Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tale of Two Duck Breasts

Terroir: Does it Apply to Everything?

The growing number of appellations for every type of agricultural product in Europe would suggest so. There are appellations for salt, olive oil, cheese, beef and wine, amongst others.

I decided to do a small experiment in the influence of origin on ducks.

When we are in France, usually in the St Jean de Luz area, I love to go to Carrefour. There is Carrefour in Spain but obviously the products are quite different…sometimes to a surprising extent. This time I picked up some local duck breasts recommended by the butcher.

Sunday, I decided to make duck breasts for lunch. I defrosted one Spanish duck breast and one French duck breast to do a comparison. This is their story….

Act 1: Raw
The French duck breast is bigger, thicker, with a much thick layer of fat under the skin. The meat is red and bright, with a fleshy texture and the fat is wobbly and soft, with a pale pick tinge. The Spanish breast is neater looking, better trimmed. Its meat is a paler red, almost bluish and is very firm. The fat is pale white, thin under the skin and quite hard.

Act 2: In the pan
Both go I skin side down, with only some salt and pepper. The French breast immediately starts to release fat and lots of it! The Spanish duck takes and while and does so sparingly. The Spanish duck does not have enough fat to last the entire cooking process, the skin looks a little tough by the end. Both shrink considerably, but the French duck breast does so more in proportion

Act 3: The sauce
For the sauce I start by caramelizing onions in butter, with a touch of honey and lots of salt. When they are meltingly soft, I add some insanely good wine vinegar, Anima Aurea, which is both tart and sweet. I also add some crème de cassis liqueur for a good kick. After I remove the duck breast from its pan, I add the sauce to so it can soak up some duck flavour and duck fat. The sauce is the perfect blend of savory and sweet for the duck. So many duck sauces are insipidly sweet.

Act 4: On the plate
I try both duck breasts without the sauce. The French breast is easier to cut and is rarer, despite equal cooking times. The thicker layer of fat protected it longer. It is very tender, meaty, with a strong gamey flavour. The fat is perfect…a small layer remains under the crispy skin, a blend between smooth and crunchy
The Spanish breast is slightly harder to cut. It is tender enough though, with nice texture. The meat is milky and smooth, delicate in flavour. The fat and skin do not play much of a role, having been mostly melted away during cooking.

Act 5: With the wine
The wine is from Argentina: Bodegas Norton Malbec Reserve 2003. It is a nice wine, with a fresh nose and a surprisingly liqueur-fruit mouth. Fruit dominates, the oak plays a secondary role, mostly vanilla tones. Tannins very present but smooth.
Better match with duck alone (without sauce), and a better match with the more delicate flavors of the Spanish duck. Perhaps a bigger wine for the French duck? Overall not bad though...even with the sauce.

Act 6: Bottom line
I liked the French duck better: I like strong, gamey meat. But I totally see how the Spanish duck is more in line with the Spanish palate, which prefers a milder meat. The two breasts were very different…there are many factors that likely contributed, but we could probably sum it up as terroir!

Places: Taberneros Wine Bar

Calle Santiago, 9
Hours: from 1300-1600 and 2030 to 0000, closed on Mondays
Tel: 91 542 2160

If Casa Lucas is my most favorite wine bar in Madrid (see my previous article), Taberneros is definitely in my top three.
I hadn't been there in a while so I was happy to return there a couple fo weeks ago. We don't get there enough….it's located close to Plaza Mayor, but on the opposite side of the Cava Baja area, where we most often go.
The first nice thing you notice about Taberneros is its size, which is much larger than most wine bars. They don't take reservations, but as long as you arrive by 9PM, you should be fine.
The food is very good, as is the wonderful wine list. The by-the-glass wine program is excellent, though we almost always end up getting bottles.
We had a typical sampling the other night:
1. Salmorejo: a thick type of gazpacho with garlic. Very nice version…good consistency and rich tomato flavour…it had an appealing touch of sweetness.
2. Scallops: Scallops are expensive and hard to come by in Spain L! Taberneros offers a very nice dish, finely diced vegetables, sautéed until very soft…topped with slices of barely cooked scallop with a smooth béchamel sauce. Light on scallops, but intense flavors.
3. Cecina: This is cured beef…a super elegant version of beef jerky. The cured beef is sliced paper thin, arranged on platter, sprinkled with sea salt and topped with top notch olive oil. Wonderful combination! Cecina is often horrible, tough, dry…really like beef jerky, so this is a treat.
4. Grilled venison loin with berry sauce and pumpkin. Very nice preparation, though deer is not one of my favourite meats.
5. Rice with clams and crawfish: a soupy rice with tiny clams and chuks of crayfish. Very nice but very subtle.
6. Fried eggs with Galician potatoes and truffle. This was my favourite of the main courses. Gourmet comfort food. The Galician potatoes have a slightly firmed consistency and paired beautifully with the runny, farm-fresh eggs. The chunks of truffle, some great olive oil and sea salt brought it all together. Outstanding…

I always try new wines in Taberneros…they know their wines and can easily recommend something.
The first wine we had was a favourite from DO Cigales, a little known Denominacion near Ribera del Duero…north west of Madrid. The wine was Traslanzas 2001. The winemaker, Ana Martin, is one of my favorites, a "driving winemaker" who makes wines around Spain. Translanzas is one of the top wines in a region that is still up and coming. It is made from old-vine Tempranillo and comes across initially as closed in the nose. Later plums and black cherry shoes through. Intense mouth, huge structure…big tannins. Needs lots of air, but rewards you.

The new wine that night was a really original Garnache (Grenache) from the winery Parés Baltá in DO Penedés, Catalunya. It was called Hisenda Miret 2005. Very fresh nose…almost put me off at first. Intense cranberry, cherry and anis. Lean and fresh mouth, with bracing acidity and tight cherry fruit. Really long finish with smooth tannins. Didn't show its alcohol level of 14.5% at all! Really original!
Really original…I'm liking more and more of those Penedés reds!