This dish was inspired by a dinner I had on a trip to Italy with my mom back in 2003. On one of my few trips outside of the US (so far!), we drove through the tall, snow-infiltrated Calabrian mountains to arrive at a small bed and breakfast run by two brothers. One brother was the chef, the other was the inn keeper and restaurant manager. The chef grilled a veal chop and topped it with the most surprising and mouth-watering sauce—a wild strawberry, green pepper, and mint sauce. The combination was like nothing I had ever tried before and left my mouth reeling with possibilities.
Food memories are like that—ideas linger in your mind, only to play out in a recipe or dish 15 years later, this time clamoring with mid-spring California’s bounty and the backdrop of the Sierra’s snow-melting peaks.
The duck breasts’ golden crunch contrasts with the sauce’s sweet tang and deep smoky lift. This is a dish to make now, before rhubarb disappears from gardens and grocery shelves. Rhubarb’s brightness is hard to match once it is out of season, but you can substitute rhubarb for Pink Lady or Fuji apple, or chop up a little Meyer lemon and mix it into the sauce if you cannot locate rhubarb.
½ cup uncured bacon, medium diced
2 teaspoons shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Jalapeno, finely chopped
½ cup rhubarb, medium diced
¼ cup strawberries, medium diced
Pinch of chopped mint
Salt, to taste
1-1.5 pounds of duck breasts, deboned, skin on
Make the sauce:
1. Place the shallots and bacon in a medium-sized sauté pan.
2. Slowly cook the shallots and bacon on a low flame until the shallots are translucent and the bacon has released its fat.
3. Add in the rhubarb and Jalapeno, cook for 2 minutes, then add the diced strawberries, cook everything for two more minutes, and remove the pan from the heat. Do not overcook this sauce or it will be mushy.
4. Place the sauce in a nonreactive bowl and stir in the chopped mint right before serving.
5. Spoon the sauce over the duck breasts.
Cook the duck breasts:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Pull the breasts from the marinade and wipe off any peel, pepper flakes, or thyme twigs that cling to the meat.
3. Place the breasts skin side up on paper towels. Wipe off any excess moisture on the skin.
4. Preheat a heavy-bottom fry pan on medium-high.
5. Score the skin of the breasts with a sharp knife in order to create a crosshatch pattern.
6. Season the breasts with salt and pepper.
7. Once the pan is hot, put the oil in the pan, swirl it around, and place the duck in the pan. Be sure to move the breasts around until they do not stick (don’t put too many breasts in the pan at once—if you have a medium-sized pan, cook the breasts in batches of two).
8. Turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the breasts for 8 minutes on the skin. Frequently turn the breast skin around in the pan to ensure even cooking.
9. Flip the breasts over and cook them on the flesh for another minute.
10. Turn the duck back over so that the skin side faces down and place it in the oven to cook for another 6-8 minutes. Aim for medium-rare. The exact oven cooking time will vary depending on the size of the breasts.
11. Pull the breasts from the pan and place them on a plate. Loosely tent them with aluminum foil as they rest for 5 minutes.
12. After the breasts have rested, place them on a cutting board and thinly slice the meat across the grain.
13. Place the sliced breast on a plate or platter and spoon the sauce over the top of the skin. Serve immediately.