Smoked Duck Breast & Mushrooms on Pappardelle
For Mother’s Day this year we’re making Smoked Duck Breast & Mushrooms on Pappardelle. This recipe is based on a dish I enjoyed at a restaurant in Italy. It was a bright Sunday afternoon and we found a perfect shaded spot in an outdoor restaurant surrounded by locals enjoying a leisurely lunch. On the menu, Duck on Pappardelle sounded like a deliciously elegant comfort food.
Back home I recreated the dish but instead of plain sautéed duck breast I decided to try smoking the duck breast using the ultimate secret ingredient: smoky tea leaves purchased at our local tea shop, Harney & Sons in Millerton NY.
I smoke the duck breasts in a tightly sealed heavy pan – a cast iron pan or wok works best - where you can tightly seal in the duck & smoke. Duck should not be overcooked – you want it to be medium rare at the most.
The secret to this recipe is that you combine the smoking ingredients in a thick foil pouch (with holes pricked in the top so the smoke can escape) – then place the duck on top of it to cook. Everything in the packet cooks/melts/smokes, giving you great flavor. The brown sugar will melt, the dry rice will toast and the tea leaves and spices will add a delicate smokiness. Then you toss the packet out and enjoy the duck. Easy cleanup!
The duck gets most of the smoky flavor from tea leaves that had been traditionally dried over a roaring fire. Any “smoky” tea will work, but my favorite is Lapsang Souchong from Harney & Sons Teas. My husband says the scent of the tea leaves reminds him of Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco. Other favorites are Russian Country Tea or the appropriately named, “Smoke Tea.” You can buy these at the teashop or online at www.harney.com.
This recipe will take three pans: one for smoking the duck breast, a pot for boiling the pappardelle pasta and a sauté pan for making the mushrooms and sauce. To choreograph the process perfectly, make sure that you have mise en place - everything chopped, measured and set out before you begin.
SMOKED DUCK BREAST & MUSHROOMS ON PAPPARDELLE
For the smoked duck:
2 duck breasts, patted dry
Extra virgin olive oil (for searing the duck)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup UNCOOKED dry rice
½ cup dry (smoky flavor) tea leaves
2 whole cinnamon sticks, cracked into small pieces
1 star anise, cracked (optional)
Heavy cast iron pan or wok
Round grate (to fit inside your pan)
For the mushrooms & sauce:
Two 8 ounce packages of sliced mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil (for sautéing)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
1 lb. pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta
With a small sharp knife score the skin of the duck breast being careful to not pierce the flesh. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan or wok and sear the skin side of the duck breast until the skin is very brown. Turn the duck over and sear the other side for just a minute. Wipe out the pan and set the duck aside. (If your duck has given off a lot of fat/juices, you might want to reserve it to add an extra boost of flavor to your mushroom sauce.)
Using a double thickness of foil, make a large square. Toward one side of the square combine the brown sugar, uncooked rice, smoky tea leaves, cinnamon sticks and star anise (if using). Fold up the packet as a flat envelope and make about 10 slashes/pricks just through the top side of the packet, leaving the bottom intact.
Set the foil packet slash-side-up into your cast iron pan and place a small grate on top of it. I use a steamer insert or a round grate that you would use for cooling cookies - use whatever size fits completely into your pan.
Place the duck, skin-side-up on top the grate.
TIGHTLY cover and seal the pan with foil. You want to be certain that none of the smoke will escape from the pan into your kitchen. I find that tightly sealing the top with foil and also covering the pan helps keep the smoke in the pan.
Heat the pan on high and cook the duck for 8 minutes. Smoke will form (but not escape because your pan is tightly sealed). Although the foil packet is against the bottom of the pan, your duck will not burn on high heat because it sits above the foil on a grate.
Reduce the heat to moderate and continue smoking the duck breasts for another 8 minutes.
While the duck breasts are cooking inside, make the mushroom sauce and cook the noodles.
Boil the pappardelle pasta al dente as directed on the package.
For the mushrooms, heat about 1 teaspoon of oil in a sauté pan, cook the two packages of mushrooms, stirring constantly until they are soft and well-browned, adding a tiny bit more oil if necessary. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Add about a teaspoon more oil to the sauté pan, sauté the garlic, onion, carrots and celery until they are soft.
Add ¼ cup white wine – cook until the wine has just about all evaporated, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.
Add chicken stock and the sautéed mushrooms. Simmer, uncovered, until the stock is slightly reduced. If your sauce seems too thin, just before serving you can thicken it by drizzling in a little cornstarch that has been dissolved in water, then heating to thicken. Make sure you stir constantly while adding the cornstarch and simmer over a very low heat so the cornstarch does not form clumps.
When your duck has been smoking inside for 16 minutes it’s time to move the sealed pan with the duck outside.
Transfer the pan outside and let it sit undisturbed for an additional 10 minutes to cool down and to continue smoking. I place the pan outside on our stone steps, but if you don’t have stone steps or walkway, you can put the hot pan on your outdoor grill while it cools down.
Carefully peel away the foil outside. Bring the duck breasts inside but let the pan continue cooling down outside to let any residual smoke dissipate. Discard the packet with the rice/tea/sugar.
If you’re timing isn’t quite right and the sauce or pasta aren’t cooked yet, just leave the sealed duck outside until ready to slice and serve.
Serve the pappardelle tossed with the mushroom sauce, topped with smoked duck breast that has been thinly sliced on the diagonal.
Happy Mom’s Day!