For my friend Jelmer’s birthday I cooked dinner for him with a bottle of vintage port from his year of birth (1989). This meant I had to come up with a dish that would work well with vintage port. Unlike tawny port, vintage port is like regular red wine in that you should finish the bottle quickly. It has only aged for 2-3 years in wood, and then in the bottle. Vintage port is at its best after 25 or more years of aging in the bottle. This bottle was perfect, very velvety and complex.
Since the last cherries were still available, I decided to prepare duck breast with cherries and port sauce, with roasted broccoli with almonds on the side. The dish turned out great and it worked very well with the vintage port. Here’s what I did…
For 4 servings
4 duck breasts with skin, about 800 grams (1.8 lb)
250 grams (.55 lb) cherries, pitted
250 ml (1 cup) port (ruby or late bottled vintage)
160 ml (2/3 cup) red wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp arrowroot (or corn starch)
2 bay leaves
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
some fresh thyme sprigs
1 kg (2.2 lbs) broccoli
4 Tbsp slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
Score the skin of the duck breast with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern, making sure to cut only the skin and not the meat.
Season the duck with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.
Heat up a frying pan and add the duck breasts, skin side down, without adding any fat.
Cook over medium-high heat until the fat has rendered from the skin and it is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Then turn over the duck and cook on the other side for one minute only.
Turn off the heat and lift the duck breast out of the frying pan and put on a plate in a single layer to cool. (Juices will leak from the duck breast while it is cooling. Don’t discard them, but add them to the sauce!)
Discard all but 2 tablespoons of duck fat in the frying pan, and add a minced shallot, some fresh thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, and a minced clove of garlic.
Stir for a minute, but don’t let the shallot or garlic burn.
Deglaze the pan with 250 ml port and 160 ml red wine, and bring to a gentle boil.
Carefully ignite the alcohol fumes with a match to allow the alcohol to burn off quickly.
Cook over medium heat until reduced by half.
Strain the sauce into a saucepan.
You can finish cooking the duck breast in the oven or sous-vide. For the latter, make sure the duck breast is cooled down completely before vacuum sealing. Cook sous-vide for 2 to 4 hours at 57C/135F.
Break the broccoli into florets and arrange in an oven proof dish in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Roast the broccoli at 180C/350F until just tender, about an hour. Turn every 15 minutes or so.
Sprinkle with slivered almonds for the last 15 minutes…
…to toast them.
If finishing the duck in the oven, put in the oven along with the broccoli with the probe of an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of one of the duck breasts. Cook until a core temperature of 55C/131F, then take the meat out of the oven to rest, wrapped in aluminum foil, for about 10 minutes.
Or take the duck breasts out of the sous-vide.
To finish the sauce, bring it to a boil and add 250 grams of pitted cherries. Simmer the cherries for about 5 minutes.
Make a slurry of 2 teaspoons of arrowroot (or corn starch) with 2 teaspoons of cold water and stirring well, and add this slurry to the cherry sauce.
Stir and cook until the sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Slice the duck breasts with a sharp but smooth (not serrated!) knife. Serve the duck with the cherry sauce and the broccoli on preheated plates.
As already mentioned in the intro, this is great with vintage port (or late bottled vintage or even a good ruby port). Amarone would also work, but in that case use only red wine for the sauce.
Round zucchini are a photogenic option to make stuffed zucchini.