After studying the pantry a week or two ago, I decided on a Christmas duck with truffles. The truffles were already on hand, and I found a rather handsome 6.5 pound duck just quacking to come to dinner. (Figuratively, not literally.) And then we moved Christmas a day forward since my son and DIL have to spend Christmas Day (today) driving home (12 hour drive) so he can make a business meeting early tomorrow morning. All flights were booked!
I searched several of my cookbooks that seemed most likely to have a recipe for roast duck with truffles but found none. Google only turned up one measely recipe for duck breast with truffles. Okay. I was on my own. Time to fly "seat of the pants." Been there, done that, let's do it!
My plan was to peel back the breast skin with fat layer attached and slide the sliced truffles between the fat and the flesh. All that fat rendering around the truffle slices picking up all the flavor of those luscious French black winter truffles. What could be better than that? Well, let's see...
Since turkey and chickens turn out so magnificent when I cook them with the trivection fast cook method of my magic genie of an oven, I decided it would have to do something good for a duck too! Checked out several sources, and the concensus was that a 6.5 pound duck should take 2 hours and 20 minutes at 375F. Checked the time required with trivection: 47 minutes! Okay, if I have everything "mis en place," that will give me just enough time to pull everything together!
Problem 1: There is something about a duck that is extremely uncooperative when it comes to seperating the skin/fat from the breast flesh when working from the cavity. The flesh narrows down, the fat layer doesn't come that far down, and the skin embraces the flesh in a death grip, so there is NO seperating the two! Obviously the reason why the only duck with truffles recipe I could find called for seperating the fat from the flesh from the cut side of the duck BREAST...! Ya think?
Solution: Make my standard gill-like slashes down each side of the breast (as opposed to the oft-recommended pin pricks that seal themselves in the first five minutes of roasting) and try stuffing the sliced truffles in them! Well, turns out that method worked best if I deepened the slashes to go all the way through the fat layer without nicking the flesh. Otherwise, the fat itself is not deep enough to accept a truffle slice. So slash deeper I did, and inserted the truffles under the fat layer that way. Logically, this is the best choice since the rendering fat will wash the truffle flavor into the breast. So with a small bit of butter rubbed over the skin to give it a boost in browning, a generous dash of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, into the oven it goes! For 47 minutes! And about fifteen more to rest.
About black winter truffles: Why can't somebody package the damned things pre-peeled! With my very sharpest, freshly edged paring knife, I began peeling them. The goal is to take the thinnest layer possible off these little black diamonds, because they are precious! But truffles do not grow in uniform shapes like golf balls. Truffles believe in convolution! And dimples. And creases. And trying to peel those areas in the thinnest possible way just ain't gonna happen. But that's okay. It leaves more flesh for the sauce Perigueux! <sigh> As for slicing truffles without a forty dollar truffle slicer, a good old mandoline works just fine.
So with the duck in the oven, it gives me 47 minutes to make the brown sugar glazed carrots and bulgur pilaf. Picked up a nice pre-washed cello-pack of baby carrots at the market a couple of days ago.
Problem 2: A new friend insisted on helping me bring in the groceries and put them away. Since that's a chore I hate, all help is welcome. BIG mistake! When the crisper drawer did not yield the cello bagged carrots, the search was on. I found them in the freezer! Orange rocks! geez... Well, a quarter cup of water, a pack of carrots, a heavy dollop of butter, a small handful of brown sugar, some kosher salt and set them to simmer. And scratch cooking as an area of possible mutual interest with that new friend. Undoubtedly she's certain that the CIA is just a bunch of spies!
The bulgur pilaf is a cinch. Brown a generous handful of pine nuts in a generous amount of butter in the bottom of a sucepan. Add some finely chopped onions when the pine nuts just begin to color. When they're transparent, add a couple of cups of bulgur and stir until the bulgur drinks up all the butter. Toss in a generous handful of currants. Add 2.5 cups of chicken stock (as opposed to broth), bring to a boil, reduce to a simer, add kosher salt to taste and a little minced parsley and dill, then simmer until broth is absorbed. I start with a lid on, then take it off at the end to dry out the bulgur if it hasn't absorbed all of the liquid but is tender. Keep warm until time to serve.
The problem with the Perigueux sauce is you have to have duck fat to make the roux. Good thing the duck has to rest when it comes out of the oven. Then I discovered I could not make a true Perigueux sauce because I was fresh out of Madeira! That's okay. We're improvising from the get-go on this one anyway. Prior to putting the duck in the oven, I put the neck and giblets to boil lightly in some chicken stock, along with some onion and a little beef base for extra flavor and a bit of color. Then the last ten minutes the duck is in the oven, I took the lid off to let the broth concentrate.
I made a nice roux with the duck fat, then added the broth to just the right texture to mask a spoon. Added the finely chopped truffle peel, the truffle juice from the jar, white vermouth to taste, and finally a comfortable dash of cognac. Simmer to meld the flavors, correct the texture and seasonings, and it's a go! And not a bad substitute for true sauce Perigueux, if I do say so myself.
Results: The duck was delicious, BUT... I couldn't find even a hint of truffle flavor in the breast flesh. But add the sauce and it went from delicious to over the top! If I ever try another variation of this menu, I would do a medium grain rice dish instead of the bulgur using the truffles in it, where they would undoubtedly have more of a presence. But keep the sauce for the duck! Overall, the meal was a success. My son -- the world's pickiest eater -- even had seconds! Of everything! Now, THAT is success...!
MORAL: If you can't find a recipe for roast duck with truffles anywhere you look, chances are there's a reason.
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