Roasted Duck Breast with Medjool Dates, Squash and Vermicelli
The only woman in Moroccan haute cuisine, Chef Meryem Cherkaoui calls her style contemporary Moroccan, melding French techniques with “pumpkin, dates and chopped nuts, products that appear regularly on the Moroccan table.” Cherkaoui is famed for savory-sweet combinations at her Casablanca restaurant, La Maison du Gourmet, and this roasted duck breast dish is no exception—the recipe was part of a seven-course dinner Cherkaoui prepared for Montreal’s High Lights Festival in February 2011, featuring 56 women chefs, at La Chronique restaurant.
For the duck:
2 boneless Magret duck breasts, about ¾ pound each
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large Medjool dates, pitted and julienned
½ cup chopped, roasted almonds
For the glazed shallots and butternut squash:
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 12 ½-inch thick rounds
12 small shallots, peeled
3 cups water, divided
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
For the vermicelli (Moroccan chaâria):
1 tablespoon ghee (Indian clarified butter available in many stores)
1½ cups chopped onions
1 pinch saffron
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
9 ounces vermicelli or angel hair pasta ounces thin vermicelli
To prepare the vermicelli: In a medium sauté pan over a medium-high flame, add the ghee and sauté the onions, saffron, ginger and cinnamon. Add the chicken stock, reduce heat and cook for 25 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the vermicelli until it’s al dente, about 6–8 minutes. In a medium bowl, combine the sautéed, spiced onions and the vermicelli, mix until well blended.
To cook the duck: Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Score the fatty side of the duck breasts using a sharp knife, cutting about ⅛-inch into the skin in a cross-hatch pattern.
Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch frying pan over medium-low heat. Season the duck breasts evenly on both sides with salt and pepper, and place skin side down in the hot pan. Cook the breast until the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 10–12 minutes. Pour off the fat from the pan. Turn the breasts over, and place in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 140 °F for medium rare. Remove from the oven, and allow the duck to rest for 5–10 minutes before carving each breast into 12 slices.
To glaze the shallots and butternut squash: Heat a large skillet and a medium sauce pan over medium heat simultaneously. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to each pan. In the large skillet, spread out the butternut squash in one even layer and add 1½ cups of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Simmer, covered, until the butternut squash is tender and the liquid has reduced to a glaze. In the medium saucepan, add the shallots, 1½ cups of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Simmer, covered until the shallots are tender and the liquid has reduced to a glaze. About 20 minutes each.
To serve: For a clean presentation, place the vermicelli in the center of a round cookie cutter and top with the glazed squash, shallots and sliced duck. Remove the cookie cutter in one even motion and top the duck with the julienned dates and chopped almonds. Drizzle with the remaining glaze from the butternut squash and shallots. Serves 4.
Cherkaoui recommends Moroccan whites like those from Les Coteaux de l’Atlas or the CB Initiales brand to complement the sweetness of the dates. Alternatively, look for rich Corsican reds, like those from Clos Poggiale, Clos Teddi and Yves Leccia.