Duck Breast with Dried Fruit and Vin Santo
Duck is one of those dishes that can be intimidating because it seems fancy and elegant. But there's nothing to be scared of-making great duck just takes patience. To get a really beautiful, crackling, brown piece of skin you have to take your time and render the fat SLOWLY. If you rush it, you'll end up with crispy skin but a thick layer of fat between the skin and the meat-which is totally icky. Taking your time to render the fat will not only make your duck absolutely delicious, but it will also leave you with a treasure trove of duck fat-an ingredient that in restaurant kitchens is considered liquid gold and makes killer duck fat potatoes. I think that duck lends itself to sweet flavors, so in this dish I use a sweet Tuscan wine-Vin Santo-to reconstitute dried fruit to make a chutney-like sauce with rich chicken stock. Together the rich, meaty, succulent duck and the intense, fruity sauce make this dish perfect for a holiday, a special occasion, or even a Tuesday.
Using a knife, cut or score the fat of the duck breasts in a crosshatched pattern, cutting through the fat, down to the meat, but not into the meat (this allows the fat to escape more easily as it cooks). Season generously with salt.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Coat a large saute pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the duck breasts skin side down in the pan (be sure that the duck fits in the pan comfortably and is not crowded). Bring the pan to low heat and render the fat from the duck breasts. This needs to be done S-L-O-W-L-Y; otherwise the fat will be sealed into the skin and will not render out. This process will take about 20 to 25 minutes, maybe more. As the fat builds up in the pan, scoop it out, but SAVE IT!
When the fat has rendered from the breasts you will see the meat through the score marks. At this point, crank up the heat and brown both sides of the duck, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Then move the duck to a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the preheated oven for 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare. Remove any remaining fat from the pan and set the pan aside to make the sauce (look at me-saving you dishes!). Remove the duck from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.
Strain the Vin Santo from the dried fruit, add it to the saute pan, bring to medium-high heat, and reduce it until it's almost a syrup. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock, all the dried fruit, and the thyme leaves to the pan; season with salt. When the chicken stock has reduced and the sauce looks kind of chunky, add the remaining chicken stock; bring to a boil (BTB), cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and turn off the heat. Taste to make sure the sauce is yummy and reseason if needed.
Slice each duck breast on the bias, fan the meat on a plate, and spoon some of the sauce on and around the duck.
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