Dark cherries in a rich, port and red wine sauce perfectly complement the flavour of tender, juicy duck breasts.
And the real beauty of this dish? For an indulgent treat, you can cook it with the skin on, until it's golden and crispy for a treat... or you can cook it without the skin, like you would a tender piece of fillet steak and enjoy a really tasty piece of meat which is actually quite low calorie once you remove the skin! Delicious served with fennel-roasted celeriac and leek, with simple steamed fine asparagus (see tips for how). Potato Dauphinoise would be rather nice on the side too (but that's a recipe for another time)!
And both ways, you've got an incredibly tasty meal with a rich and indulgent tasting sauce.
This serves two people with a generous amount of sauce, and is easily doubled. It would also go nicely with certain other game (the more flavoursome varieties such as wood pigeon, or venison).
If you're counting calories, and cook this with two skinless duck breasts, it will be 325 calories per serving, plus 74 calories per serving if you want to cook the suggested accompaniments with it (so 399 calories per serving. [Calories in square brackets]
If you happen to be counting calories and want to keep the skin on, you're looking at around 647 calories per portion for the duck and sauce. But you do get some tasty duck fat to pour off and use on your roasties another time...
- 2 duck breasts (about 397g for both with the skin on) [around 446 calories per breast, cooked] or 2 skinless duck breasts (270g, e.g. Gressingham) [248 calories for both]
- Oil for brushing them with (not extra virgin olive oil) a tsp is plenty 
For the sauce
- Butter (5g, or use oil for dairy free) 
- 2 small or 1 medium shallot, very finely chopped (25g) 
- 1 fresh bay leaf (or use a couple of sprigs of thyme, or a sprig of rosemary)
- 50ml port 
- 100ml red wine 
- 200ml beef stock (e.g. Knorr) 
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar 
- 125g dark red cherries, pitted and halved (if you can't get fresh, you can use frozen, or use morello cherries in juice from a jar, drained would be a good substitute - you could even use the cherry juice instead of the wine and port) 
- 20g redcurrant jelly, or pomegranate molasses if you have it - or use 1 (15ml) tbsp honey if you prefer [50-53]
- 1-2 tbsp cornflour to thicken [12-24]
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if desired
Roasted celeriac and leeks with crushed fennel seeds and steamed fine asparagus (see below the method).
I prefer to get the sauce going before I put the duck on, as the sauce can easily be re-heated while the duck is resting, if it cooks before the duck.
To make the sauce
Gently saute the shallots in the butter with the bay leaf (or herb sprigs) in a pan until completely softened, but not browned. Add the port and red wine, turn up the heat until bubbling, and reduce by half, stirring occasionally (depending on the heat and pan, this will take around 5 to 10 minutes). Add the beef stock and red wine vinegar, and reduce by half again. Add the cherries, molasses/jelly/honey and gently simmer for another 5 minutes, and then thicken your sauce to your preference (start with 1 tsp of cornflour, mixed with about a tbsp cold water, mix thoroughly, then drizzle into sauce while stirring - a whisk is best - simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened, and if you want it thicker, repeat). Once your sauce is to your preferred consistency, try a little, and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. You can set the sauce aside, then re-heat when required. Remove the bay leaf / herbs before serving.
To cook the duck If you dont want to waste the skin (or if you're cooking for two or more, and some want the skin on), you can always cook it skin on then remove the skin and give to another lucky recipient (human or otherwise) and pat dry your duck breast on kitchen towel, before slicing and serving. I do find it easiest to cook skin on for everyone, then just take mine off, then I'm not messing about with different cooking times.
If your duck has skin on: Score the skin of the duck breasts diagonally each way (this means take a very sharp knife, and cut lines through the skin, and a little of the fat, but not as far as the flesh, every inch or so) then brush the skin with oil (or rub it in with your fingers), and season with salt. Take a good, heavy based pan (non-stick, if possible) and place the duck breasts into the cold pan, skin side down. Turn the heat up to medium high and leave skin side down for 8 minutes (or less/more if your duck breasts are smaller/larger). Turn over the duck breasts, pour off the excess fat and turn the heat down. Cook for a further 6 minutes for perfectly tender pink duck breasts (adjust the cooking time if you want them rare, or well done), then remove from the pan and rest in a tent of foil (not tight) for TEN minutes.
For skinless duck breasts: Cook as you would fillet steak depending on whether you like it rare, medium rare, well done etc. - medium-rare, to a maximum of medium for duck breasts is good, you can check they're cooked to your liking by pressing the flesh with your finger to see how much give it has (if you want to know what it should feel like, a good guide is to use the pad of your thumb - e.g. touch your left thumb and first finger together like you're making an 'OK' sign, and press the pad of your left thumb with your right finger - it should feel squishy: this is 'rare'! Thumb to middle finger is medium rare; ring finger is medium, and little finger is well done!) - or use a meat thermometer - medium rare is about 55C. If you keep turning the duck breasts every 30 seconds to a minute, they will be cooked through really evenly, or you can just leave for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, then test them. The most important thing is to rest them for at least FIVE minutes (up to ten) once you've cooked them, wrapped loosely in foil.
Serve the duck breasts sliced on the long diagonal, with a little of the sauce drizzled over them, and the rest in a jug.
- Serves two, 74 calories per serving.
- 1/2 a small celeriac (280g after peeling) 
- 1 leek (80g after peeling and trimming) 
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed 
- Oil spray (about 8 sprays, e.g. Bertolli) 
- Salt and pepper 
- 100g fine asparagus (or use fine green beans etc.) 
Method for accompaniments
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7. Peel the celeriac, and cut into 1.5 inch cubes/chunks. Blanch in boiling salted water for 7-8 minutes, then drain. Top and tail the leek, peel the first layer off if necessary, and rinse any dirt out. Cut carefully into 1.5 inch lengths with a sharp knife (the leek may split if you're not careful). Put the celeriac and leek either into an oven tray (best lined with greaseproof paper), or in a pyrex dish or similar, spray with oil spray (up to 11 sprays) or add a teaspoon of oil (add more if you're not counting calories) add the crushed fennel seeds, season and toss together. Cook for 30 minutes, turning once. Steam the fine asparagus over boiling water for 5 minutes, until tender (longer, if it's normal asparagus - around 8 minutes).