Lavender Honey-Glazed Duck Breast with Blackberries and Water Chestnuts

Pairing fruit and duck hearkens back to older classics like duck with hot Morello cherries or with the bitter oranges of Moorish Andalusia fame. For me, it’s a tradition that still makes sense because the sweet acid of the fruit is a perfect foil to the richness of the duck.

The duck breast itself can be grilled, broiled, or sautéed. The points to remember are that the initial cooking on the bone renders out the fat, and that the final cooking is really just heating, letting the breast remain pink.

The honey flavors the skin and also helps to render out the fat, allowing the skin to become crisp. If you cannot get lavender honey, buy the best floral honey you can find, warm it, and infuse it with lavender flowers or rosemary leaves for ten minutes and then strain.

This recipe is even better if you smoke the breasts slightly first.

Ingredients

  • 2 whole duck breasts (on the bone), first wing bone left on
  • ½ cup dry brine
  • 6 cups chicken or duck stock
  • ¼ cup Malmsey Madeira
  • ¼ cup lavender honey
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
  • 8 large fresh water chestnuts, peeled, sliced -inch thick
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 16 sprigs watercress
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Rub the duck breasts all over with the salt mixture, and let sit for 30 minutes with the skin side down in the remaining salt.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the breasts skin side up on a rack set on a sheet pan or roasting pan. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes to render some of the fat from under the skin. Take the duck out of the oven and cool.

When the duck is cool enough to handle, carefully cut each half breast off the bone in one piece. You will have four pieces. Save the breast bones. “French” the bones by cutting around the base of the wing bone, and peel off the meat and skin from the bone. Chop off the knuckle end of the bone. The duck can be prepared up to this point a day in advance and refrigerated.

Rinse the breast bones under cold water to get rid of any salt, and then cut or smash them up. Put the bones in a 3 quart stock pot with the discarded wing and knuckle bones. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the surface of the stock. Simmer for 45 minutes and strain. Rinse out the stock pot. Remove any fat from the surface of the stock. Put the Madeira in the rinsed pot and boil for a minute. Add the stock, bring to a boil, immediately turning the heat down to a simmer, and clean up the sauce as described. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, reducing it down to 1 cup.

Meanwhile, put the honey and pepper in a little bowl and mix them together. Brush the honey-pepper mix onto the skin side of the all the duck breast pieces.

Heat a frying pan to medium heat and put the duck pieces skin side down in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn the heat down to low (or put in a preheated 350-degree oven) and cook until the duck is medium rare, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let the duck rest in a warm place for 5 minutes so that the juices are reabsorbed into the meat.

While the duck is resting, bring the sauce to a boil and add the water chestnuts. Simmer 1 minute, add the blackberries, and take off the stove. Stir in the butter and season.

Immediately pour the sauce with the blackberries and water chestnuts out onto four hot plates, then slice off the wing joints and slice the breasts across on a diagonal about inch thick. Fan the slices on the plates, put the watercress in the center and stand the wing joint in the watercress.

Variations

Use peeled and thinly sliced Jerusalem artichokes—steamed in butter and water for 5 minutes—instead of, or as well as, the water chestnuts. Or instead of the berries and water chestnuts, use mandarin orange sections, with ¼ cup chopped pecans or black walnuts, cooked and chopped duck livers and 1 tablespoon of coarse black pepper. Or serve the duck with very garlicky cooked white beans and lemon and fig relish. Or serve with fresh fava beans and fresh morels steamed in butter, garlic, and a little chicken stock.

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