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COOKING

Duck, Duck, Juice

Even at home, duck breasts cooked in rich sauce is a meal fit for a restaurant.

duck breasts with white beans
(Illustration by Jonathan Carlson; styling by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven)

Sometimes it's fun to play chef at home and present a meal suited to a restaurant. If you have the urge, and the confidence, put duck breasts on your menu. These plump, boneless pieces come with their thick, fatty skin intact. The skin needs to be rendered until crisp and golden, but the meat should cook only until rosy (think leg of lamb). The duck is especially spectacular served with a rich sauce, made by simmering wine or port with chicken stock until the mixture looks syrupy. This seems difficult until you begin boiling down the liquids and watch them turn saucelike with very little coaxing. It does make a mess at the stove (and unlike a restaurant chef, you may have no one to mop up for you), but this fancy cooking is worth the elbow grease.

DUCK BREASTS WITH WHITE BEANS
SERVES 4

BEANS
2 cups dried small white beans
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the beans in a large bowl with enough water to cover them. Set aside for half a day or overnight.

Tip the beans into a colander, rinse them, and transfer them to a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the beans (about 2 quarts). Add the garlic and rosemary and bring the mixture to a boil.

Turn the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Drain into a colander and transfer the beans to a clean saucepan, discarding the garlic and rosemary. Add plenty of salt and pepper and set aside.

DUCK AND CHARD

2 whole boneless duck breasts, split to make 4 halves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Trim the edges of the skin on the breasts to remove any fat that drapes over the sides of the meat.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Use a paring knife to score the skin on the breasts at 3/4-inch intervals without cutting through to the edges of the skin or to the meat. Season the breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.

Set the breasts skin side down in the hot skillet. Cook without disturbing them for 5 minutes or until they are golden brown and the edges begin to lift from the pan. Using tongs, carefully turn the breasts over. Turn the heat to medium and cook for 3 minutes more or until the inside is rosy (it's OK to cut into the meat to check). Transfer the duck to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil; set aside.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the chard and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until it is wilted but still bright green. Transfer the chard to a plate.

Pour the wine into the pan and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Reduce to 2 tablespoons. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer gently until it reduces by half.

Meanwhile, heat the beans in their saucepan, stirring gently, until hot. Stir in the chard and parsley.

Slice the duck 3/4 inch thick. Spoon the bean mixture onto each of 4 plates. Arrange the duck on top. Spoon the wine sauce over the meat and serve at once.

PAULA WOLFERT'S PORT WINE SAUCE
SERVES 4

The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes From France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine, which Paula Wolfert originally wrote in 1983, introduced American chefs to cassoulet, rare duck breast, and foie gras from the region. Now the Sonoma, California, author has expanded the popular book, which includes this sauce for duck breasts. Prepare the meat according to the other recipe on this page.

1 cup ruby port
Juice of 1 orange
3 cups chicken stock, reduced to 1, cups
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Remove the duck from the skillet and discard the fat in the pan. Add the port and orange juice and bring to a boil. Tip the mixture into a saucepan. Boil steadily until it reduces to a glaze.

Pour in the stock and continue simmering for 2 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half.

Pour in the cream without stirring. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you like. Serve with sliced duck breast.

SHOPPING NOTES Most butchers sell either Moulard breasts (a half breast weighs 12 to 16 ounces) or Long Island breasts (about 4 ounces for a half). Both are $11 to $12 per pound. If the whole breast weighs between 11/4 and 2 pounds, use only 1 whole breast in these recipes. To order, call The Butcher Shop, South End (617-423-4800); John Dewar & Co., Newton Centre (617-964-3577); Kinnealey Quality Meats, Milton Marketplace (617-696-2260); New England Gourmet at Broadway Markets, Cambridge (617-547-2334); or New England Meat Market, Peabody (978-531-0846).

ASK THE COOKS: Debugged

By Peter J. Kelly

I have moths in my pantry, where I keep grains, flours, nuts, and beans. I've tried keeping the food in plastic containers with tight lids and in glass mason jars, but to no avail. What's the safest way of getting rid of these pests? Are these the same moths as those that attack garments?

A. STEFANOS /// Brookline

Dried fruits, certain flours, cereals, and grains are highly desirable to flour moths. Short of seeing adult moths flying around, you know you have an infestation when you spot cloudy webbing in a corner or when, say, a plastic bag of whole wheat flour feels sticky. (Moths and larvae leave a residue behind when they feed.) These are different from the fabric-eating moths, whose adults are rarely observed flying.

To solve the problem, get rid of any suspect foods. Empty the pantry, inspect all packages, and if you are not sure, throw them away. (A favorite hiding spot for moths is inside cereal boxes between the liner and the cardboard.) Don't keep huge amounts of grain, flour, nuts, or bird seed, as they may carry the insect eggs. Wash all surfaces with mild soap and water. When dry, vacuum thoroughly to ensure no insects are left behind. Avoid pesticides, which can leave toxic residue. You can try organic remedies such as placing cloves or peppercorns in the pantry, as pests seem to avoid them or use pheromone-baited traps to lure adult moths, but we have found the only sure way to stay pest-free is to keep every single item in tightly sealed plastic or glass containers.

Peter J. Kelly is a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

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