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Duck with Tart Cherry-Port Sauce

Tart cherries deliciously complement the smoky flavor of duck breast and add fruity 
flavor notes to a port wine sauce. For a stress-free dinner party, make the sauce a day in advance and store it, covered, in the refrigerator, until the duck is ready.

For even better flavor, season the duck breasts 1 or 2 days in advance and store them, covered, in the refrigerator. In early summer, substitute 2 handfuls of fresh Bing cherries for the dried tart cherries: Roast for 10 minutes in a 350°F oven, pit if desired and serve warm with the duck.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts (optional) 
  • 2 Tbs. pitted dried tart cherries or cranberries 
  • 1 Tbs. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup ruby port  
  • 2 1/2 cups veal or chicken stock 
  • 4 boneless duck breast halves, each about 6 oz.   
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast until golden and fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly, then wrap them in a clean kitchen towel and rub gently to remove the skins. Chop the nuts coarsely and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cherries, vinegar, port and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Trim off any excess skin from the edges of the duck breasts. Turn the breasts skin side up. Using a sharp knife, make 4 shallow incisions diagonally across the skin, each about 1/8 inch deep, being careful not to cut into the meat. Create a crosshatch pattern by making a second set of 4 diagonal incisions in the opposite direction. Season the duck generously on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a cast-iron fry pan over medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil. When the oil is very hot, add the duck breasts, skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, without turn the duck, until the skin is nicely browned and plenty of fat is rendered, 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and turn the duck over. Continue cooking until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a duck breast registers 140°F for medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes more. For medium to well-done, cook until the thermometer registers 160° to 165°F, 5 to 10 minutes more. Transfer the duck to a platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, reheat the cherry-port sauce. Cut the duck into thin slices and arrange on 4 warmed plates. Spoon the sauce over the duck and sprinkle with the hazelnuts. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook, by Gayle Pirie & John Clark (Free Press, 2006).