My lovely ladyfriend and I recently became members of a CSA (community supported agriculture) located in Wisconsin. The farm is owned by a lovely couple with two young sons and is called a temporary home by several interns. On their land of about 800 acres, dozens of varieties of plants are grown organically and without pesticides. It is a sustainable, local operation, their labor of love, and has provided some incredible produce that I do my best not to mess up. The quality of the produce, harvested within a day of me picking it up at a farmer’s market, is honestly mind-blowing at times. I have rarely, if ever, appreciated the simple elegance of greens, fresh herbs, fennel, asparagus, and whatever is in season at exactly that moment. The freshness, the vibrancy of the flavors, when I use these ingredients it is less about me transforming them and more about showcasing them at their peak.
But wait, there’s more. As members of the CSA of Kings Hill Farm, we enjoy an astounding number of fruits and vegetables and all at the exact time they should be harvested and enjoyed. I’ve been exposed to produce I’ve never heard, such as one of the stars of this post, kohlrabi. It looks like an alien parasite took over a green tomato, but it tastes like a vibrant radish mixed with a jicama. I’ve also used purple potatoes, sunchokes, and green garlic and loved every new ingredient, especially the green garlic, an intriguing blend of scallions and garlic that I’ve come to learn is a favorite of many chefs. In my most recent meat-centric meal with four courses and four animals, about three-fourths of the produce used also came from this farm, including the fennel and the greens used in this first course. The duck breast came from my home state, Indiana, and the other meats all came from states within the Heartland. Great, local ingredients, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Onto the food, so with an embarrassing riches of prime produce and meat, it’s all about letting the natural flavors shine through. Citrus is used to accent the bird, the produce maintains the vibrant flavors with a little enhancement from a simple emulsified vinaigrette. The inspiration for the duck comes from Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc, and the salad combination comes from Stephanie Izard, of Girl and the Goat and Top Chef fame. I am a big fan of planning ahead so that flavors have time to develop, like with the duck and the vinaigrette. It is very important to let the duck get dried out to ensure even cooking. To remove the skin from the kohlrabi, stand it on its bottom and use a paring knife to peel the tough outer skin, which can be eaten when cooked but is not pleasant when served raw. I really enjoyed this salad, it was light, but complex, a really excellent start to the meal.
Seared duck breast w/kohlrabi & fennel salad: 6 servings
- 3 duck breast
- orange, for zesting
- thyme sprig
- salt and pepper
Score the fat of the duck without cutting the meat, sprinkle orange zest, nutmeg, salt and pepper on both sides and rub it in, tuck thyme sprig into meat and let sit uncovered in fridge for at least 1 hour, mine sat for about 4 hours.
- 8-12 ounces greens
- 2 kohlrabi, skin removed
- 1 bulb of fennel, core removed, fronds reserved
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 1 pint blueberries
- 1 tbsp shallot, diced
- 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp dijon
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
- canola oil
Lightly toast almonds and set aside. Slice fennel and kohlrabi very thinly using a mandolin.
To make dressing, combine shallot, vinegar, garlic, and dijon in a mixing bowl and combine with a hand blender. Very slowly at first, drizzle in olive oil with hand blender working, increasing amount when the dressing begins to emulsify and have body. Add honey, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, honey, and dijon, set aside to dress salad at last minute to prevent wilting.
Preheat oven to 400. Remove duck from fridge 20 minutes before ready to cook to bring it closer to room temperature. With an ovenproof pan on medium heat, add canola oil, it should shimmer when moving to get a great sear. Place duck breast skin side down in pan, evenly spaced and not touching one another. Turn heat down to medium low and sear for 20 minutes, moving occasionally to get an even sear. Every five minutes, drain majority of duck render being careful to prevent splatter. After 20 minutes, flip the breasts to “kiss” the meat side with the hot pan for 30 seconds, flip back onto skin side and place in oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the breast, until the internal temperature is at 130 for medium rare. Let the duck rest 7-10 minutes before slicing.