Thanks to the popularity of foie gras, we have magret?the robust breast meat of a fattened duck (the legs go for Confit). Magret has become an up-market steak, particularly in southwestern France, and in the pan behaves very much the same way. When pleasantly pink, the meat is rich and juicy, but be warned that overcooked magret tastes, and cuts, like shoe leather. I like it best with a sauce of seasonal fruit, starting with springtime cherries, moving through apricots, tart berries such as blackcurrants, to apples, figs, and winter dried fruits. All of them can be substituted for cherries in this recipe. An appropriate wine would be a fruity Merlot or Gamay. In general, a magret serves one person, but a very large one can sometimes be enough for two.

Serves 2 to 3

  • 2 duck magrets (about 12 ounces/330 grams total)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Arugula salad leaves, for serving

Cherry Sauce

  • 8 ounces/225 grams cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup/250 milliliters/8 fluid ounces fruity red wine
  • 2 tablespoons red currant or raspberry jelly
  • 1/3 cup/75 milliliters/2 1/2 fluid ounces red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons/45 grams/1 1/2 ounces cold butter, cut in cubes

Put the cherries in a small saucepan with the wine and red currant jelly and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Set the pan aside. Trim excess fat from the magrets, then crosshatch the skin, cutting down almost to the meat so fat can escape; sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

Heat a heavy-based, dry frying pan over medium heat, add the magrets skin side down, and fry until the skin is very brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes or longer if necessary, to extract as much fat as possible. Turn and brown the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Test a magret by poking the center with the point of a knife to see the color of the meat; if it is too rare for your taste, continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes, but remember it will be very tough if overcooked. When done, set the magrets aside on a chopping board, skin side up. Cover them loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Discard excess fat from the pan, add the vinegar, and boil until reduced to about a tablespoon, stirring to dissolve pan juices. Whisk in the garlic and tomato paste. Drain in the wine, keeping back the cherries. Boil until the wine is slightly syrupy and reduced by more than half, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cherries and heat them gently. Take the pan from the heat and stir in the cold butter, piece by piece. Taste, adjust seasoning of the sauce, and set it aside. Carve the magrets on the diagonal in thin slices. (You can discard the crisp skin if you must, but what a pity!) Pile a mound of arugula leaves at the side of two serving plates. Arrange the duck slices overlapping on the plates, add the cherries, and spoon the sauce on top. Serve at once.

photo by France Ruffenach
Excerpted from THE COUNTRY COOKING OF FRANCE
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.