Serves 4 to 6
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
This is another combination of duck and citrus, only with a Greek twist: ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur. Ouzo is available at most liquor stores, and you can substitute any similar liquor, such as Pernod, pastis, raki, tsipouro, sambuca, anisette, and so on. If you don’t drink alcohol, double the amount of chopped fennel and add some fennel seeds or aniseeds.
I designed this recipe for specklebelly geese, which run five to seven pounds and are often pretty fatty. They are very similar to a Rouen or Moulard duck, the breasts of which can be used in place of the goose breasts here. Domesticated and Canada geese will work here, too.
I prefer to serve this dish with something simple that will sop up the sauce, such as mashed potatoes or celery root or a mound of polenta. Serve with a light red wine or arich white, such as an oaky Chardonnay or a Viognier.
Remove the goose breasts from the refrigerator, salt well, and set aside at room temperature for 20 to 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pat the breasts dry with paper towels. If you are working with a domesticated goose or a very fat duck, use a sharp knife to score the skin (but not the meat) in a crosshatch pattern, making the slashes about 1 inch across. This helps the fat render and will give you a crispier skin. Do not score the skin of a wild goose unless it is very fatty.
Set the breasts, skin side down, in a cold ovenproof sauté pan with the duck fat and place on the stove top. Turn on the heat to high and let the sizzling rise to a comfortable level, the way it sounds when you cook bacon. Turn the heat down to medium-low, or even low, and let the breasts cook for 10 to 12 minutes at a gentle sizzle, until the skin has browned a bit.
Move the pan into the hot oven. Do not flip the meat. After 5 minutes, check for doneness using the finger test (see below). A very large domestic or Canada goose breast might take as long as 15 minutes to get warm at its center. If you prefer to use a thermometer, you will want it to read 125°F, which will yield rare meat after the breast rests a bit. Because the breast is larger, the carryover heat will increase the internal temperature more than for a typical duck breast.
When the meat is at the target temperature (remember, it will gain 5 to 10 degrees during the resting period), transfer the breasts, skin side up, to a cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest a full 10 minutes before carving.
While the breasts are resting, start making the sauce. Remove an ice cube from the freezer and run it along the handle of your pan, which just came out of the oven. This should cool the handle enough for you to grasp it. I find that while I can remember to use an oven mitt to get the pan out of the oven, I always seem to slip up while I am making the sauce. I have the scars to prove it.
Pour off all but 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Without turning on the burner, put the pan on the stove top, add the chopped fennel, shallot, and chile to the pan, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. The vegetables should sizzle moderately. Do not let them burn.
Add the ouzo and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Put the pan on the burner that heats the hottest and turn the heat to high. Let the ouzo boil down by half. Add the stock and orange juice and a little salt, bring to a boil, and boil furiously until a spoon passed through the sauce leaves a trail. Remove from the heat. If you want to a more refined sauce, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Slice the goose breasts on the diagonal. To serve, pour a little sauce on each plate and spoon the mashed potatoes on the sauce. The sauce will pool around the edges. Arrange the goose slices, skin side up, on the potatoes. Garnish with fennel fronds and pepper. Serve at once.
The Finger Test for Doneness
The fastest and most effective way to test for doneness is the finger test.
Open your right hand loosely. Take the tip of the index finger of your left hand and press down on the fleshy area of your right hand where your thumb connects with the rest of your palm, making sure your right hand is relaxed. That’s what raw meat feels like.
Now touch the tip of the index finger of your right hand to the end of your thumb. With your left hand, press that fleshy part at the base of the thumb: it should feel a little less squishy. That’s how medium rare meat feels.
Move back one finger on your right hand, so you are now touching the tip of your middle finger to your thumb. With your left hand, touch the fleshy part of your thumb again: this is medium.
One more finger back (to the ring finger on your left hand) and you get to medium-well. Not so good for any red meat, and terrible for duck. Finally, touch your pinky to your thumb and feel the base. Rock hard, right? That’s well-done, which means you just made cat food from your duck breast.
Remember, once the duck or goose breast is resting, carryover heat will continue to cook it. So I always take the breasts off the heat a little before they are where I want them, which is on the rare side of medium. Once they have finished resting, the breasts are perfectly cooked.
Reprinted with permission from Duck, Duck, Goose by Hank Shaw, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.