Duck Breast with Chinese Style Plums


A plum compote inspired by the iconic taste of Chinese plum sauce. photo: Abigail Weber

I developed this recipe quite a few weeks ago and then promptly forgot all about it. Forgot about it, that is, until I went to dinner with my brother and sister last night and my brother ordered a delicious-looking crispy skinned duck breast that had me filled with food envy! Now, while my brother is a very good cook, beef reigns supreme for him (he still claims he’s allergic to seafood). Recently though, he’s been consciously branching out in his food choices. As it turns out, he’s got a great palate. He absolutely loved the duck and devoured it before I was able to steal a bite. And so, this recipe here is a little shout out to my brother. Hopefully he’ll give it a whirl and find he likes Chinese-style plum compote too. Or, perhaps he’ll just enjoy it with a fine pinot noir.

While I developed this back in August when plums were abundant, you should be able to find them for another few weeks yet so I don’t think I’ve missed my window for this one.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 whole star anise
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing), or substitute cooking sherry
1 pound medium firm black plums, pitted and cut in eighths
4 boneless skin-on duck breasts (about 6-ounces each)
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Spray oil for cooking the duck

  1. In a wide, shallow pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot, ginger, and star anise and cook, stirring, until the shallot is softened, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and cooking wine to the pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the plums and stir to coat all over with the sugar mixture. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, covered, about 8 minutes, checking to see that the plums are beginning to break down but don’t fall apart completely (this will depend upon the ripeness of your plums). Uncover and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy coating on the plums. When you are finished with the compote, cover it and set it aside to keep warm.
  4. Using a small, sharp knife, score the skin of the duck by making 3 or 4 diagonal slashes across. Season the skin with the Chinese 5-spice and salt. Lightly grease a medium frying pan with spray oil (because the duck skin is so fatty, you only need a thin coating of oil). Heat the frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add two of the breasts skin side down and cook for about 5 minutes, until the skin is crispy all over but not burnt. Pour off most of the fat from the pan (You can save this duck fat. It is delicious to cook with.) and flip the breasts. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, until cooked through but still quite pink inside. Duck is best cooked medium-rare. Keep the cooked duck breasts warm by tenting them with foil while you finish up with the remaining breasts. Serve the duck with the plum compote and a steamed green vegetable of your choice.

Nutritional analysis for plum compote based on 4 servings:
Calories 110, Fat 4g, Sodium 527mg, Carbohydrate 19g, Fiber 2g, Sugar 16g, Protein 2g

Nutritional analysis for duck based on 4 servings:
Calories 356, Fat 26g, Sodium 386mg, Carbohydrate 0g, Fiber 0g, Sugar 0g, Protein 24


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