Christmas evening supper

Christmas eve–what’s for supper? Your basic duck breast, pan-seared and dressed with some of the spoils of my visit to Bull City Olive Oil. Just a take-off on a vinaigrette, but what fun. A nice fatty duck breast pan-seared so that the skin is cracklin’ crispy–with a very simple sauce–fruity.

Turn off the smoke alarm so you won’t be interrupted while cooking. You need to start with a skillet that will tolerate high heat–it needs to be almost smoking hot to begin–and no worries about sticking given the fat in the duck skin. I used my favorite carbon steel skillet–very well cured (now black and nonstick), and has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight. Just the right size for two duck breasts.

20161224_173256I had thought that perhaps just a drizzle of one of the infused vinegars would be good, but after tasting the vinegars with a piece of breast that was loose in the package, I decided it needed  more complexity, so I started with  extra-virgin olive oil infused with mushroom and sage–awesome as a condiment in its own right, but for nice fatty duck it needs to be brightened a bit with one of the infused balsamic vinegars. Decisions, decisions!

I had black mission fig, black cherry, and blackberry with ginger. After tasting I decided that blackberry-ginger was what I wanted this evening, though any of these would have been good with duck. I didn’t use typical vinaigrette proportions but I did emulsify the oil and the vinegar (1:1). The mushroom-sage oil is very earthy and a great contrast to the fruitiness of the blackberry with that little spark of ginger.

20161224_174026To prep the breasts I patted them dry and scored the skin side, careful not to cut into the meat–just to help the fat render while pan-searing. You need a very sharp knife so that just the weight of the knife pulled across the skin will cut into it. Then I salted the meat side of the breasts and let them sit for about 20 minutes to season.

After patting them dry I put them into a  very hot skillet, skin side down, and cooked until most of the fat rendered and the skin side was brown and crispy (about 5 to 8 minutes), reducing the heat a bit to keep them from getting too brown before a sufficient amount of fat had rendered. Then turned them and continued to cook until the temperature was 135ºF by instant read thermometer (about 5 minutes).

While the breasts were searing, I whisked the oil and vinegar together, and got the roasted potatoes out of the oven. While the breasts rested (and continued with carry-over cooking), I poured off the excess fat from the pan, left just enough to  sauté a mix of  baby arugula and radicchio for a side. Very quick. Very tasty!

The bitterness of the arugula and radicchio was a great contrast to the richness of the duck, and the blackberry-ginger/mushroom-sage sauce. (Blackberry and sage are awesome together–makes me want to try a sorbet with that combination.)  The Les Hérétiques wine (old vine Carignane grapes) has lots of berry fruit (blackberry  with some earthiness, and minerals) all in all a great wine for this meal even though it’s just my “house” wine.

All together a very flavorful supper for no more time than it took.  So many possible flavor variations possible with this simple sauce. A son gôut!



Epazote & Mexican Mint Marigold

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosiodes)

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosides) is an herb that is used in Mexican cooking (sometimes even referred to as “Mexican herb”).  It’s difficult to describe the flavor.  I’ve asked a number of customers at the farmers’ market who have used it and we agree that flavor is a bit like cilantro (or culantro) with a bit of citrus thrown in for good measure, with perhaps a bit of bitterness.  It is one that has become a part of my kitchen garden each year now.  It’s not really a pretty herb, but it is tasty. (Image from Mountain Valley Growers).

It is a tender perennial (dies back to the ground at frost but emerges again in the spring) hardy to USDA zone 8.  It is an heat-loving herb that will develop best flavor in full sun.  It is tolerant of some, but not complete, drying out.   In colder regions it may be over-wintered indoors.

Young leaves can be treated like sorrel–added to other greens, wilted and added to soups, but use sparingly until you’re acquainted with the taste as it can be potent. It is said to reduce the flatulence that can occur after eating beans, and had other medicinal uses by Aztecs.

As with most herbs, I think it is best used fresh, although it can be dried, and is available from Penzeys Spices.  That is how I first used it, but extrapolating from that use, I decided that I wanted to try the fresh herb–and it’s become permanent part of my herb garden.

Mexican mint marigold/Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida)

Spanish/Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida)

If you find it impossible to get French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) to thrive, but would like a reasonable tarragon flavor, the you might want to investigate Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida) or Mexican mint marigold.   This plant does better in hot, humid weather than French tarragon.  It is an annual/tender perennial that likes sun, even moisture (but not wet feet) and average soil.  It can be up to 3 feet in height. 

The flavor is anise/licorice rather than what you expect of other “marigolds”.   It is a better substitute for French tarragon than is Russian tarragon.  In recipes calling for French tarragon, you can substitute this herb is the same quantity.  It does break down more quickly than French tarragon with cooking so might need to be added later, or additional added at the end of cooking if the flavor has weakened with heat.  In vinaigrettes, flavored vinegar and sauces it can be used as French tarragon.  Good with eggs, chicken, mild seafood and tomatoes as is French tarragon. 


Shallots (Allium ascalonicum), a member of the onion family, is formed somewhat like garlic with several “cloves” per head.  The individual “cloves” are more onion-like with layers within each bulb.  The outer skin can range from grayish tan to a rosy brown.  The flesh may have a pale greenish to purple tint.  The flavor is mild–somewhat between onion and garlic–not hot like onion.  When buying, look for bulbs that are firm, with shiny skins, and without sprouts.  Shallots should be stored like onions or garlic: in a dry place, out of direct light, and with good ventilation.


Shallots can be used like onions–very versatile.  They have a mild onion flavor.  They are classic ingredients in beurre blanc, vinaigrette, and béarnaise sauces.  They are expensive in the grocery stores, so it’s a really treat to find them at the farmers’ market somewhat less expensively.

One of the things that I did with them was to sauté  some and add to scrambled eggs.  Another wonderful thing to do when you are fortunate enough to have lots of shallots is to roast them either alone (and then add just a drizzle of balsamic vinegar before serving), or to include them with other roasted vegetables.  They can add wonderful flavor to other vegetables like green beans–so many things to do with this member of the allium family.

The add a marvelous touch to a simple vinaigrette.  The recipe for shallot vinaigrette below is taken from Lilies of the Kitchen, by Barbara Batcheller, p. 211:

  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley springs
  • 2 large shallots
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup peanut oil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the parsley, shallots, and vinegar in a blender and given them a few whirls to mince the parsley and shallots.  Add the mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper and spin again.

With the motor running, add the oils in a thin stream.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Many dishes, such as vegetables, or meats are excellent with a touch of vinaigrette–and easy way to dress up some leftover veggies or meat.  Once you experience the flavor of shallots, I think that you’ll find many uses for them.


I think that seasoning is SO important when cooking for one–it can take that serving of veggies from sort of humdrum to great so easily. One of the easiest ways to “dress up” leftovers is to use a sauce with them on the second run.

I think that one of the easiest is a vinaigrette.  It’s so simple, holds well in the fridge. If you know a basic ratio (usually 3 parts oil to 1 part acid or if you prefer a less tart dressing 4 parts oil to 1 part acid) you can vary it easily.

A bit of mustard serves to aid the emulsification of the oil and acid.  The acid can be vinegar, or it can be lemon juice, lime juice, orange or grapefruit juice.  You can easily add different herbs, or garlic, onion, shallot, spices, or chives as an aromatic, depending on what you want:  with fish, lemon might be a good choice.

Stored in a small jar, covered, it will keep for approximately a week in the refrigerator, so it’s always handy.  This same vinaigrette is good to make a non-mayonnaise tuna or chicken salad.  Better and less expensive than store-bought salad dressing, and without additives and preservatives.