Sunday, August 16, 2009

Julia Child and the Impressive Breasts

I had the honor of meeting Julia Child at a reception/dinner put on by PBS. They were honoring her and Jacques Pepin for their show, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, and the release of their companion book. A grand lady, full of life and smiles. I watched in awe as these two icons of cooking were on-stage, in a living room setting, glasses of wine in hand, exchanging an easy banter of "pepper" preferences (Julia preferring white pepper, and Jacques black) and other cooking techniques.

As guests of the wine sponsor, Kendall-Jackson, we were seated in a cat's bird seat, one table from Julia herself. Dinner was being served, it was Duck, specifically, it was duck breasts, more specifically, it was HUGE duck breasts. They were not artfully cut into slices and displayed, they simply were, a breast on a plate with something else that I can't even remember because the breasts were so HUGE! I watched with interest as the plate was placed in front of Julia, her eyes got very large as she stared down into the plate and quipped "Oh my, that is a VERY impressive breast."

I found out later, from a kitchen worker that the catering manager was going along the line looking at all the breasts and actually removing those he found to be too small; he wanted BIG breasts. Well, sometimes big isn't always better.

After dinner I decided I could not pass on the opportunity to speak to Mrs. Child; I had to tell her of her influence on me, how she helped me get over any fear I might have had to try something new with cooking. She greeted me warmly as I sat in an empty chair next to her. As I spoke with her, she was so gracious, like it was nothing at all, or the that it was the very least she could do, but none the less, was you could tell she was happy to hear that she had influenced me. Then, I couldn't help it..."I'm sure you saw the Saturday Night Live bit featuring you" I inquired. "Oh my yes" she said, "I found it to be hilarious, Mr. Ackroyd did a fantastic job of being me, don't you think?"...that was Julia, making sure she brought me into the conversation. Yes, Mrs. Child, I thought he did you fine. But you will always be, one in a million.

In honor of the Impressive Breasts...

Duck 2 Ways with Port-Cherry Sauce

4 duck breasts*

4 duck leg/thigh combos*

1 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 cup Sherry

12 frozen dark cherries, unsweetened, thawed and halved

1 cup chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup ruby port

1 fresh thyme sprig

1 teaspoon corn starch, disolved in watr

1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut 1" thick

Whisk the soy sauce and sherry in a medium bowl to blend. Using a sharp knife, make diagonal cuts about 1 inch apart in the duck skin, but not into the meat. Place the duck, skin side up, in a baking dish and pour the marinade over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours. (Conversely, you can put this all in a zip top bag, remove a much air as possible and seal; place in a baking dish, in case of leaks - this is my preferred method to marinate anything).

After the marinating time is up, remove the leg/thigh combo. Heat the oven to 400; put the leg/thighs into a baking dish, cover with foil and bake 1 hour, uncover and bake 1 hour more.

Meanwhile, bring the cherries, chicken and beef stock, port and thyme sprig to a boil in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; place the duck breast, skin side down, in the skillet. Cook until the skin is crispy, about 10 minutes; turn and continue to cook to desired degree of doneness (duck breast should be medium to rare, do not overcook or it will tough).

Add the cornstarch mixture to the port/cherry sauce; whisking constantly add the butter, a piece at a time; taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (in honor of Julia, let's use white pepper)

Place a leg/thigh on each plate. Slice the breast and fan out. Spoon the port/cherry sauce over and serve.

*You can buy your own duck and cut them yourself...just follow the simple instructions in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Or ask your butcher to do it for you.

Excellent with some Wild Rice and Green Beans with Almonds.

To serve with: Pinot Noir, either a fruit forward one, or a more Burgundian style. They will both play nice with the richness of the duck and the sweetness of the sauce.

As Julia would say: Bon Appetite.

As LindySez: Cheers and enjoy!

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