Typical New Orleans style food is full of rich ingredients, typical fare from a town that knows how to eat.
I’ve figured out a couple of ways for us to have our cake and eat it, too. The recipe for Creole Duck delivers big flavor without the usual complement of fat and calories.
We start with the star of this show, the breast of duck, a well-known fount of flavor that — depending on how you cook it — doesn’t have to be terribly heavy. I do recommend that you saute the breast with the skin on; that’s how to maximize its deliciousness and moistness.
But you can remove and discard the skin — along with most of the serious fat and calories — afterward. In fact, duck meat without the skin is leaner than white meat chicken. And duck fat is not bad fat. Yes, some of it is saturated, but a large percentage of it is mono- and polyunsaturated, with the same properties, incredibly enough, as olive oil.
The duck and its sauce are brightened with homemade Creole seasoning, which has at least as much flavor, and significantly less salt, than many store-bought versions. My version is modeled on the spice mixes of two of New Orleans’s greatest chefs — Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.
A great all-purpose mix, my blend works equally well with chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, eggs and vegetables. In fact, you might want to double the recipe and keep the extra at the ready for future use. Here, I season the duck ahead of time and let it stand for 15 minutes, which allows the spices to flavor the meat more deeply. But if you’re short on time, just sprinkle the duck with the seasoning right before cooking.
The tomato-based sauce is flavored not only with my Creole spice mix, but with Louisiana’s holy trinity of vegetables: onion, celery and bell pepper. Also, in a nod to the city’s trademark richness, there’s a soupcon of Andouille sausage. Imported by Louisiana’s French settlers in the mid-1700s, andouille usually is made of smoked and coarsely ground pork. It’s spicy, too, with the American version having picked up more heat than the French over the centuries. There’s so little andouille called for here that you might consider using the full-fat version, but you’re welcome to seek out leaner brands at the supermarket; they’ll be made of chicken and turkey, not pork. In either case, this sauce, like the Creole seasoning, is widely useful. Try it with shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork and see for yourself.
By the way, if duck has always struck you as gamey, you haven’t tried Peking (also known as Long Island) duck breast, the kind employed in this recipe. I serve duck breast once a week at home and the family loves it. It’s so quick and easy to prepare that I put it in the same category as steak. As a matter of fact, duck breasts pair up nicely with any of the sauces you’d use with steak.Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows.