Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to work alongside an insanely talented chef while he taught romantic cooking classes to couples. He used my apartment at the time, which had a huge kitchen, for the classes and so I got to tag along. I’ve always considered myself a pretty adventurous cook, but there are still some things that intimidate me. One of those things is sauce making.
For me, sauce making was the scary elephant in the kitchen. I knew sauces could take my food to another level, but they always seemed so complex and strangely high risk. I mean, I slave away over a bubbling pot of liquid which, with one wrong move, could break into an unsalvageable mess.
On the menu for many of Chef Fed’s classes was a port and chocolate sauce that seriously blew my mind. I made it my singular goal to learn how to make this sauce. It was really quite a simple sauce, with just 4 core ingredients (port, chocolate, butter, salt), but it took me a while of just watching to gain the confidence to do it myself. When I finally did, it was just as delicious as I had remembered.
The closest thing to a secret to sauce making that Fed taught me was to add the butter in cold! It might seem strange, especially as so many recipes don’t mention this, but Fed says (and I think it makes sense) that when you are making a sauce it’s essentially and emulsification of a bunch of things that essentially don’t want to be best friends (like oil and water). In order to make it all blend, you have to baby it a little, whisking it into a smooth cohesive substance. By adding cold butter into a hot liquid, you buy yourself some extra time in this process as the butter melts more gradually than if it was room temperature.
Since that unforgettable port chocolate sauce, I’ve been working on upping my sauce game across the board. From making gravy with roast chicken drippings, to red wine reductions to spoon over lamb, I’ve been making an effort to learn different flavor profiles and sauce making methods. When a friend asked me to make him duck, I jumped on the chance to try something new (for me) and to make use of a handful of dried cherries left over from a batch of browned butter cherry cookies. With port as a base, I made a classic port cherry sauce that was velvety smooth and paired beautifully with the duck.
Duck with a Port Cherry Sauce (Serves 2-4)
- 4 pieces of duck, either breast, legs, or an assortment. (I buy a whole duck and break it down myself)
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/3 cup port
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/3 cup dried cherries
- 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter
- salt to taste
- If using duck legs, rub with salt and herbs (I like thyme) and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. 2 hrs before you’d like to serve dinner, preheat oven to 325F. Rinse the legs, pat dry, and brown in a oven safe skillet. Once well browned (the skin will release from the skillet easily when it has crisped), cover the skillet with tinfoil and place into the oven. Cook for approx. 1 hr and 15 minutes. Check for doneness. Once cooked through, raise oven temp to 400F, uncover the legs, and roast for an additional 15 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Note: If you do not have an oven safe skillet, brown the legs in a pan and then transfer to a baking dish, pouring the liquid in the pan into the dish as well, before covering and putting in the oven.
- Score the skin on duck breasts all the way through, being careful not to hit the meat, and sear skin side down in a hot stainless steel or caste iron pan (avoid pans with non-stick coatings). After about 8 minutes, or when the skin is brown and crisp and the majority of the fat has been rendered, flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes for medium rare. Remove from pan and rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Drain all but 1 tbsp of fat from the pan you used to cook the duck breast. Return to medium heat and sauté shallot until translucent. Add port, stirring to combine, and reduce liquid by 1/2. Add chicken stock and dried cherries, bring to a boil until slightly reduced and then lower heat to simmer, stirring constantly.
- Add in cold butter, whisking constantly, until a smooth sauce forms. Season to taste.
- Serve sauce over duck with potatoes roasted in the remaining duck fat, risotto, or rice and a large salad.