Pan Seared Duck Breast : Fermented Lettuce and Parsley “Kimchi”: Pea Shoots


So the other day, I saw some beautiful duck breasts at the store and decided to have that for dinner. I’ve been fermenting lettuce at home… and if you’ve been reading some of the previous posts, lettuce has been featured as well. So with the leftovers, I decided to make a batch of “kimchi”, I also had leftover parsley so I used it as well, and I’ll get to the ingredient list and preparation in a bit, but wanted to mention that lettuce ferments beautifully and retains a lot of its bite and brightness. In any case, my dinner that day was so delicious that I decided to make it again tonight and post it here to share it with you. I’ve been cooking quick dinners lately, this is one of them. Takes about 30 minutes to make given that you have a batch of fermented lettuce at hand, but if don’t, just grab kimchi or sauerkraut (cornichons or pickles could be another alternative) at the store and it will slightly different but equally delicious. Pan seared Duck breast with lettuce “kimchi” and fresh pea shoots:


Lettuce “Kimchi” (makes lots):

1 shredded iceberg lettuce
1/2 Cup of chopped parsley (stems included)
2 Tbsp shriracha sauce (or more 1 Tbsp chilli paste)
1 Tbsp sea salt
1/2 Tbsp of Fish Sauce
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 or 2 Tbsp of sugar

To make the lettuce “kimchi”. Place all the ingredients in a clean bowl and with clean hands mix it all up really well. I like doing it this way because it distributes the salt really well and speeds up the drawing of moisture out of the vegetables, which is good, because the sooner they are covered by their own liquid the better. Transfer to a non reactive container and place a weight (make sure it is clean, I use a glass bowl that fits the jar, and then i fill it with water to add more weight), I have used glass and ceramic before. Don’t use stainless steel, iron, copper, etc.. Within an hour or two, lots of liquid will haven been drown out. Press down on the weight gently and let rest some more. Before you know, the liquid will cover the compacted veggies in the jar and the fermentation process can safely begin now. Cover the jar with kitchen towel to keep your “kimchi” even safer. Allow to rest on the counter for 1 week, and up to 4 weeks at which point you can store it in the refrigerator indefinitely really. The fermentation and taste will keep developing until the acidity level is so high that the bacteria responsible for the fermentation process can no longer live. This are acidity levels similar to those found in any vinegar. Some alcohol will also be released in the presence of sugars. Exactly, nothing wrong with that.

Duck Breast (serves 2, 30 mins):

2 fresh duck breast (hopefully not frozen but frozen will do)
Splash of Sauvignon Blanc
Splash of Sherry wine vinegar (Pedro Ximenez if you have it, any red vinegar should work)
Sesame oil (I used olive oil, but sesame oil would work better I believe)
1/2 cup lettuce “kimchi”
Fresh Pea Shoots to taste
Salt to taste

Cooking the duck breast. There are probably a few approaches to getting this awesome piece of meat right. Sous Vide comes to mind. But I won’t be making it this way. I chose the very traditional way of making it, which is very easy and accessible to most. First, score the skin layer crisscross style, which serves a couple of purposes. One, increases the surface area of the skin side, which will allow fat to render more efficiently. Scoring is a very common technique when thick layers of fat need to be cooked until crisp. Second, it allows for salt to reach the muscle underneath so the duck breast can be seasoned more evenly (you could always brine them, but that will require time, and this post is about a quick week night dinner). Fat can’t be salted, salt is only soluble in water, so if you don’t score the skin, a lot of the salt on it will get carried away from the skin with the fat when it melts.


Ok, once the scoring is done. Salt the duck breasts generously, and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. I cooked these cold out of the fridge. You can let them reach room temperature if you want, but I just don’t have the patience and I think it actually helps if the meat is a little cold. I’m not gonna lie. I adjust the stove like 20 times while cooking these, but the first 10 minutes is pretty simple. Just lay the duck breasts skin side down. A cool stainless steel pan, doesn’t need to be hot. And set the stove to low heat. Some stoves are hotter than others. You want to hear a slight sizzle but only that. Gentle cooking. You probably noticed no cooking fat is being used, no olive oil or any fat really. The skin on the duck breasts have all the fat needed to get this cooked just right. In these first10 minutes, make sure that the skin isn’t getting 2 dark, a nice light golden color is perfect. If you feel the skin is cooking too fast, remove the pan from the stove, allow to cool off a bit, return to the stove.. here is where practice helps. So, now that the skin is crispy and light golden brown, drain the fat from the pan. Reserve for other purposes. Duck fat is a precious thing.

Now, the tricky part, getting the duck breast to a nice medium level of doneness. Get an instant read thermometer. I don’t cook duck breasts 100 times a night every night to develop a second nature about when to get these out of the pan. I trust that little inexpensive gadget instead. We are aiming for somewhere between 54C and 58C (52C if you like them  medium rare) give or take. With a sous vide water bath this would be a no-brainer. But with the thermometer, there is carryover heat to take into account. So, before the core of the meat reaches 54C degrees, the duck breasts need to be removed form the hot pan and allow to rest. Do this about 3-5 degrees before the goal temperature. The meat will continue to cook on its own. This is actually ideal. I take this time to get to the rest of the cooking, or a perfect idle time to clean the kitchen. To ensure more even cooking, I like to cover the pan. Keep the pan on low heat the entire time. I know the recipe title implies searing (which usually happens in a searing hot pan),  think of this as really slow searing… i guess?  Keep probing the meet with the thermometer, you can also flip it over if you think the skin is getting too dark. Once you reach say, 48C-49C, remove the meat from the pan and place it on the cutting board.

Making the lettuce “kimchi” side. Drain any excess fat form the pan but keep the brown bits (fond). That’s flavor right there. Return pan to the stove. Medium high heat now. Allow the pan to get hot. Watch the brown bits, we don’t want black bits. That’s game over. Deglaze with the splash of white wine. Deglaze with another splash of sherry vinegar. Add the lettuce “kimchi” to the pan. And reduce. By now, the duck breasts must have released some blood and liquid on the cutting board. Add that to the pan. Nothing goes to waste. The blood will help thicken the quick pan sauce a little bit. Cook off most of the liquid in the pan. Remove from the heat.

For plating. Cut the duck breast in Slices. Place the lettuce “kimchi” on the plate. Transfer the duck breast slices to the plate onto the bed of lettuce “kimchi” Dress the pea shoots with olive or sesame oil. Top the chicken breasts with them. I like the pea shoots for 3 reasons. It’s not parsley which don’t get me wrong, I love, but it get’s tiresome sometimes. Pea shoots look beautiful, specially dressed in a good tasting oil, they bring up the colors of everything else on the plate, and they add texture to the final dish. Oh, and they taste great too! And by the way, if you are into plating, and are comfortable using chop sticks. It’s a really good tool for styling and plating and also for beating eggs to make omelets! until next time! And I apologize for not having photos of the process. I was just too hungry.