Recipe: Pairings Bistro's pan-roasted duck breast

For Harford Magazine
As temperatures dip, warm up with Chef Jon Kohler's pan-roasted duck.

As the temperature dips, our palates start to crave heartier dishes with strong, warm flavors, like the ones delivered by Chef Jon Kohler’s pan-roasted duck breast paired with sweet potato puree and cherries.

Kohler, the owner and chef at the popular Pairings Bistro in Bel Air, keeps the preparation of the duck breast straightforward. Simply seasoning with salt and pepper before searing in a pan and finishing the duck in the oven, he allows the natural flavors of the duck to shine.

But he pairs the duck with two powerful side dishes: pepper-spiked cherries and pureed sweet potatoes. Kohler macerates the cherries in a syrup that’s sweet and savory, combining honey, citrus, vanilla and garlic with a jolt of coarse black pepper. His sweet potatoes are also laced with pepper and spicy ginger, adding a touch of heat.

The result is a dish simple enough for a weeknight dinner but dramatic and sophisticated enough for a Saturday night dinner party.

Pan-Roasted Duck Breast with Sweet Potato Puree, Port and Black Pepper-Macerated Cherries

Makes 4 servings

For the cherries:
1 pound cherries, pitted
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon orange zest
½ vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup port
½ cup water
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1. Place all ingredients, except the cherries, in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Turn down the heat and allow the liquid to simmer until the sugar dissolves and it becomes a thin syrup. Let the syrup cool.

3. Mix the cherries with the syrup, then let sit to macerate, at least 4 hours or overnight, if possible.

For the sweet potato puree:
3 large sweet potatoes
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon coriander
teaspoon cumin

1. Fill a large saucepan with water and set over high heat. Bring the water to a boil.

2. While the water is boiling, peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks.

3. Boil the sweet potatoes in the water, cooking until they are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Drain the potatoes, then place in a food processor with the salt, pepper, ginger, orange zest, coriander and cumin. Puree until smooth.

For the duck breasts:
(4) 6-ounce duck breasts
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Using a sharp knife, score the fat of the duck breasts in a checkered pattern.

3. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Place a heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is warm, place the duck breasts in the pan, fat side down. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes to render the fat.

5. Turn the breasts over and sear for 1 minute.

6. Turn the breasts over again, so the fat side is facing down. Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 7 to 8 minutes, until the duck breasts are medium rare.

7. Let the breasts rest for 5 minutes.

8. Slice thinly, on the bias, and serve with sweet potatoes and cherries.

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Pairings Bistro

2105 Laurel Bush Road
#108, Bel Air