Taco night redux: Duck tacos with corn and blood orange salsa.February 15, 2007
Ah, taco night. I’ve lavished praise on that sacred evening in the past, but it’s worth repeating. I love taco night: My husband makes some tasty, spicy beef filling, whips up some salsa fresca, dissects some avocados, piles on sour cream and cheese, and even makes his own homemade taco shells.
As you can imagine, then, I was a bit disturbed when he threatened to mess with this winning formula. And by adding duck, of all things. (Some of you may recall my general lack of enthusiasm for that particular type of poultry. Ill-prepared duck, people, is not a happy thing to behold — or, er, eat.)
Now, mouth full of delicious duck taco, I can safely ask: “Why do I bother to doubt my husband?” (Here he clasps his hands over his head and shakes them like a champion. Another marital score settled by outstanding cooking.)
I knew things were on the right track when, as he was carving up delicate and thin pieces of duck breast, I — ahem — sampled one, and found the meat to be tender, juicy, spicy and delightful. It had all the things to like about duck, and none of its distasteful qualities (a fishy, fatty, chewy texture). Then I spied the special salsa my husband had prepared: a sweet and spicy corn and blood orange salsa fresca that served as a perfect partner to the spicy duck. And finally, I saw that he’d prepared all my special toppings — cheese, avocado, sour cream — and of course, homemade taco shells.
Fear not, folks. Taco night has been preserved… and, dare I say it, improved?
OK, I admit I did do a dance when we were done with this meal. I’m not kidding when I tell you I would have done a lot more dancing if I weren’t positive my wife would want to slay me mid-jig. The duck debate has been going round for years, so when I made her least favorite and it worked, I gloated a little.
After this triumph, all that’s left to discuss is the crafting of the dish. The two biggest elements are the duck itself and the use of blood oranges. I used duck breast, which is fairly easy to find at my grocers. It’s not as cost effective as buying a whole duck, but it makes this dish relatively quick to the table. The key thing to remember is to control the fat.
The breast is nearly 50-50 meat to fat. When you look at the profile, you can see the fat’s thickness. For the duck, this is great. It keeps ducks warm and buoyant little swimmers. For us, it’s a culinary goldmine of flavor. The key is to render that fat down as fast as possible. Do this by searing it on the fat side in a pan before roasting. That serves to awaken the spices you’re rubbed on the fat layer, and to give the fat a head start in cooking. But once you’re done cooking the meat, don’t be afraid to separate the meat from the fat. The fat has done its job — no need to pile it in your taco. This was the best result I’ve had with duck.
Now, onto the blood oranges. I love this ingredient for both its appearance and flavor. The color of the oranges allow for any sauce to take on its pinky hue. But what clinches my love is the tartness and berry flavors that blood oranges give to dishes. You can easily substitute cheaper and more common naval oranges, though I’d suggest you replace them two for one.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going off to do some triumphant dancing while my wife’s not looking.
Duck Taco w/ Blood Orange and Corn Salsa
Yield: 4 Tacos
Time: 45 min
1 small duck breast
4 small flour tortillas
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
1 11 oz. can corn (or 3 ears of fresh)
2 blood oranges (juice)
1 jalapeño (diced)
1/2 medium onion (diced)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
monterey jack, queso fresco or other cheese of choice
1. With a sharp knife, score the fat on top of the duck breast. You want to cut all the way down to the flesh but not into the flesh. You are trying to create more surface area for seasoning and channels for that delicious duck fat to flow through.
2. Mix together the seasoning and pat all over the duck. You want to get it into the channels created by the scoring. Cover and let rest. This can be very short (20 min) or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350F. (Note: While the duck is cooking or even before, you can make the taco shells and salsa. For directions, see steps 5 and 6.)
4. Place an oven safe pan over medium high heat. Once the pan has heated for a couple minutes, place the duck, fat side down, in the pan. Let cook for 3 minutes or until the fat starts to cook down. Turn over the breast and place in oven. Cook for 15 min; time to check the temperature. You may need as long as another 15 minutes. You are looking for 160-165F. If you want the duck well-done, then 175-180. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes, and then remove the fat layer and slice in thin strips.
5. Time to make the salsa. In a medium-size skillet over medium heat, add the corn, onion and jalapeño. Liberally salt and pepper. Stir regularly. You don’t want to add oil here unless you are using fresh corn. The canned corn will have moisture that you are trying too cook down. Let cook over the heat for about 3 min and then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 3-5 min or until the corn begins to pop and darken in spots. At this point, the onions should begin to turn color and the corn should have a slight orange hue. Remove the cooked ingredients to a bowl. Add the cilantro and blood orange juice. Time to taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Note: This should be a relatively mild salsa. If you want more heat, you can add a dash of hot sauce or choose to add more jalapeños or a hotter pepper, such as a serrano.
6. Making your own tortillas. In a heavy skillet or cast iron pan, add about an inch of oil. Let the oil heat to about 325F. Using a pair to tongs, place the tortilla in the oil and fold half over. Use the edge of the pan to hold the tortilla in place. Cook like this for about 90 seconds to 2 min. Grasp the other side of the tortilla and repeat. By the end of the second period the taco shell should have set in the form we’ve become familiar with. Let rest and drain on a paper towel until ready to serve.
7. Time to bring it all together. Pile your ingredients in beginning with the slices of duck. Add the salsa, avocado, cheese, sour cream, hot sauce or whatever your heart desires. Enjoy!