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Cooking duck is something that most people perceive as the too hard basket but I am about to prove them wrong!  Duck is simple, quick and damn well tasty and does not have to be left to the experts.  As for risotto….well, same story.  Here is a restaurant quality meal that can be prepared at home and you don’t need to be a “masterchef” to do it! I will run you through this step by step so there is little room for error and you will have perfected the art of cooking the perfect duck.  With the risotto I used a mix of fresh and dried mushrooms such as porcini (essential), yellow chantrelle (optional) and black morel (optional).  The porcinis give an enormous amount of flavour and the risotto won’t be the same without it, but for the fresh you can use whatever you like…..

Prep time:   30  Minutes                   Cooking time:  30  Minutes

Serves 4

4 duck breasts, off the bone and trimmed of excess fat

Sea Salt and Pepper

For the Risotto:

20gm of butter

olive oil for frying

1 cup of arborio rice

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 french shallots, finely diced

5 thyme sprigs, leaves removed from stems

12 swiss brown mushrooms, sliced

1/2 a cup of dried porcini mushrooms*

1/2 a cup of dried yellow chantrelle mushrooms

1/4 dried black morel mushrooms

1 cup of dry red wine

1 cup of reserved porcini liquid

2 cups of beef stock, warmed (I used duck stock but beef will do)

1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan

1 tbs of cream

Sea Salt and Pepper

For the Reduction:

1 cup of port

1/2 a cup of beef stock

2 tbs honey

1 sprig of rosemary

2 knobs of unsalted butter

To begin, place the port, honey, stock and rosemary in a small saucepan and allow to come to the boil, stirring so the honey dissolves.  Once boiling reduce to a very low simmer and allow to reduce to about 2/3rds.  You can do this ahead of time and reheat.  Remove the rosemary and just before serving whisk in the butter and you will have a lovely, glossy, rich sauce.

For the risotto, boil the kettle and in three small bowls, reconstitute the mushrooms with a cup of boiling water in each.  Allow them to sit for approx 1/2 an hour.  Strain the porcini through a fine sieve and reserve the liquid (you need to do this as the mushrooms may have traces of forrest in them and can be quite gritty!).  Strain the others, discarding the liquid then just give the mushies a bit of a rinse under hot water to remove any grit.

In a large, heavy based saucepan heat the butter and oil slowly and add the garlic, shallots and thyme.  Fry gently until the shallots are translucent and add the mushrooms.  When the swiss brown mushrooms are soft add the rice and stir continuously for approx 1 minute until all the grains are coated.  Pour in the red wine first and while stirring gently allow the rice to absorb the wine.  When the liquid is reduced start adding the combined porcini juice and beef stock bit by bit.  I am not that precious with risotto, just keep an eye on it and stir to prevent it sticking on the bottom.  When all the liquid is absorbed, have a taste, if the rice is still a bit hard just add a little water until it is cooked.  Just before serving stir in the cream and parmesan and season with salt and pepper.  See…….too easy!

Now for the perfect duck!   Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees.  Trim the duck breasts of any excess fat and lightly score the skin being careful not to cut into the flesh, on the diagonal about 1.5cm apart.  Pat the skin dry with paper towel and season both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Heat a heavy based non stick pan slowly but so it is nice and hot.  You don’t need any oil because the duck fat will render out.  Place the duck breasts skin side down in the hot pan and cook for 3 minutes before turning and searing on the other side for 30 seconds only!  If your pan is not ovenproof have a dish already heated in the oven and transfer the duck to that skin side up.  Cook in the oven for four minutes, remove and allow to rest for four minutes.  I guarantee you will have perfect, crispy, pink, moist duck……if you like your duck cooked a bit more just leave in the oven for another few minutes.

To assemble the dish, place the risotto in the centre of the plate.  Slice the duck along the scored lines and assemble in a fan like fashion beside the risotto.  Drizzle with the rich, glossy reduction and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, if you like and top with a couple of thyme sprigs and a sprinkling of cracked black pepper.

I served this with some steamed broccolini which I gave a little stir fry in the duck fat, just for that extra richness. You don’t need to do this if you are watching your waistline or cholesterol 😉 But then again, what the hell…….Life’s for living!

* You can buy the dried porcini and other mushrooms at most good supermarkets and gourmet food shops