With Mardi Gras looming, I thought it might be fun to cook up some New Orleans-styled goodies featuring duck, andouille sausage and Creole seasoning. These rich ingredients are typical of the fare from this town that knows how to party — an instinct that goes into overdrive during Mardi Gras.
And in this recipe, I've figured out a couple ways for us to have our cake and eat it, too. It delivers big flavour without the usual complement of fat and calories.
We start with the star of this show, the breast of duck, a well-known fount of flavour that — depending on how you cook it — doesn't have to be terribly heavy. I do recommend that you saute the breast with the skin on; that's how to maximize its deliciousness and moistness.
But you can remove and discard the skin — along with most of the serious fat and calories — afterward. In happy fact, duck meat without the skin is leaner than white meat chicken. And duck fat is not bad fat. Yes, some of it is saturated, but a large percentage of it is mono- and poly-unsaturated, with the same properties, incredibly enough, as olive oil.
The duck and its sauce are brightened with homemade Creole seasoning, which has at least as much flavour, and significantly less salt, than many store-bought versions. My version is modeled on the spice mixes of two of New Orleans's greatest chefs — Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.
A great all-purpose mix, my blend works equally well with chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, eggs and vegetables. In fact, you might want to double the recipe and keep the extra at the ready for future use. Here, I season the duck ahead of time and let it stand for 15 minutes, which allows the spices to flavour the meat more deeply. But if you're short on time, just sprinkle the duck with the seasoning right before cooking.
The tomato-based sauce is flavoured not only with my Creole spice mix, but with Louisiana's holy trinity of vegetables: onion, celery and bell pepper. Also, in a nod to the city's trademark richness, there's a soupcon of Andouille sausage. Imported by Louisiana's French settlers in the mid-1700s, andouille usually is made of smoked and coarsely ground pork. It's spicy, too, with the American version having picked up more heat than the French over the centuries. There's so little andouille called for here that you might consider using the full-fat version, but you're welcome to seek out leaner brands at the supermarket; they'll be made of chicken and turkey, not pork. In either case, this sauce, like the Creole seasoning, is widely useful. Try it with shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork and see for yourself.
By the way, if duck has always struck you as gamey, you haven't tried Peking (also known as Long Island) duck breast, the kind employed in this recipe. I serve duck breast once a week at home and the family loves it. It's so quick and easy to prepare that I put it in the same category as steak. As a matter of fact, duck breasts pair up nicely with any of the sauces you'd use with steak.
Meanwhile, back to Mardi Gras. Ladies and gents, let the good times roll!
SPICY SAUTEED CREOLE DUCK BREASTS
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (40 minutes active)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 ounces andouille sausage, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning (purchased or use the recipe below), divided
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped or crushed canned tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)
2 whole Peking duck breasts (4 halves, about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
In a medium saucepan over medium, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a bowl, then return the pan to the heat and add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of Creole spice mix (or more if you want a very spicy sauce) and the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the chicken broth and tomatoes, then bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until much of the liquid has reduced, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
While the sauce is simmering, using a very sharp knife, lightly score the skin on each duck breast half in a crisscross pattern, cutting well into but not entirely through the meat. Pat the breasts dry and sprinkle them on both sides with the remaining 2 teaspoons Creole spice mix, making sure that the mix gets into the cracks of the scored skin. Let stand for 15 minutes.
In a large cold skillet, place the duck breasts, skin side down. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook until the skin looks very crispy, about 12 minutes. Do not pour off the fat; the liquid fat in the pan helps to render out the fat in the skin.
When the duck skin is crisp, transfer the breasts to a plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan. Return the duck to the skillet, skin side up, and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the duck to a clean plate, skin side up. Cover loosely with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Pour off any remaining fat in the skillet. Add the sauce and the browned sausage to the skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add any juices that have collected on the plate the duck breasts are on.
Remove and discard the skin from the duck, if desired (separating it by slicing off the skin with a paring knife). Thinly slice the duck and arrange it on 6 serving plates. Spoon some of the sauce over each portion.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 110 calories from fat (32 per cent of total calories); 13 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 255 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 50 g protein; 670 mg sodium.
Start to finish: 5 minutes
Makes about 1/3 cup
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."