SEARED DUCK BREAST with buttery LENTIL RICE, DRIED SWEET DATES, GRILLED EGGPLANT and FRESH MINT: This dish is best served just warm, on any Summer evening.
I love duck. Decadent, fatty, and frankly—delicious. This past, punishing, Winter, I picked up a single Moulard breast from the Hudson Valley Duck Farm at the New Amsterdam market and froze it. And then I slept, stiffly, for what felt like one million years, until I woke up with piqued interest, to a lump, in my freezer, that was straddling a large bag of shredded parsnips and a taunt beige Jameson pie, and I realized I had duck breast that needed cooking, and promptly. I am not one, even in the dead of Summer, to shy away from roasting, I find it comforting. It reminds me of home.
SUNDAY: Bring unidentified lump, (aka Duck Breast) out of the freezer and into the fridge, to defrost. (Or head to the New Amsterdam Market and pick up a fresh one)
MONDAY: Bring duck breast out of fridge to room temperature. Put about a tablespoon of Whole Fennel Seeds into a shallow pan and gently toast, till a heady aniseed perfume rises. Do not burn, or brown. Pat the raw Duck Breast both sides, very liberally with the toasted Whole Fennel Seeds, Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper. Sear the breast in a little Olive Oil on very hot cast iron skillet, until the skin is a rich, golden color. The breast will still be not cooked through inside. Place the seared breast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes. Rest. Slice, (Taste!), and cover with cling wrap and place back in the fridge. Reserve duck fat, that also may have fennel seeds in it, from the cast iron skillet.
TUESDAY: Place about 2 cups of water in a saucepan (that has a lid). Bring the water to the boil. Add a heavy glug of Olive Oil, (at least 3 tablespoons) 1 good tablespoon of Salt, 1 cup of Jasmin Rice, and about a quarter cup of dried Brown Lentils. The rice/lentils needs to come up half way to the top of the water. (The secret to great tasting rice is to put the Olive Oil, and the Salt, into the boiling water as you cook the Rice). Leave the rice/lentils to boil until the water is evaporated down. Stir occasionally. (There will be a little muddy residue from the Lentils, I like that, but you can skim it off if you wish) When the water is nearly evaporated, it's started spitting at you, and you're afraid it will burn. Stir once, turn off the heat, and secure the lid tightly for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, slice a small Eggplant in half and quickly sear it in the duck fat from yesterday on the cast iron skillet till charred on the outside and soft in the middle. Don't burn. (The Duck fat will still have the Salt and Pepper and Fennel Seeds from the duck which will just enhance the flavor of the Eggplant) Season while hot. Slice and set aside. After 12 minutes check the rice, the lentils should be steamed soft. If not, put the lid back on and leave for another couple of minutes. Put the hot rice/lentil mixture into a bowl and add the sliced duck from the fridge, the hot grilled sliced eggplant, a good generous handful of sliced dried dates, and a large handful of chopped fresh Mint. Season again with Salt and Pepper. Mix loosely.
NOTE: The hot rice/lentil mixture and the grilled Eggplant will heat through the other ingredients, so the dish will be warmed through, but not hot. Cooking the duck further, would lose some of lovely Medium/Rare ness and could make the breast tough. I'd serve this salad on a hot June night, even for a crowd.
Kym Apotus-Pontius from the amazing little store; Blue Angel Wines (tucked neatly near the 2nd stop on the L train) would pair this salad with something acid-y -to cut through the fatty Duck. She recommends the Rive Gauche, Chinon Rosé. This is a hardier Rosé from the Loire Valley, and is made from Cabernet Franc so it has a really nice mineral-y tone, with great acidity, but had the earthiness of tobacco mixed with a little bit of a spice. The acid will balance out the fatty duck, and the mineral will hold up the other flavors. It's about $17 and it's at her store now.