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Duck Breasts with Spring Cherries

Note: Many stores now carry packaged Mary’s duck breasts, making the product much easier to access fresh than ever before. Often they are fairly small, and three to a pack — perfect for dinner for two, and very quick to cook.

Yield: 2 servings

  • 1 lb. skin-on duck breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbs. red Port wine (or other fortified wine such as sherry, if you don't have port)
  • 1 Tbs. good vinegar — red wine or your favorite fruity vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. maple syrup or honey
  • ½ cup poultry broth
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted

Serve with:  your favorite grain dish (rice, wild rice, bulgar wheat, etc.), and either a salad or some fresh vegetables

Score the skin from the breasts in a cross-hatch pattern so the fat renders while it cooks. Season both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Place the breasts skin-side-down in a cold heavy duty frying pan (cast iron, tri-ply, etc.) and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the skin cook slowly, to render the fat and crisp it. You want to cook the duck most of the way through on the skin side, with the heat low enough not to burn the skin. Flip and finish on the other side. You want an internal temperature of about 130-135°F., medium rare — or springy but not squishy to the touch. Depending on the size of the breasts, this can take from 8-15 minutes.

While the duck is slowly cooking, make the sauce: Combine the Port, vinegar and syrup in a pan, and cook until reduced to a glaze-like consistency. Add half the poultry broth and half the pitted cherries. Cook down at a medium simmer, adding more broth if needed to loosen it up. You may not need all the broth. Taste, add salt and pepper as needed and adjust the balance, adding a bit more vinegar or syrup to your taste. Finish the sauce with a half-teaspoon more Port, to bring that flavor up a bit. Just before you finish cooking the sauce, you can (if you want) warm the rest of the cherries in it. Or, serve them raw as a garnish, which I like to do if I’m making a salad with the dish.

Let the duck breasts rest for at least a couple of minutes to stop the juices from pouring out when you cut into them, then slice and present, with the sauce and cherries and whatever accompaniment you’ve decided on.