Here’s a sweet little Valentine’s supper featuring boneless duck breasts paired with a nutmeg-scented carrot and potato puree. Other good accompaniments would be stir-fried or steamed spinach, crusty French rolls and a chocolate dessert from a good bakery. To add another loving note, you could start with a plate of Maine oysters on the half-shell.
SEARED DUCK BREAST
WITH CUMBERLAND PAN SAUCE
Whether you get duck breasts from your friendly neighbor the bird hunter or buy farm-raised breasts from a supermarket, this rich, flavorful meat is perfect for a special dinner. The seared breasts are gilded with a quick Cumberland sauce made with port wine and red currant jelly.
¼ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless duck breasts or breast halves (see note)
CUMBERLAND PAN SAUCE AND FINISH:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 cup port wine
¼ cup orange juice
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish
Half an orange, sliced thinly, slices halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the marinade, whisk all ingredients in a bowl. Add duck breasts, turn to coat, and set aside for at least 2 hours or for as long as overnight. Remove duck from the marinade and pat dry on paper towels.
In a large skillet, heat oil and butter. Brush some of the oil/butter mixture on the duck. When pan is hot, cook the duck over medium-high heat until seared outside and rare to medium-rare within, 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm, leaving drippings in the pan.
Add shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the port, orange juice, and jelly and cook briskly until the jelly melts. Whisk in vinegar, mustard, and rosemary and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 4 minutes. Add the halved orange slices and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice duck on the diagonal, arrange on plates, spoon sauce over, and serve.
NOTE: If you use wild duck, allow 2 to 3 breast halves per person, depending on their size. Since the wild meat is especially lean, be very careful not to overcook it.
AND CARROT PUREE
This beautiful pale orange puree of parsnips and carrots creates a harmonious marrying of the two vegetables. They’re cooked in two separate pots to preserve the integrity of each – otherwise, the stronger parsnip would overwhelm the sweeter carrot in the cooking process. Parsnips have always been esteemed in Maine, but in recent years they’ve become something of the vogue all over the country. Parsnips are harvested both in late fall and early spring, but the “spring-dug” crop stays underground all winter, allowing the natural starches to convert to sugar, resulting in sweeter and somewhat more herbaceous vegetables.
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch slices
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch slices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 4 pieces
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In two separate saucepans of salted water, cook the parsnips and carrots until each is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in one colander, return to one pot, and place over very low heat until the vegetables are quite dry, 1 minute or so.
Transfer to a food processor or leave in the pot to mash. Add butter, half-and-half, sugar, and nutmeg, and process, or mash with a potato masher or electric mixer to make a fairly smooth puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made ahead and reheated in a microwave.)
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: