This popular dish from Alexander’s—the restaurant at a scenic getaway on California’s Sonoma Coast—pairs especially well with the local wines.
Roasted Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree, Pancetta, Farro, Hazelnuts, and Black Cherry Jus Alexander’s at Timber Cove Inn, Jenner, Calif.
Having grown up on the Connecticut coast, William Oliver felt right at home taking over as executive chef of Alexander’s at Timber Cove Inn (21780 North Coast, Hwy. 1, Jenner, Calif., 707-847-3231, timbercoveinn.com)—even if he rarely has a free moment to gaze at the inn’s spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.
The 50-year-old structure sits on 25 acres of a site so picturesque that famed photographer Ansel Adams shot some of his favorite scenic images here. Designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, the inn recently underwent a $2.5 million renovation. It also hired Oliver, who is no stranger to renowned destinations. He has cooked at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, Calif., and at many Napa Valley wineries.
In fact, it was Oliver’s love of Burgundian pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast that helped lead him here, and it’s no surprise that one of his favorite ingredients is pinot noir–friendly duck. Oliver’s version of roasted duck breast has been on the menu since he started at the restaurant. It features Muscovy duck from nearby Salmon Creek Ranch in Bodega with black cherries that bring out the grape variety’s inherent fruitiness.
It’s a perfect dish for entertaining, because it looks beautiful whether served on individual plates or on one big platter. Just be sure to turn on your stove hood or to crack a window when searing the duck because its high fat content will cause it to smoke. And whatever you do, resist the urge to cut into the meat immediately after cooking. “Definitely let it rest, or else it will bleed out and become dry,” Oliver says. “Just enjoy half a glass of pinot—then cut into it.”
Roasted Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree, Pancetta, Farro, Hazelnuts, and Black Cherry Jus Serves 6 Adapted with permission from the recipe by William Oliver of Alexander’s at Timber Cove Inn
For the farro: 2 tablespoons olive oil ½ cup diced pancetta 1 cup farro (a type of whole wheat available in well-stocked groceries and natural food stores) ½ cup diced shallot ¼ cup diced celery ¼ cup diced carrot ½ cup dry white wine 6 cups duck or chicken stock, divided 6 fresh bay leaves, divided 1 sprig savory (omit if unavailable) ½ bunch thyme Salt and pepper to taste
For the cherry sauce: 2 cups defrosted frozen black cherries, pitted (or fresh cherries in season) 2 cups pinot noir or other red wine Seeds and pulp of ½ vanilla bean 6 cloves Juice of ½ lemon 2 tablespoons honey
For the parsnip puree: 4 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks of equal size 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature ½ cup heavy cream
For the duck: 6 5-to 6-ounce duck breast halves 2 bunches arugula, for garnish ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, for garnish
1. In a medium-size stockpot on medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the diced pancetta and cook, stirring, until the pancetta is slightly crisp and some of its fat has been rendered. With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate. Leave the oil in the pot.
2. Add the farro to the pot and toast the grains. Stir in the shallots, celery, and carrot, and sauté until the celery and carrot are soft and the shallots are translucent.
3. Add the white wine to the pot, stirring to release the caramelized bits stuck to the sides and bottom of the pan. Add three cups of the stock, two of the bay leaves, the savory, and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes or until the grains are tender.
4. Remove the bay leaves and any herb stems from the pot. Season the farro with salt and pepper, and stir in the cooked pancetta.
5. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cherries, red wine, vanilla bean seeds, two of the bay leaves, and the cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds. In a food processor, puree the mixture, then strain it into a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and honey. Set aside.
6. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the remaining three cups of the stock, the parsnip, and two of the bay leaves. Simmer until the parsnips are soft to the touch, about 15 minutes, depending upon the size of the pieces. Strain, reserving the parsnips. (Save the leftover stock for soup.) In a blender, puree the parsnips with the butter and cream until the mixture is silky smooth. (For a lighter dish, use stock instead.) Season the puree with salt and pepper.
7. With a paring knife, score the skin of the duck breasts. Season the skin with salt and pepper.
8. Heat a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the duck breasts, skin-side down, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about six minutes. Turn the duck breasts and cook for another two minutes. Turn them again and cook for two minutes more. Remove the duck breasts to a pan or plate and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes. Slice thin.
9. Spread a spoonful of the parsnip puree on each of six plates. Spoon some of the farro on top, then top the farro with a sautéed duck breast. Mound a handful of arugula on the duck and sprinkle on some hazelnuts. Drizzle with cherry sauce and serve.
Photography by Melissa Barnes
This article was first published in September 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.