In addition to the kindness of strangers, you can always rely on the recipes that have won four-star reviews from the readers of Epicurious. This one, for Seared Duck Breast with Cherries and Cognac Sauce, maintained that high standard.
Despite my well-documented obsession with Duck Confit, I’d never actually cooked any kind of duck dish before this. It’s not the same as cooking chicken or turkey. Duck is a much more fatty bird, and one of the first things to do when cooking it is to score the skin in a diamond pattern, which helps in rendering some of the fat. After doing that, I cooked the duck in a stove top skillet with a little butter.
The sauce made the dish memorable. After draining most of the skillet drippings, I sautéed a chopped shallot, then added chicken broth, honey, butter, pitted cherry halves—which gave me a chance to use my nifty little cherry-pitting device for the first time—and cognac.* I cooked it down to a glaze, plated it with fanned slices of the duck breasts, and served.
I liked the way it looked, with a red, pink, and brown colour combination. Tasted good, too.
*The recipe called for port, but cognac is what I had on hand. Worked fine.
★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.