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A Recipe From the Chef: D.J. Olsen's Duck with Kabocha Squash and Bacon Lardons

LOU wine bar chef D.J. Olsen says that his food is "a matter of good ingredients done simply." Of course, as with all chefs, that simple part is relative. This dish is a case in point. The duck is pan-seared, which is quite simple, but it's been brined for a few hours first. The squash is roasted in the oven. The bacon is cut small and crisped to lardons. And the entire dish is drizzled with saba or vin cotto, a fantastic grapey syrup made from wine must available at gourmet grocers and import shops. But dishes like this are worth the effort, and really are pretty simple when considered piecemeal.

Or swing by the wine bar and order it off the menu. Have some wine. Just don't dance on the tables afterwards, as they're a trifle small for that, despite some patrons' repeated attempts. (Read our interview with the chef for this and other observations.)

D.J. Olsen's duck with Kabocha squash
D.J. Olsen's duck with Kabocha squash
A. Scattergood

Duck Breast with Kabocha squash, arugula, bacon lardons, pepitas and saba

From: LOU wine bar chef D.J. Olsen

Makes: 4 servings

Note: Saba and vin cotto are available at gourmet groceries and import shops like Guidi Marcello and Cube. Pekin duck is available at Bristol Foods, Whole Foods, poultry shops and other good grocery stores.

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed with a knife or in a mortar and pestle

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed with small pan, or in a mortar and pestle

3 dried bay leaves, crumbled

4 8-ounce boneless Pekin duck breasts

1 small red kabocha squash

extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2-inch thick slice of slab bacon

1/4 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

3 ounces wild arugula

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small shallot, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup canola oil

saba or vin cotto (or a 50/50 mix of the two) as garnish

For the brine:

1. Make a brine by whisking together 2 quarts of water, salt, sugar, juniper berries, coriander seeds, bay leaves, until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved.

2. Place duck breasts in the brine, refrigerate; brine for a minimum four, or maximum six hours.

3. Remove duck breasts from brine. Rinse and dry them, and trim any excess fat from meat side of breasts.

5. With a very sharp knife, score the fat/skin side of each breast in a tight diagonal pattern, being careful not to cut entirely through the fat into the meat. Reserve.

For the squash:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. There may be a few rough, crusty areas on the exterior of the squash. Remove any rough, crusty areas on the exterior of the squash with a sharp knife, being careful to maintain as much of the tender red skin (which is edible) as possible.

2. Cutting through from the stem end, divide the squash into quarters. Remove seeds and webbing and cut each quarter into 1" wide wedges.

3. Season the wedges with salt and pepper; toss with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat and place the wedges, tips facing upright, on a sheet tray. Roast until the squash is easily pierced with a sharp knife and the tips have charred slightly, about 10-12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

For the bacon and pepitas:

1. Slice the bacon across its width at 1/2" intervals to form lardons and fry in a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil until starting to crisp. Remove from the pan and reserve.

2. Roast the pepitas in a 450° oven until they start to snap and pop, about 4-5 minutes. Cool and reserve.

For the sherry vinaigrette:

1. Blend the sherry and red wine vinegars in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add shallot and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Blend the oils and slowly drizzle the oils into the vinegar mixture, whisking constantly, until emulsified.

For the duck and to finish:

1. Preheat the oven to 500. Place duck breasts, skin side down in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate them without crowding. Fry them over high heat until skin has crisped and turned golden brown. Remove and place on a baking tray.

2. Place the tray with the duck breasts in the oven, skin side up, and roast for 6 minutes (for medium rare).

3. Meanwhile, drain most of the duck fat from the sauté pan, and add squash slices (3 slices per person) and bacon lardons to the pan. After the duck has been in the oven for 3 minutes, put the pan with the squash in the oven too.

4. At 6 minutes, remove both the duck and squash from the oven. Let the duck breasts rest on a cutting board. Add the shallots and pepitas to hot squash pan and let the shallots sizzle for a moment in the pan.

5. Meanwhile, put the arugula in a bowl and add the hot squash, shallots and pepitas. Toss with the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

6. Slice the duck breasts on the bias into 1/4" slices. (If the duck seem too rare for you, it can be placed back in the oven for an additional minute or two.)

7. Place the dressed arugula to one side of four plates. Arrange squash slices atop the arugula and scatter the pepitas and the lardons atop squash and around the plate. Arrange the duck slices, and drizzle with saba. Serve immediately.


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