When I was in high school, I was a HUGE fan of the soap opera “Days of our Lives.” The romance, the intrigue, the glamour, the backstabbing… aaaand then I went to college and had a job (sometimes two jobs) and did not have time to watch soap operas. That was (muffled) years ago, so when several of the stars of DOOL (oh yeah, that’s what we insiders called it) showed up on an episode of Top Chef Masters, I was shocked to realize that I still recognized many of them. That is a LONG time to play the same character in the same storylines over and over and over. It’s like that movie “Groundhog Day,” but with slinky dresses, evil patriarchs and the occasional demonic possession.
In honor of their guests, the Top Chef Masters contestants were tasked with creating a dish that represented a crucial element of soap operadom. We chose to put our spin on Chef Jennifer Jasinski’s seared duck breast and sausage with fregola and celery salad (original recipe here) which she stabbed with a knife to represent murder.
Though we desperately want a good, heavy, old-fashioned meat grinder, we have ZERO space in which to store it so sausage making was out. We stuck with the duck breast with a smoky orange sauce. In a hat tip to the original sausage recipe, I decided to marinate the duck breasts in the flavors that would have gone into the links — garlic and onion powders, Aleppo pepper, parsley and (unwisely) orange juice. The sauce would be made from garlic, shallots, thyme, jalapeno, OJ and bacon.
The salad called for fregola — a pasta similar to Israeli couscous, but I couldn’t find fregola anywhere, so I substituted something alphabetically close — freekeh, roasted green wheat. I also picked up GIANT bunches of fresh basil at the farmers market ($1/bunch … if you’re not shopping at your local farmers market you’re missing out on serious bargains), but basil goes bad quickly so I pureed it all with a bit of olive oil and froze it. We decided to use that instead of fresh basil to flavor the freekeh, eggplant, parsley and celery salad.
Remember how I said I unwisely chose to marinate the duck breasts in orange juice? Well, K is a master at searing duck so it has perfectly crispy skin. But as he seared it, the sugars in the OJ started to caramelize and then scorch which led to an unhappy K.
Fortunately, however, the duck breasts looked blackened, but they were very tasty … just not as crispy as he’d have liked. The orange sauce was not smoky and added only a hint of flavor, but the freekeh salad popped with the fresh summer flavors of basil and parsley, with meaty eggplant and little bitter bites of celery. And, of course, we stabbed it with a knife, just for good measure.
1/2 cup freekeh
1 cup eggplant, diced
2 TB fresh Italian parsley
4 TB basil pureed in olive oil
1/2 cup diced celery
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 pieces bacon, cooked and chopped
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp diced fresh jalapeno (more or less depending on how you like your spice level)
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 skin-on duck breasts
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes (or hot pepper flakes)
salt and pepper
Liberally salt and pepper duck breasts then sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder and pepper flakes. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Place the diced eggplant on several paper towels and salt liberally. Place several paper towels on top and weigh down with a plate (to get the excess water out). Cook the freekeh in a pot full of boiling water like you’d cook pasta. When freekeh is tender but not mushy, drain the water and let cool. Coat the bottom of a saute pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high then saute the drained eggplant until caramalized then let cool. Add basil puree to cooled freekeh, add cooled eggplant, parsley and celery then salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for service.
Cook bacon until crispy then dice. Add about 1 TB of extra virgin olive oil to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add in shallots, garlic and jalapeno until shallots and garlic are light golden. Add juice and herbs and reduce by half. Strain and set aside for service.
Heat a large saute pan with a heavy bottom (can use a cast iron pan) to medium-high and add just a slick coating of olive oil to the pan. When very hot, place duck skin side down until the skin is crisp and caramelized and the fat is rendered. Flip over to meat side to finish to an internal temperature of 130 degrees (barely medium rare) to 135 degrees (medium rare). When the duck breast reaches that temperature, remove to a cutting board and let rest for 5-7 minutes.
To serve: Plate the freekeh salad, place the duck breast on top, drizzle duck breast with sauce, sprinkle everything with bacon, garnish with celery leaves, stab it with a knife and serve! Delicious murder.