Cooking for Others: New Ingredients, Old Friends
It has been passed down to me through firsthand tales and various internalized catch phrases from my favorite Food Network matrons of entertaining, that the golden rule of hosting is always to stick to the tried and true when it comes to the food. I can’t recall if my mother ever actually told me this. But I do know that every summer when my father inevitably invites 8 or more people over for dinner against all of our wills, that still without fail by 8 o’clock that evening the table is graced by one big, beautiful baked filet of salmon, simply adorned, perfectly cooked, and without so much as a pinched nerve or hint of effort from behind my mother’s kitchen door.
I, on the other hand, have not always stuck to this rule, and luckily, my reputation in and out of the kitchen has been left unscathed by multiple disastrous incidents. However, having suffered the humiliations of my failures, I still wholeheartedly advocate these risks for the sake of your repertoire.
That said, I would give the following advice to those who consider experimenting in the presence of company: do not do so if you are hypersensitive to fiascos or the smell of fire; always have some sort of arsenal of Plan B’s (extra ingredients on hand, Dean and Deluca downstairs, etc.), and don’t ever choose a daunting recipe just to impress someone, as the pressure alone will thrust you down a dark spiral of stove-top destruction. Of course, for most of us this last example usually involves a romantic interest, and thus brings back memories of one of the few times I have managed to burn chicken in a skillet, completely losing my cool in front of a new boyfriend.
But I digress…
Basically, the moral of this story can be directly taken from Bridget Jones’ Diary: If you are going to put yourself in a culinary situation that could possibly produce blue soup, you better do so for guests who love you, just the way you are.
Which brings me to dinner with my two high school friends, Jessy and Sarah, and my first attempt at making duck. This meal, full of trial and error, and the prospect of under-done duck breast, was a fun, even joyous experience in the presence of friends who have seen me in far more humiliating food and drink-related situations, and will, I can only imagine, continue to watch me do so.
From my small kitchen—full of experiments, failures, and good friends—to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Crispy Duck Salad with Pear, Pecans, and Ginger-Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes 4 Servings
I’m sure it will begin to surface on this blog that I am a bit of a fruit-phobe. Though I’ve warmed up to a few varieties over the years, even those I welcome into my home are rarely welcomed into the main components of my meals, and certainly not my salads. However, I made an exception with this dish, as duck is usually paired with various fruit compotes and demi-glaces. I opted out of all that fancy fruity stuff by simply slicing up a ripe Bosc pear for this salad. My guests, and the duck for that matter, can thank me later–the pear added a perfect crisp, tartness to the heavy duck and peppery arugula and, accented by the honey in the dressing, you did not even taste the sweetness of fruit at all.
2 Bosc pears, cored and thinly sliced
7 oz baby arugula (watercress and mache work well too)
¾ cup pecans
2 boneless duck breasts (about 1 ½ – 2 lbs)
1 inch ginger, grated or finely minced, about 1 tbsp
1 garlic clove, pushed through a press or finely minced
½ tbsp honey
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
½ tbsp olive oil
In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, garlic, honey, soy sauce, and olive oil. Rinse the duck breasts well and remove any extraneous fat on the bottom. Score the skin diagonally—this will help the marinade reach the inside of the breast and also allow the large layer of fat to cook out and become crispy when you sear it. Place breasts in a Ziploc bag and cover with the ginger-soy mixture, using your hands to make sure sauce is properly distributed. Marinate the duck overnight in the refrigerator or for 30 minutes to an hour before you begin cooking.
Heat a large cast iron or over-proof skillet over a high flame. Remove the duck from the marinade and pat each breast dry. Add the breasts to the pan, skin side down, and turn heat back to medium. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the skin is dark brown and crispy.
TIP: The duck will render a lot of fat during this time. You may want to spoon this out along the way to prevent excess splattering and for use at another time.
Turn breasts over and cook on the stove top for another two minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 10 minutes depending on your desired doneness. Since this was my first time tackling duck, I cut into it after 5 minutes, determined it was too rare, and returned the pan to the oven for an additional 5.
Return breasts to a room temperature plate, cover with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the additional ingredients for your salad.
In a small sauté pan, heat 1 tsp of olive oil or rendered duck fat over a low flame. Toast the pecans for 10-15 minutes stirring frequently (nuts are the easiest thing to burn if left unattended). Set aside and salt to taste as if you were going to eat them plain.
Toss arugula, pecans, and pear slices with the ginger-honey mustard dressing (recipe below) and distribute on four plates. Slice the duck breasts and place 4-5 slices on top of each salad.
For the dressing:
1 small shallot, quartered
1 tbsp ginger, chopped
1 tsp honey
½ lemon, juiced
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a small food processor or blender. If you do not have one, mince the ginger and shallot as finely as possible or use a micro plane to grate these two ingredients.
Sweet Pea and Ginger Dip
Makes 4 Servings
16oz frozen peas
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp ginger, chopped
½ tbsp olive oil
In a medium sauce pan or dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Sauté the shallot for a few minutes until translucent and then add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for an additional two minutes. Turn the flame to low and add the frozen peas. Stir to incorporate with the shallot mixture, cover, and cook for 5-10 minutes until peas are completely defrosted but not mushy.
Place ¾ of the mixture in a small food processor or blender and puree. In a small bowl, combine the pea puree with all but ½ tablespoon of the remaining whole peas and stir to incorporate.