Sous Vide Duck Breast With Warm Roots and Lentils, Roasted Feta, and Hen-Of-The-Woods Honey Cream


First, after sharpening my chef’s knife really well, I make slits every inch through the skin — but not the meat! don’t dig into the meat! — of my boners, then I salt and pepper each side up real good.
Revel in the herbaceous, verdant, textured goodness that is this tender twig of oregano. With deft digits, I pick a few tablespoons of the tiniest, tastiest leaves.
I sprinkle nary a single tablespoon over my scored breasts before placing them side by side in a super-fancy double-lock zipper Ziplock bag (not of the freezer, variety, though – seemed like overkill), and then using the straw technique to suck all the air out I could (without getting any duck juice in my mouth – which is harder to do if you dry out the meat overnight, like I did). I place this in the fridge for an hour so the herb and spices can scent and prime the flesh.
Fresh from the tap, my water is pretty cold; that’s a New England winter for ya. I set a silicon pot holder under the water, then bring the temp up to 135° F before sliding my bag o’ breasts in.
Of course, once I set the bag of cold (or even room temperature) duck breasts into the barely warm water, the temperature drops dramatically, so there are a few tense moments while I add lots of heat – watch the temp rise too high – add cold water – watch it drop too low – add more heat – watch it rise too quickly – add a wee but of cold water – then more – then more – then more heat… you get the idea. I finally figured that my stove would allow me to maintain 136.2-137.1° without adjustment, so I let it sit at that temp for at least an hour. The idea, of course, is that the meat slowly comes to the right holding temperature, and no higher, while submerged in a gentle hot tub simmering at that heat. You can’t really overcook it, and the unique chemistry of gentle sustained heat, duck fats, and vacuum pressure results in succulent flesh patie
Meanwhile, I’ve started a few tablespoons of EVOO, some sea salt, cracked black pepper, one peeled and diced carrot, one peeled and diced parsnip, four peeled pearl onions, and two peeled large cloves of garlic over medium high heat in a deep saucepan. And I’m stirring… and stirring… until the scent invades my nostrils. Mmmmmm…..
I’ve been preserving some lemons in the fridge, and sneaking bits of peel and juice whenever the need strikes me. I pilfered a wedge of peel for tonight’s lentils.
See my little diced peel in there? It ultimately adds just the right salty, savory zest. Now that everything is nicely heated through and beginning to soften…
I add my petite French lentils, and 1 tbs oregano leaves. I stir very well, making sure the lentils soak in the simmering EVOO, and everything is well tossed and almost toasted.
I cover the whole mess with 3 cups of chicken stock, and set to low to simmer for the remaining time my duck has left — about 45 minutes to an hour. Since I knew I couldn’t overcook the duck, and since I knew finished it would only take 5-8 minutes, I based my whole meal on the doneness of my lentils. I kept adding chicken broth as needed, until they were tender but al dente.
My two lovely wedges of salty briny feta cheese are doused with fine EVOO, studded with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and flecked with last of my oregano leaves. I set this shallow porcelain dish into a 400° oven.
Er, I’m not entirely certain that these are hen-of-the-woods, or miatake, mushrooms; there was no identifying sign at Whole Foods. However, I know I’ve eaten this shape before, I’d liked the rubbery texture and mild umame, and I recalled it absorbing flavors quickly and delightfully. I tried to maintain their common roots, and split these two large bunches into small bundles of fun(gi). But first…
I’ts time to pull out my duck breasts. I remove the bag from the bath water…
Remove the duck breasts from the bag, pat them dry…
Then sprinkle them again, on both sides, with sea salt and black pepper.
I’ve learned that duck skin splatters; ain’t no way to avoid it. But, one can mitigate it by placing one’s breasts, skin side down, in a cold pan with a teaspoon or so of cold grapeseed oil, and bringing the heat up to high afterwards. It take s a moment more, but it really cuts down on the popping oil smattering the whole of your kitchen. I sear for 4-5 minutes, or until the skin is perfectly golden crispy browned. I flip, and cook for one more minute on the flesh side, just to sear in the juice and flavor.
Meanwhile, my EVOO’d feta has begun to sizzle and brown, so I pour half of my honey over the top of the warming cheese, and stick it back into the oven – now set to broil – for an additional 5 – 8 minutes.
My duck breasts are perfectly caramelized and seared, and the skin is crispy and hollow-sounding against the tap of my blade. After letting them rest for a few moments, I slice each breast thinly, against the grain, into perfect little bites.
After removing all but a tablespoon or so of the hot fat in the pan, I add my mushrooms and the rest of my honey, along with my tablespoon of butter, and return the whole shebang to the stovetop over medium heat. I stir well, coating the mushrooms with the butter and duck fat, and melting the honey. A healthy sprinkling of black pepper and sea salt right about now is a great idea, too.
At the last moment, I decide to add about 1/2 cup heavy cream to my saucepan, and I stir it well to incorporate it with the mushroom juice, the butter and duck fat, and the blistering honey. The result is a silky smoothy creamy milky sweet salty peppery thick sauce – the perfect compliment!
A salty slab of honey roasted feta – gooey and fluffy, all hot brine and sticky sugar – creates a symphony of luscious deliciousness when paired with the fresh gamey savor of fork-tender duck breast, crusted with crackling skin, draped with thick honeyed cream and resilient earthy mushrooms. The toothsome lentils, with the licorice parsnip and golden carrot, the roasted garlic and the apple onion, round out the cunning lingual sensation of full tongue satisfaction – flavor and texture, salty and sugary, earthy and wholesome, fresh and slow. Sous vide… you are sous sweet!


6 servings


Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 7:41pm


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