Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Frisée, Cherry, and Almond Salad
Cooking duck breasts “low and slow” renders almost every speck of fat, leaving the skin crisp and the meat juicy. A light, crunchy salad dressed with a little of the hot duck fat helps balance the meat’s richness. Pair with California Pinot Noir or Grenache.
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 juniper berries
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole coriander seed
4 duck breasts, 8 to 10 ounces (250 g to 315 g) each
¼ cup (1 oz/30 g) slivered almonds
¼ pound (125 g) frisée (curly endive), pale heart only, torn into small pieces
¼ small head radicchio, torn into small pieces
1 dozen fresh Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1-1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Prepare the rub: In a mortar or spice grinder, combine the salt, juniper berries, peppercorns, and coriander seed. Pound or grind fine.
Slash the skin of each breast in a cross-hatch pattern, stopping short of the flesh. (The slashing helps render the fat.) Sprinkle the rub evenly onto both sides of each breast. Put the breasts on a flat rack and set the rack inside a tray. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 to 36 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Toast the almonds until lightly colored and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
Choose a heavy skillet large enough to accommodate all the duck breasts comfortably. (If necessary to avoid crowding, use two skillets.) Put the breasts in the unheated skillet skin side down and set over medium-low heat. Cook until the skin is well browned and crisp, frequently pouring off the fat until the skin no longer renders much, about 15 minutes. Reserve the fat for dressing the salad.
Turn the duck breasts and continue cooking flesh side down until the internal temperature registers 125°F (52C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes longer, turning the breasts with tongs to sear all the exposed flesh. Transfer the breasts to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
In a salad bowl, combine the frisée, radicchio, cherries, and almonds. Season with salt and pepper.
In a small skillet, warm 1-1/2 tablespoons of the rendered duck fat over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar and simmer for a few seconds to soften some of its acidity. Spoon the hot dressing over the salad, using as much as you need to coat the greens lightly; you may not need it all. Toss well and taste for seasoning.
Slice the duck breasts and divide among individual plates. Divide the salad among the plates and serve immediately.