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Dec 25, 2007 03:44 AM

Roast Duck with Truffles: a report

After studying the pantry a week or two ago, I decided on a Christmas duck with truffles. The truffles were already on hand, and I found a rather handsome 6.5 pound duck just quacking to come to dinner. (Figuratively, not literally.) And then we moved Christmas a day forward since my son and DIL have to spend Christmas Day (today) driving home (12 hour drive) so he can make a business meeting early tomorrow morning. All flights were booked!

I searched several of my cookbooks that seemed most likely to have a recipe for roast duck with truffles but found none. Google only turned up one measely recipe for duck breast with truffles. Okay. I was on my own. Time to fly "seat of the pants." Been there, done that, let's do it!

My plan was to peel back the breast skin with fat layer attached and slide the sliced truffles between the fat and the flesh. All that fat rendering around the truffle slices picking up all the flavor of those luscious French black winter truffles. What could be better than that? Well, let's see...

Since turkey and chickens turn out so magnificent when I cook them with the trivection fast cook method of my magic genie of an oven, I decided it would have to do something good for a duck too! Checked out several sources, and the concensus was that a 6.5 pound duck should take 2 hours and 20 minutes at 375F. Checked the time required with trivection: 47 minutes! Okay, if I have everything "mis en place," that will give me just enough time to pull everything together!

Problem 1: There is something about a duck that is extremely uncooperative when it comes to seperating the skin/fat from the breast flesh when working from the cavity. The flesh narrows down, the fat layer doesn't come that far down, and the skin embraces the flesh in a death grip, so there is NO seperating the two! Obviously the reason why the only duck with truffles recipe I could find called for seperating the fat from the flesh from the cut side of the duck BREAST...! Ya think?

Solution: Make my standard gill-like slashes down each side of the breast (as opposed to the oft-recommended pin pricks that seal themselves in the first five minutes of roasting) and try stuffing the sliced truffles in them! Well, turns out that method worked best if I deepened the slashes to go all the way through the fat layer without nicking the flesh. Otherwise, the fat itself is not deep enough to accept a truffle slice. So slash deeper I did, and inserted the truffles under the fat layer that way. Logically, this is the best choice since the rendering fat will wash the truffle flavor into the breast. So with a small bit of butter rubbed over the skin to give it a boost in browning, a generous dash of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, into the oven it goes! For 47 minutes! And about fifteen more to rest.

About black winter truffles: Why can't somebody package the damned things pre-peeled! With my very sharpest, freshly edged paring knife, I began peeling them. The goal is to take the thinnest layer possible off these little black diamonds, because they are precious! But truffles do not grow in uniform shapes like golf balls. Truffles believe in convolution! And dimples. And creases. And trying to peel those areas in the thinnest possible way just ain't gonna happen. But that's okay. It leaves more flesh for the sauce Perigueux! <sigh> As for slicing truffles without a forty dollar truffle slicer, a good old mandoline works just fine.

So with the duck in the oven, it gives me 47 minutes to make the brown sugar glazed carrots and bulgur pilaf. Picked up a nice pre-washed cello-pack of baby carrots at the market a couple of days ago.

Problem 2: A new friend insisted on helping me bring in the groceries and put them away. Since that's a chore I hate, all help is welcome. BIG mistake! When the crisper drawer did not yield the cello bagged carrots, the search was on. I found them in the freezer! Orange rocks! geez... Well, a quarter cup of water, a pack of carrots, a heavy dollop of butter, a small handful of brown sugar, some kosher salt and set them to simmer. And scratch cooking as an area of possible mutual interest with that new friend. Undoubtedly she's certain that the CIA is just a bunch of spies!

The bulgur pilaf is a cinch. Brown a generous handful of pine nuts in a generous amount of butter in the bottom of a sucepan. Add some finely chopped onions when the pine nuts just begin to color. When they're transparent, add a couple of cups of bulgur and stir until the bulgur drinks up all the butter. Toss in a generous handful of currants. Add 2.5 cups of chicken stock (as opposed to broth), bring to a boil, reduce to a simer, add kosher salt to taste and a little minced parsley and dill, then simmer until broth is absorbed. I start with a lid on, then take it off at the end to dry out the bulgur if it hasn't absorbed all of the liquid but is tender. Keep warm until time to serve.

The problem with the Perigueux sauce is you have to have duck fat to make the roux. Good thing the duck has to rest when it comes out of the oven. Then I discovered I could not make a true Perigueux sauce because I was fresh out of Madeira! That's okay. We're improvising from the get-go on this one anyway. Prior to putting the duck in the oven, I put the neck and giblets to boil lightly in some chicken stock, along with some onion and a little beef base for extra flavor and a bit of color. Then the last ten minutes the duck is in the oven, I took the lid off to let the broth concentrate.

I made a nice roux with the duck fat, then added the broth to just the right texture to mask a spoon. Added the finely chopped truffle peel, the truffle juice from the jar, white vermouth to taste, and finally a comfortable dash of cognac. Simmer to meld the flavors, correct the texture and seasonings, and it's a go! And not a bad substitute for true sauce Perigueux, if I do say so myself.

Results: The duck was delicious, BUT... I couldn't find even a hint of truffle flavor in the breast flesh. But add the sauce and it went from delicious to over the top! If I ever try another variation of this menu, I would do a medium grain rice dish instead of the bulgur using the truffles in it, where they would undoubtedly have more of a presence. But keep the sauce for the duck! Overall, the meal was a success. My son -- the world's pickiest eater -- even had seconds! Of everything! Now, THAT is success...!

MORAL: If you can't find a recipe for roast duck with truffles anywhere you look, chances are there's a reason.


Chilled Asparagus Spears with Stilton Sour Cream - Cashews - Toast points.

Roast Duck with Truffles, Sauce in the Perigueux manner
Bulgur Pilaf
Glazed Carrots

Romain with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Garlic Butter Croutons

Apple Caramel Cheesecake
Mincemeat Vanilla Ice Cream Sundaes

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  1. Thanks for sharing this story. Your menu sounds great, and I respect your spirit of experimentation.

    Some years back, I was given a jar of truffled honey. I was not quite sure what to do with it but a friend suggested using it to glaze a roast duck. It was sensational, with the truffle flavor really coming through and the glaze created a beautiful lacquer on the skin.

    1 Reply
    1. re: btnfood

      Your honey truffle duck sounds delicious. I think that may be the better way to impart truffle flavor in duck. I think my method failed because I couldn't get the truffle between flesh and skin without the slashes. I suspect they just allowed the truffle flavor to end up in the drippings in the bottom of the roasting pan. Live and learn!

      Thanks for your response.

    2. Caroline, great story - and an absolutely GREAT flying by the seat of your pants dinner! But I think what stuck with me most was the cello bag of baby carrots. In the freezer.

      Get that new friend into your kitchen learning right away! LOL

      1 Reply
      1. re: LindaWhit

        Linda, I'm just not sure about letting her help put groceries away again. Saw her this morning and told her about it. She was embarassed and claims she knows better. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. I once had a housekeeper (long gone!) who kept putting my lettuce in the freezer! Maybe they do that in Nigeria, but not here, thank you!

        I've been blessed when it comes to cooking. I lived in Turkey many years ago, where a dear Turkish friend owned four top-drawer gourmet restaurants. When his head chef of twenty-plus years decided she was tired of cooking for the public and wanted to go into private service, Suraya brought her to me! Fatma was a master of French and Byzantine/Ottoman cooking, and for three glorious years I got training from her six days a week! When we returned to the U.S., I used to watch Julia Child to make sure she was doing things right. LOL! I didn't know who she was, but she did convince me (in time) that she did know what she was doing!

        I do love to cook, and in my "mellowing out" years, I'm blessed with a pretty well equipped kitchen. When I do refer to a recipe, I usually read it the day before, but not on the day I'm cooking. But I do consider my Christmas dinner this year a triumph. When my son, the world's pickiest eater, has two helpings of everything, I must have done something right! '-)

      2. This may be a dumb question, but do truffles need to be peeled? We've been eating some Oregon ones (both black and white) for the past week, and haven't been peeling them.

        Your menu sounds delicious. I have more truffles to use up, but I think I'm going to make another potato/fontina/truffle gratin, and then put the rest in olive oil before they go bad.

        7 Replies
        1. re: MMRuth

          Hi MM! I have *heard* that you do, but I think that could be interpreted as *you may*. It sounds like you've been doing fine without peeling them. I have no first-hand experience, but I plan to be ready when I have the opportunity! I imagine the peelings could be used in some way, too, but they wouldn't be as pretty as neat shavings.

          1. re: Pat Hammond

            Thanks. Haven't noticed any problems with not peeling and with the black ones I like the visual contrast of the black peel on the outside. When I've seen white truffles shaved in restaurants they didn't seem to be peeled.

            Edit - did some googling - - mentions Olney says peeling is a matter of personal preference. Might try that truffled egg pasta dish.

            1. re: MMRuth

              Yikes! Thought I answered this already, but obviously I closed my browser without posting when the doorbell rang. <sigh>

              I'm laughing at myself because it has never occurred to me to NOT peel a truffle! That's what I was taught to do hmmhmmhmm years ago, and it has never entered my mind to challenge it.

              I suspect the tradition began with freshly dug truffles from soil that may not have been all that easy to scrub off. But I have also had some truffles where the little black "texture" to the peel has been pretty gritty and hard. 'And in my experience, there is always a textural difference between the flesh and the peel. But...! I've never had a fresh truffle or a white truffle in my life. Only truffles in a jar from Perigord, France. So I have no idea what I'm missing!

              If not peeling works for you, why not! But I will say that by peeling them and then using the peels (finely minced) and the juice from the jar (which fresh truffles don't have, lucky you), I do get "double mileage."

              What a very lovely problem to have on your hands. Truffles you have to use up. How do I look this shade of green? '-)

              1. re: Caroline1

                My mother and I were just out loading up on books and I popped into the market for some Cipriani egg noodles to make that truffle noodle dish for dinner! I'm actually slightly (though only very slightly) peeved with my husband for buying so much right before we went away for the holidays, though he did make some truffle butter with some of them. I actually brought the extra truffles in the car with me from NYC to North Carolina (along with two other bags of provisions - cheese, olive oils, bottarga, cookbooks, pastas, my knife and my Le Creuset dutch oven)!

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I made that egg noodle truffle dish last night, with the Cipriani tagliatelle that I bought. I used 1/2 stick of butter and about the same amount of olive oil (my mother and I both dislike the taste of butter), but forgot to add the cognac, which we agreed would have cut through the richness a bit in a good way. Sliced up the remaining two black truffles and cooked them in the butter/oil as directed, tossed with the cooked noodles, added a little salted and some grated parmesan. Delicious, and something decadent about eating it in one's pyjamas! I think this would also be a good use of "trimmings" of truffle. Now I just have to deal with those white ones!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      The pasta sounds delicious! If only I disliked the flavor of butter, I'm sure my hips would be several inches slimmer. <sigh> I guess when you grow up with raw milk and freshly churned butter, it stays with you for life.

                      Curiosity finally took me by the shoulders and shook, so I dragged out my 42 pound (slight hyperbole) 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique, and looked up truffles, both black and white.

                      For black truffles it says that anything not from Perigord is "inferior," then goes on to dictate that they be peeled in all cases. It even gives directions for home canning of truffles in which it says to peel the truffles, but never mentions what to do with the peels. Having now given it some thought, this must still be going on in the French truffle canning industry because I have seen jars of truffle peels offered on websites, even though I've never run across peeled truffles. Maybe the peels are the leftovers from truffles used in foi gras?

                      LG also talks about black truffles being used for "birds and game," but no mention of ducks or geese falling into the bird category. Maybe I should have got the hint? But if they're used for game, which is often quite strongly flavored, I wonder why they didn't have more "presence" in my duck? Gotta be the cook's fault. Just have to figure out why.

                      As for white truffles, LG says they are almost exclusively used raw, and only added to cooked dishes, such as risotto, after the cooking is completed and the pan has been removed from the heat. The two exceptions mentioned are for omlettes and scrambled eggs, in which case they are added to the eggs before they're added to the pan. The other recipe is one cooked by "noblemen" in a solid silver chafing dish. A dozen Piedmant truffles are peeled and sliced. Butter and/or olive oil (in Paris, all butter, in Piedmont, all olive oil) are put in the bottom of the pan along with an egg sized portion of chicken demi-glace, then the peeled sliced truffles are places on top, seasoned with salt, white pepper, nutmeg, and a bit more olive oil, then covered and set over the spirit lamp (alcohol burner) for the nobleman to open and stir intermitently for eight minutes. The "seigneur" then dresses it with the juice of half a lemon and serves himself. No mention is made as to whether anyone else gets some. If not, the good "seigneur" probably gets a well deserved belly ache for eating a dozen truffles all by himself!

                      Under the black truffle entry, Larousse G. does start out by saying that truffle is "difficult to digest because of its close texture." Purportedly, white truffles are larger in size than black truffles, so I can only imagine what eating a dozen white truffles would do! On the other hand, maybe if I was the Doge of Venice, I could handle it? '-)

                      According to LG, it might be interesting to repeat your pasta recipe, this time adding shaved white truffles after everything is cooked. Be really intersting to compare if you have any leftovers...