By Paul Suplee,
MBA, CEC, PC-3
There is something just so special about being part of a chef’s dinner. For me, it’s the camaraderie of getting together with fellow cooks and getting back to our roots. There is also a nice feeling in the challenge of living up to your colleagues and at the end of the night, being proud of what we just accomplished.
It is a great feeling, and one that is only improved when the meal is paired with stellar wines. Of course, no wine has to be egregiously expensive to work well, and that comes with knowledge and experience. Of course, it also comes from learning from your wine reps and guests. I do not pretend to know or understand everything about wine, so I am more than happy to lean on the professionals. They have talked me off the ledge on many an occasion.
Recently, a few of us got together and held a dinner in Berlin. My course was the amuse bouche (pre-starter) and I chose duck as my medium. I love a good duck leg confit and grilled duck breast can be superb. Knowing that I wanted to reach out a little farther, though, I opted for a butter-poached duck breast. This entailed meusing a sous vide immersion circulator, and if you do not have one then I apologize. They are so abundantly available now that you should buy one.
One little caveat, though, and I am guilty of this myself. Sous vide has come a long way, but so many cooks overuse it when it comes to steaks. This technique is phenomenal for super-long cooking times needed on tougher cuts of meat such as lifter steak. But, when it is applied to typically tender cuts, if it is overcooked, it gets a grainy texture to it and for me, that is not what I am looking for.
In this instance, though, I took the duck breast and cooked it at 140F for two hours, long enough to cook it through while leaving it at a perfect medium. A great many chefs like to serve their duck breast medium rare, but as a personal preference, I think that’s rather disgusting. While I like a rare steak, I can’t stand a truly rare roast. Just like the duck breast, it’s gummy and chewy and unfinished, if I had to choose one word.
With that being said, you may cook it however you like. For me, medium is the best texture and it carries the best flavors.
If you are like me and like to entertain (when was the last time most of us have done that at home?), you need to pair the food and wine successfully. Simply put, you either match the wine to the food, or create a dish to go with the wine.
In this particular dinner, we were given a wine with which to pair, and then we created our dish accordingly. Mine was a dry champagne. As duck tends to be a sweeter meat, further sweetened by the berry jam, the dry bubbly was a perfect match.
Pairing food and wine is an exceptionally rewarding task, so don’t lose any sleep over it or get overly stressed when designing a menu. If you simply can’t get any ideas, go online and research the countless sites out there with everything that you need to know to become a home-based sommelier.
And when all is said and done, you will have the knowledge and prowess to put on one amazing wine dinner.
Butter-poached Duck breast, berry jam, cracklings
1 ea. Duck breast, with skin
1 2-inch sprig fresh rosemary
1 1-inch sprig fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, smashed
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 c. Whole butter
Berry jam, as needed (recipe follows)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
- Place all ingredients in a plastic bag.
- Vacuum pack the bag and place in a sous vide bath at 140F and cook for about two hours.
- Remove and allow to cool until hot enough to handle.
- Strain any fat and liquid from the bag and chill to solidify the duck fat. This makes it easier to separate later.
- Keep the duck breast chilled until just before service.
- Drain the liquid from the duck fat and heat the fat in a small pan.
- Slice the breast fat into small strips and place in the heated fat.
- Cook on a medium heat, making sure that it does not burn, until they turn a nice golden brown. They will be somewhat tender until they cool down at which time they will become crispy.
- When ready to serve, sear the duck breasts on high, and then slowly heat them through so as to maintain that gorgeous medium temperature (yes, I am a bad chef who cannot stand medium rare duck. Sue me).
- Slice and serve on some berry jam, a crispy potato or other root vegetable and garnish with the cracklings. Frizzled shallots are also a nice touch here. That is completely up to you
Makes about 1 pint
1 c. Blueberries
1 c. Strawberries, hulled
1/2 c. Red wine vinegar
- Combine ingredients and cook down slowly until it is at a jammy consistency.
- Add sugar if needed and otherwise adjust the flavor to your preference.
- Chill until ready to serve.
—Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts
at Wor-Wic Community College and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.