil, stirring to dissolve the pan juices, until reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Whisk in the garlic and tomato paste. Pour in the wine from the cherries, keeping back the cherries with a pan lid. Boil until the wine is slightly syrupy and reduced by more than half, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cherries and heat them gently. Take the pan from the heat and stir in the butter a piece at a time. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and set the sauce aside.

Carve the magrets on the diagonal into thin slices. (You can discard the crisp skin if you must, but what a pity!) Pile a mound of arugula leaves at the side of 2 or 3 plates. Arrange the duck slices, overlapping them, on the plates. Using a draining spoon, pile the cherries on the plates. Spoon the sauce over the duck and serve at once.

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