Monday, January 4, 2016

Cooking with Not-my-homemade Jam

In early December, a good friend and a neighbor of ours W - known for his jam-making skills among many of his talents - passed us a jar of quince jam he made during the festive season. We were ecstatic to have received such a wonderful gift right on time for the holiday stretch.

Of course, the jam is perfect for spreading on bread/toast/baguette or as condiment for cheese, but I was curious to see if I could do something more, perhaps use that in my cooking. So here's the seared duck breast I made for our New Year Eve dinner at home using the jam as one of the condiments, highlighting the sweetness and the texture of the quince jam with a meat smoky and rich in a fancy presentation.

I cooked the duck breast sous-vide first then finish on the pan - given the short cooking time you can get away without using an immersion circulator if you don't have one at home (painful yes, but not totally impossible). To complete the dish, I also paired the duck with some silky soft parsnip puree and sweet and tart cherry coulis. To bring consistency to the texture of all the condiments, I used a technique called "Fluid Gel" to thicken the cherry coulis - you can read all about it online but basically it's a whipped cherry "jelly" with the texture similar to ketchup. So all the condiments can be piped on the plate for a nice and colorful appearance.

The recipe is extremely easy and fail-safe. Many of the components can be prepared in advance or done on the same day, giving you perfect flexibility in doing other dishes. It can be served as main course or as an appetizer course. The portion listed here is for appetizer for 4 people as part of my 6-course dinner - please adjust as required. If you are not as lucky as me having access to a homemade quince jam, you may substitute with store-bought one or one made with seasonal fruits (I thought persimmon or mango would work quite well too, or orange, of course, given the classic canard d'orange combination)

Recipe: Seared Duck Breast with Quince Jam, Cherry Coulis, Parsnip Puree and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredients: (for 4 persons as appetizer course or 2 as main course)

For cherry coulis:
  • 2 cups of cherries - pitted
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 2g agar-agar
For Parnsip Puree:
  • 1 small parsnip (100-150g) - peeled
  • 4 tablespoon of milk
  • 4 tablespoon of whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • salt to taste
For Duck Breast:
  • 1 Boneless Duck Breast (approx 300g, skin-on)
  • 1 teaspoon of five spice powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
For Quince Jam:
  • 2 tablespoon of quince jam (substitute with any seasonal or store-bought jam or marmalade)
To Garnish:
  • Aged balsamic vinegar

1. If your duck breast came as frozen (cuz mine did), defrost in the refrigerator at least 72 hours in advance.
2. Begin with cherry coulis. Bring everything (except agar-agar) to a quick simmer then cook for 5 more minutes until cherries softened.
3. Pour the cherries with the liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Strain if needed. While the liquid is still warm, measure up to a cup (250ml) and discard the rest (or save for some other use). Mix in the agar-agar powder until completely dissolved. Set aside in a small cup or dish (optionally in the refrigerator) until cooled and set.
4. Now to the duck breast. Take it out from the refrigerator, dry with a kitchen towel, then rub in the five spice powder, salt and pepper top and bottom.
5. Put in a plastic bag to vacuum, then cook sous vide at 58C for 45 minutes to an hour (for medium rare doneness), or up to an hour and half if you prefer it more cooked. 
6. You can either make the parsnip puree in advance (and just reheat) or do it while the duck breast is cooking. Cut parsnip into thick slices, and bring parsnip, milk, cream and butter to a boil in a small sauce pan.
7. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until parsnip is softened. Puree until very smooth.
8. To assemble. Take the duck breast out from the bag, dry with kitchen towel of the extra meat jus, then use a sharp knife to score the skin in crisscross pattern - this helped the heat to go through to the meat and also gave the skin a nice, crispy look. 
9. Put oil on a frying pan and put to high heat, until oil began to smoke. Put duck breast skin-side down to cook for 3 minutes until skin turned crispy, then flip and cook for another 1 minute.
10. Rest the seared duck breast on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, the cherry coulis should be set into "jelly" form in room temperature. Using a hand whisk or just a fork, drop the jelly into a small bowl and whisk into thick syrup/lava (fluid gel) form. Likewise for the quince jam.
11. Put the warm parsnip puree, whipped cherry coulis and quince jam in individual piping bags (or ziplog bags) Cut off the tips (or corners) and pipe each of the condiments on the serving plate in whatever pattern you so wish. You can be as creative as you want - dots in circle/heart shape, lines across, or smear like the pros do. Don't forget to leave some space to put your duck breast. 
11. Using a carving knife, slice duck breast into serving size by cutting against the grain. You can either slice it thin (and serve a few pieces each in a fan-shape on the plate) or this time, I decided to serve it in one thick slice (and secretly wanted to show off how tender the duck breast has become)
12. Finish by drizzle the best balsamic vinegar you can get hold of on the duck breast slices just before you serve or by the table-side.

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