In Gascony, quince trees are traditionally planted as boundary markers. The quince was once highly regarded in the United States for preserve-making because of its high pectin content, and for the sweet-tart flavor it imparts to stews, but it is not so prevalent today. These days, you are most likely to find it in specialty markets. It is rather unsightly, with hard flesh that is impossible to eat raw. Prepare quince purée and sauce at least 1 hour before you cook the duck.
Wine recommendation: A burly, tannic Madiran wine, of course, like the 1997 Château Montus. This is a really big wine that holds up well to the rich taste of the magret. Another good choice is Domaine Capmartin.
- 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 quinces, Granny Smith apples or firm Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and diced (reserve peelings)
- 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock, Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup duck demi-glace or enriched stock
- 1 (2-pound) whole boneless Moulard duck breast, excess fat removed, skin and fat scored in crosshatch, patted dry
- Salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons sugar in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat until lightly caramelized. (Handle carefully, hot sugar can cause serious burns.) Stir in 1/2 cup vinegar and cook over high heat about 2 minutes, until reduced in volume by half. Add diced quince, stock and salt, and partially cover (placing pot lid so that steam can escape). Reduce heat to low; cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fruit is tender. Purée in a blender or with a hand mixer until smooth. Return to pan and keep warm.
Heat remaining 1 1 /2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan set over medium heat until lightly caramelized. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons vinegar and heat until reduced in volume by half. Add quince peelings and demi-glace. Cook sauce over low heat for 30 minutes, strain and keep warm.
To cook the duck: Season the magret with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place duck breast in pan, skin side down, without adding any fat. Cook for 8 minutes; checking to avoid burning. Remove fat as it accumulates. Flip breast over, reduce heat to medium and cook 4 minutes longer. Remove duck from heat and keep warm.
To serve: Place a small amount of quince purée into the center of each of 4 warmed plates. Cut the duck breast in half, then cut it against the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Apportion slices evenly between the 4 plates, fanning them over the purée. Spoon a small amount of the sauce over them.