prepping the duckAdam and I make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, but we never go out. We’d both had past experiences being herded through crowded restaurants with spastic service on V-Day, and we just never thought it was that romantic. We began dating in mid-January (it was 5 years ago last month), and it was such a cold winter in NYC that we still joke we never actually saw much of each other until spring because we were so bundled up. Which isn’t actually true, but it was seriously cold in 2004. So that Valentine’s Day we decided to stay in rather than run around in the cold, and a tradition was born.

Adam cooked for me that year at his apartment in Midtown. I remember that I was working a 2nd job at a Bath & Body Works in the suburbs when we met, and I had to work until 5 that day. So I couldn’t head into the city until I left there, and I think I went straight to Adam’s (maybe I stopped at my apartment on the way to grab something). And I’m not kidding, it was 10 o’clock before I got to Adam’s after I’d fought my way through the traffic into the city and actually found a parking space. I tried every garage in a half-mile radius of his apartment with no luck; He lived at 50th and 8th, and I finally found a garage in the upper-60s and Amsterdam. Doesn’t seem that far away, 15 or so blocks up and 2 avenues over. But this was after cruising all the 40s and 50s from the West Side Highway to Broadway and stopping at every garage. Literally, every garage. At least 2 dozen easily. Over more than 2 hours. The garage attendant told me I was lucky because people were actually starting to finish dinner and leave the city, that’s why I got the space (in hindsight I would have taken the bus, but I had no idea what I was up against).

I was so exhausted when I got to Adam’s that I thought I would fall asleep before we even ate. But he’d lit candles and cooked this complicated steak teriyaki dish that he’d spent the day running around the city hunting down the ingredients for (we both have our war stories from that year). And it was so much fun, every year after we’ve cooked for each other. Some years we’ve made reservations but then canceled them in favor of staying in. Adam proposed to me on Valentine’s Day in 2006 on our couch, after I’d cooked something fabulous and we were watching a TiVo’d CSI (we positively drip romance).

roast potatoes

So anyway, to make a long story longer, this year was no different. See? Aren’t you glad you read that whole story to get to the part where I talk about duck? Last weekend for Valentine’s Day I cooked duck breast for the first time, and it was pretty awesome. I also made some pretty great roast potatoes, as witnessed by this picture. I used Russets, left the skins on, cubed them and parboiled them until they were cooked but not mushy. I bashed them around in the strainer so they got a nice texture, spread them on a baking sheet with plenty of garlic olive oil and seasonings, and baked them for about half an hour at 400. NOTE: Keep an eye on them, since I don’t remember how long they were actually in the oven; Adam made pink cocktails! So the details are fuzzy; I’m not even positive the oven was 400, but that’s usually how I do roast potatoes. And there were peas (sometimes when I make all these new and exciting things, vegetables are an after thought).

So this duck recipe redeemed Ted Allen. All previous strikes are forgiven because this dish was as easy and delicious as he said. And it gave me an excuse to use my tangerine balsamic from Carter & Cavero, which I don’t use enough. I left out a couple of steps (like mixing the salt and pepper together in a bowl before seasoning the duck), but this version works just fine.

Duck Breast with a Balsamic Glaze

2 duck breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Lay the duck breasts on a cutting board and use a paring knife to make diagonal slashes through the skin (do not pierce the flesh) every 1/2 inch or so. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

2. Put the duck breasts in the hot pan skin side down (I followed Ted’s advice and used a splatter guard; duck is messy!). Cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. There’s a lot of fat on duck breasts, so it will cook off quite a bit. About halfway through the cooking, use a ladle or baster to remove most of the fat from the pan (I poured it into a glass measuring cup and drizzled it over the roasting potatoes).

sizzling duck

3. Turn the breasts and cook to barely medium rare, 8 to 10 minutes total. Ted’s tip: Lift the tenderloin–the long skinny piece of meat attached to the breast–to check doneness; the breast is done when you can’t see raw meat there anymore. (It works).

4. Remove the breasts to serving plates or a platter and discard most of the fat from the pan. Add the vinegar and cook until reduced by about half and thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. (It really is fast; I messed up the first batch and had to throw it out after it turned into bitter, sticky candy).

reduced balsamic

Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Spoon the vinegar over the breasts and serve immediately.