Duck breasts are ideal for making a quick but elegant meal. The breasts from birds fattened for foie gras are large and quite expensive (they are usually labelled magret de canard), but there is little shrinkage because they are cooked so quickly. Even the fat that renders out of the skin while the breasts are cooking doesn’t have to be wasted; it’s fantastic for sautéing potatoes.

Jasmine tea-smoked duck breasts with spiced plum sauce

Tea smoking is common in Chinese cuisines, and the process is fast and easy. I chose jas­mine tea for its floral fragrance and flavour but, if you like, you can use something stronger. Be sure to use loose tea leaves, not anything in a tea bag.

Smoking this quickly doesn’t cook the meat any further, so make sure the breasts are done to your liking before putting them in the wok.

For the duck breasts:
Two duck magret, about 450 grams each
Fine sea salt
2 grams jasmine tea leaves
10 grams uncooked rice grains
20 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
20 grams Chinese cane sugar, broken and crumbled into small pieces

For the spiced plum sauce:
400 grams purple or red plums
30 grams shallots
1 cinnamon stick, about 5cm long
5 whole cloves
A 15-gram slice of peeled fresh ginger
About 10 grams granulated sugar
About 10ml fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

1 Use paper towels to blot up the moisture from the skin and meat sides of the duck breasts. Place them skin side-up on a cutting board. Using a very sharp knife, cut the skin in a 5mm diamond pattern, taking care not to slice into the flesh. Turn the breasts over and sprinkle the flesh with salt, then flip them over again and sprinkle salt on the skin. Leave them at room temperature for an hour. (Or they can be refrigerated for longer. Take them from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking them.)

2 Make the plum sauce. Remove the pits from the plums then cut the flesh into small dice. Finely mince the shallots. Break the cinnamon stick into two pieces. Use a meat mallet to lightly crush the ginger. Put the plums, shallot, cinnamon stick and ginger into a medium-sized pan with the cloves and sugar. Mix in the lemon juice and about 45ml of water, then place the pan over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook at a low simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Taste the mixture and add more ginger, sugar and/or lemon juice, if needed. If the cinnamon and clove flavours are too strong at this point, remove them. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes, stirring often, adding a little water if the mixture sticks to the pan. The consistency should be that of a rough, fairly thick purée. Remove from the heat.

3 Once again, use paper towels to blot the moisture from the surface of the duck breasts. Place them skin side-down in an unoiled skillet, preferably black cast iron. Put the skillet over a high flame and let the breasts cook until the skin is medium-brown (about five minutes from when you first put them on the heat). Transfer the breasts to a plate and pour off as much fat as possible from the skillet.

Put the breasts back in the skillet, skin side-up. Turn the heat to medium, cover the pan with a lid and let the breasts cook for three to five minutes. Remove the lid, turn the breasts over and cook them skin side-down over a high flame for a minute or two. The breasts need to cook for about 10 to 12 minutes in total for medium-rare. Place them skin side-up on a cutting board and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

4 To smoke the duck breasts, put a double layer of foil in the bottom of an unoiled wok. Mix the tea leaves, rice, flour and cane sugar, then spread this mixture over the foil in a thin layer. Put a rack with low legs in the wok then place the duck breasts skin side-up on the rack. Cover the wok with the lid. Place the wok over a high flame.

As the tea mixture heats, you will see smoke come out of the sides of the wok. The smoke will be white, then light yellow, then dark yellow. As soon as the smoke turns dark yellow, lower the heat and start timing. Smoke for one minute, then turn off the flame and leave for two minutes. Remove the breasts from the wok.

5 Warm the plum sauce and remove the cinnamon, cloves and ginger (if you haven’t done so already). Taste again for seasonings and correct, if needed. Mix in some freshly ground black pepper. Thinly slice the duck breasts then serve with the plum sauce. Serves three to four.


Potatoes sautéed in duck fat

Choose small potatoes, each about 2cm in diameter.

400 grams small potatoes
About 60 grams rendered duck fat, from cooking the duck breasts
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Wash the potatoes then put them in a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender but not overcooked. Drain the potatoes then cut them in half when they are cool enough to handle.

2 Heat the duck fat in a skillet placed over a high flame. Add the potatoes and mix so they are liberally coated with the fat (you might need to add more). Sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are hot and start to brown in spots. If they stick to the skillet, mix in more fat. Sprinkle with black pepper before serving.