Duck With Figs
At the first Gourmet Gala for the March of Dimes in 1976, I was asked to be one of the cooks. I decided to do a recipe I thought I’d mastered. Andre Soltner himself had told me how to get the duck crisp and still serve it slightly pink. Midway through the evening I noticed that all my professional peers were on stage judging and I was the only one at a stove amidst such celebrity cooks as Pauline Trigere and Joel Grey. I had everything to lose, I realized.
And then I realized, I’d never carved a duck. I enlisted one of the cooks, an incredibly stylish upper east sider whose name I’ve alas forgotten. He just happened to be an expert carver. My platter of exquisitely sliced duck with its cooked and raw figs looked like a photograph from a food magazine. James Beard announced that my duck was the winner.
My Duck with Figs that took a Prize:
1 fresh duck, unchilled
4 teaspoons shallots
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
1¾ cups Madeira
9 dried California figs
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 cup duck demi glace, or a dark demi glace (if you can’t find duck demi glace use veal demi glace available at Whole Foods, D’Artagnan, Citarella, Dean & Deluca, and most fancy food shops)
Lemon or Tabasco sauce, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon glace de viande, recipe follows, or can be purchased at gourmet shops
Preheat oven to 500° F. Remove as much loose fat from the duck as possible (be sure to remove the fat glands at the base of the tail). Render the duck fat in a heavy sauté pan and brown duck on all sides, turning it with two wooden spoons, being careful not to break the skin.
Place duck in a roasting pan and cook for 40 minutes, pricking and basting several times. When duck is cooked, set aside on a warm platter in an area free from drafts. It will be very crisp on the outside and slightly pink on the inside – juice will be slightly rosy.
While the duck is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a heavy saucepan sauté the shallots in 1 tablespoon butter for a few minutes. Add ½ cup Madeira to the pan and cook until Madeira is completely reduced. Add another ½ cup Madeira and again reduce the Madeira until it is gone. Ad ¾ cups more Madeira and the figs and cook the mixture until the figs are plumped and tender, but not mushy. Remove the figs from the pan and reserve.
In a separate heavy saucepan, add vinegar and sugar and swirl over moderately high heat until sugar has dissolved completely. Bring mixture to a boil and continue to swirl pan until the syrup turns a rich nut brown. Remove pan from heat immediately. Add demi glace and stir.
Strain the reserved Madeira mixture and press the shallots with a wooden spoon to obtain any absorbed liquid. Add to the caramel mixture. If the sauce is too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon or Tabasco sauce; it will have an adult sweetness to it. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat sauce over moderate heat and add glace de viande. Stir in additional butter.
Serve the duck on a bed of Autumn leaves and garnish it with fresh figs cut like flowers. The duck will have very crisp skin but still be pink inside. Slice the breast thinly and serve several slices on each plate with a little sauce poured over. Serves three.
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