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!