Monday, September 26, 2011

Something's Afowl in the Oven

Duck season!  Wabbit season! Duck season!  Wabbit season!  Sorry, Daffy, I must defer to Bugs.  Roasted duck is just such a succulent bird, especially when the skin crisps up.  Rabbit, while it may be good eating, well, it was also a beloved pet during my teen years; and there's just something about the idea of a rabbit in a pot that evokes the Fatal Attraction scene.  Nope, can't do it.

The fact is, as the temperatures cool down, the human race regresses to caveman days, preparing for winter by adding a few pounds of insulation to our girth with heavier meat-based meals.  We welcome the heavy sausages with Oktoberfest celebrations, hearty stews, corned beef dinners, pot pies, shepherd pies, double-thick pork chops with heavy winter squashes, roasted turkeys, Cornish hens, chicken, duck and other fowl.  We bid a farewell to the main dish, lighter salads of those hazy, hot and humid days of summer and turn instead to the heat of our ovens for stick-to-your-ribs dining.  Our carnivorous cravings awaken.

Tonight, our plates will be graced with a wonderful duck entree that I created last fall.  The nice thing about this dish is that you don't have to buy a whole duck and roast it for a long time; with a little moral support in the form of a glass of red wine at your side, it can be made even after coming home from a day of work.  I make this with boneless duck breast.  For those who live on Long Island, you can always find them at Miloski's Farm in Calverton.  The breast is boneless, but it has the skin on, which is what you want.  There is also less fat to cook out of the duck breast, yet enough to coat the fennel and really lend it a nice flavor as it roasts.  Yes, fat, delicious duck fat.  Look, I'm not your cardiologist.  Life, however long or short it's destined to be, is to be enjoyed with good food, preferrably in good company.  No need to tell your doctor, what happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen.  Your taste buds will not lie to you, this is good food.

2 boneless duck breast halves (with the skin left on)
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium fennel bulbs, halved, cored and sliced crosswise
additional extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  In a small frying pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add the garlic.  Sautee the garlic for about a minute, then remove pan from heat.  Allow mixture to sit for a couple of minutes, then stir in the rosemary and then set aside.
Using a very sharp knife, lightly score the skin of each breast half in a criss-cross pattern, taking care not to cut through into the meat.  Place the breast halves in a large roasting pan, skin side up.  Smear the garlic-rosemary-olive oil mixture over each breast half.  Surround, but do not cover, the breast halves with the fennel slices.  Drizzle additional olive oil over the fennel, then sprinkle everything with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven until the duck is cooked through, juices run clear when the meat is pricked with a knife, and the fennel is caramelized on the cut edges, about 30-40 minutes.

For perfect plating, I recommend making a batch of olive oil mashed potatoes, and mound potatoes on each of two plates.  Top each mound with a duck breast half, then pile it all with the fennel.  Garnish each plate with a rosemary sprig.

I served that with a side of sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic and sage, and a bottle of merlot.  This dish serves two, it's very simple to make, yet elegant enough to double and serve for company.  Next time you want a change in meat from the run-of-the-mill roast chicken, when you just can't look another keilbasa in the eye no matter how good the accompanying beer is, try something different and pick up some duck.  There are many recipes in the fall issues of cooking magazines for a variety of duck preparations.

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