The bright acidity of rhubarb is a great counterpoint to the meaty richness of duck breast. This is a wonderful dish for the wood oven, because that faint lick of smokiness infused in both the meat and the compote really ties everything together. It’s also very simple, but the depth of flavor will make it seem as if you worked on the dish for hours. Savory is delicious, underused herb that adds a nice minerality to the compote. If you can’t find it, try substituting marjoram or chervil.
2 boneless duck breasts
10 oz rhubarb
1 T plus 1 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 C plus 1 T sugar
1/4 C red wine
1 T butter
1 T fresh savory, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste
First, clean up the duck breasts: Remove any silver skin from the flesh and any excess fat and skin from around the edges of each breast. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of each breast in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut through to the meat. Set aside.
Preheat a roasting pan or large skillet in your wood oven. Meanwhile, cut the onion into a small dice. Do the same for the rhubarb. (Hopefully it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: You need to remove any green leafy parts from the rhubarb and use the red stalks only – the leaves are toxic.) Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to your preheated pan, then add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and sweat until translucent, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the rhubarb and the sugar to the pan and allow to cook until the rhubarb becomes soft and starts to break down. If you get a little caramelization during this process, all the better. Once the rhubarb has starting falling apart, add the red wine and allow to reduce until your mixture has taken on a somewhat thick, jam-like consistency, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and savory. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.
To cook your duck breasts, place a heavy skillet in the mouth of your oven, where the floor is still warm but the air above the pan isn’t blazing hot. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan. Season the duck breasts liberally with salt and pepper and then place them in the pan skin side down. What you are trying to do is slowly render the fat on top of the breast, so that you are left with crispy skin, a thin, unctuous layer of fat, and rosy medium-rare meat.
Allow the breasts to slowly render, draining off any excess fat as necessary. This process can take as long as 15 minutes, depending on the level of heat you’re working with. If you notice that the meat side of the breast is starting to cook, pull the pan farther back out of the oven. At this point you only want to render fat, not cook the meat.
Once a good deal of fat has rendered and the skin is beginning to turn golden, slide your pan into the heart of the oven and allow the breasts to roast for 3-5 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven. You’re looking for crispy mahogany-hued skin and medium-rare meat. Again, depending on your oven temp, you may cook the breasts entirely on the skin side. If you check and the skin is done but the meat still feels under, flip the breasts over onto the meat side and cook for 30-45 seconds.
Remove from the pan and allow to rest for five minutes. Cut the duck into thin slices and serve with the compote. Enjoy it as-is, or serve with some braised lentils and wilted spinach, and you have a fine meal on your hands.