Duck Breast Stuffed with Jamon, Apple & Brioche
The freedom of blog writing is often oppressive. You can say whatever you want; it’s your stage from which to project the deepest catacombs of your soul. That’s a lot of pressure when all you want to do is convey the succulent fortitude of a perfectly-stuffed breast of duck. But really, would you be splaying that Moulard for all the world to see if it weren’t for the events of your past conspiring together to make you who you are today?
Some of you may know that I lived on half of Noah’s Ark when I was wee. My father, with visions of Laura Ingalls dancing (not pole-dancing, barn-dancing) in his head, moved my mixed-marriage bi-racial family from Southern California to the Ozarks of Idaho when I was young. In order to complete his coterie of characters, he decided animals were in order. After all, when you have ten acres and you’ve deprived your children of friends, surf, sand, tacos, and all things that come with a SoCal childhood, the least you can do is provide them with the amusement of animalia.
His vision stopped short at reproduction, so he got one of every “ranch-like” animal known to man. We had a cow named Slobber who has graced the pages of this blog aplenty (he was my best friend until we ate him; I became vegetarian for 20 years as a result), a horse named Smokey, a goat, a sheep, a goose, a frog (I trapped and caught the frog- his name was Max and I kept him in a trash can like Oscar the Grouch), and even a Stork for a brief moment in time.
Getting just one of every animal under the sun is why I call that thankfully-bygone home a half-Ark. We would not have been able to repopulate the earth had we found ourselves alive after a great flood, except for with ducks. For some reason, he got two ducks. I was always painfully aware of our half-Ark status and had nightmares as a child of what would happen if the future of the world really fell on our pioneering shoulders. Those nightmares were quickly supplanted with even more torrid ones when I realized the potential for the horrific multiplication of ducks alone, should we find ourselves the sole survivors of the flood.
Mind you, I am in no way religious (except for being a Jedi), but I think my parents felt guilty and so took me to church once every three or four years. Looking back, I’m sure I heard the story of Noah’s Ark during one of these rare visits and it must have really shaken me as it’s the defining myth of my childhood. I was rendered virtually catatonic in my dreams (you know, that cement-like, fearful state?) every time the duck-terror took hold. In the terror, my mind conjured a world where only ducks roamed- pecking, nipping, corralling, stampeding, and shitting on every ounce of matter they came across.
These nightmares were largely rooted in reality. The fact is, ducks are mean sons of bitches. Of all the animals on my non-utopian acreage, I could never understand why my dad decided to double up on ducks. They could send our dogs scurrying for cover with one barely audible quack. They constantly tried to trip our horse, and always stole his food. They did not have an ounce of fear of any other creature on the Ark, least of all me. By the time the ducks were introduced I was already a vegetarian, but I often entertained thoughts of one of those ducks being the first hunk of flesh I’d let pass my pristine lips.
It’s only fitting then, that years’ later, duck is one of my favorite meats. No one will argue duck confit with me, I am sure, but I often hear people describe duck breast as gamey and tough. When I hear that I shake my head because, as with most foods that aren’t chicken, it’s imperative to cook duck correctly in order to maximize flavor and texture.
Stuffing a duck breast is a great way to pack in flavor as well as lock moisture into the meat itself as the layer of fat is rendering. Stuffing a duck breast with brioche and jamon iberico is just plain luxurious and one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. Take that, oh ducky nemeses from my childhood! The main components of the stuffing are jamon, apples, buttermilk and brioche. The jamon is there for salinity (especially because I didn’t brine these breasts). The apples sweeten and soften the dark-style breast meat. The buttermilk adds moisture and a touch of tartness. The brioche binds everything together as well as providing a cushioned textural contrast to the meatiness of the duck.
I served the duck breast roulades with parsnip cakes and rapini sformatino to complete the composition. A sformatino is like a soufflé with less egg that is named for the shape it takes on as a result of being cooked and popped out of a ramekin-like dish. You can sformatino (note use of noun as verb- clever!) anything, just puree it with some egg, pour into greased ramekins, bake, and invert to set free.
Jamon-Apple-Brioche Stuffed Duck Breast
Takes 1 hour
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 small shallot, chopped fine
- ½ seasonal apple, chopped fine
- 1/8 lb jamon iberico (or prosciutto) chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
- 2 c brioche chopped into ¼” cubes
- ½ c buttermilk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 Moulard duck breasts
- Sea salt, to taste
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 apple, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 star anise
- 2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ¼ c heavy cream
- In a large skillet, sautee shallot and apple in butter for two minutes until slightly wilted. Add jamon, garlic and thyme and stir to incorporate, about one additional minute. Add brioche and stir until evenly combined. Add buttermilk 1/8 c at a time stirring constantly until it evaporates. Once second batch of buttermilk has evaporated, allow brioche to brown slightly, then season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
- Gently separate the fat from the meat of the duck breast, leaving a hinge on one side so as not to lose the stuffing out that side. Once stuffing has cooled, spoon it gently into the cavity created by the fat separation. Carefully reclose the breast.
- With a sharp knife, cut a crosshatch pattern across the fat-side of the duck breast to ensure even and rapid searing.
- Tie the duck breasts crosswise with butcher twine in 3-4 places along the breasts to hold the stuffing in. It may not seem like you need to at first, but when the skin sears, shrinkage occurs and stuffing is exposed to fall out. Sprinkle sea salt over the duck breasts.
- In a large skillet over high heat, sear the fat side of the duck breasts for approximately ten minutes, or until the fat is nearly burned off and a crisp skin remains. During the sear, pour the fat out of the skillet three or four times as it pools. This ensures a better sear. Cover the skillet and flip the breasts on the meat side for approximately three minutes for medium rare.
- Meanwhile, add the butter, apple, anise, and cardamom to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the apple is very soft and the herbs have been infused, about ten minutes. Remove the herbs and add the heavy cream. Puree with an immersion blender then strain through a chinois. Reheat and reserve.
- To serve, place a dollop of apple cream in the center of a plate. Slice each duck breast into several roulades approx 2” high and set vertically on the apple cream. I serve with parsnip cakes that have been fried in the remaining duck fat, as well as rapini sformatini.