I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't warned being married would be hard. No one in the history of man has ever said marriage was a cakewalk, and if they have they were lying or deluded. Marriage is hard work when the going gets tough. There are two sets of needs that don't always coincide, two sets of how to get things done that don't always agree and two sets of taste buds that don't always match up.
But you get married anyway because you've found someone you love even when you don't agree, even when you're both being stubborn mules and even when they won't eat the things you will. Being a good partner and the only one who knew how to cook, I spent the first year of my marriage making only things my husband liked or at least didn't despise. There was a long list of things he didn't really eat: pasta, most seafood, many types of dairy, runny eggs, any fowl that wasn't skinless chicken breasts, non-lean meat and just generally anything new.
Being not only a food lover but an adventurous eater with mild aversions to only pungent goat's cheese and fiseekh, it drove me nuts to eat at the same restaurants and the same types of food day in and day out. I missed the succulence of chicken thighs roasted to sticky perfection, baked brie drizzled in clover honey and messy shell-cracking, claw sucking crab dinners. So I slowly started to introduce things into my husband's diet that I thought were sacrilegious not to eat. I started giving him tastes of sweet potato wedges encased in runny yolk, slices of coral salmon generously laced in ridges of fat and falling-off-the-bone tender chicken thighs. I compromised that first year; it was time for him to do the same. And compromise he did.
I can now cook whole chickens, pan-fry salmon steaks and make yogurt-based desserts. The day my husband actually began to ask for runny eggs and suggest we go out for sushi and frozen yogurt was the day I was sure the apocalypse was upon us. But the sky has yet to rain frogs and first-borns have yet to be smitten.
My latest attempt to entice my husband to eat something new came in the form of duck. I'd never eaten an Egyptian duck that wasn't boiled to within an inch of its life and fried until sufficiently shoe leathery. I longed for some really fatty, pink duck breasts drizzled in a sweet tangy sauce to cut through that richness. So I bought a whole duck, broke it down into quarters, saved the legs to try my hand at some confit, boiled the bones for stock and made, for the first time, pan-seared duck breasts.
I knew my husband would never eat a whole duck breast, in fact I knew he wouldn't try it at all. It all reminded me of an episode of Fawlty Towers where the only things on the hotel's gourmet dinner menu was duck with orange, duck with cherry and duck surprise (plain duck).
"And what do you do if you don't like duck?" asked one patron.
"Well if you don't like duck, you're rather stuck," said the infamous Basil Fawlty.
I made it when my husband was away and tried to whet his appetite with a photograph.
"Look what I made!" I wrote in a text message with an image attached.
"It looks amazing. What is it?" he asked.
"Duck in cherry orange sauce; don't you just want to dive in?"
"If I ate duck that would be the one I'd eat," he responded.
I guess that's as good a compromise as any.
Pan-Seared Duck Breast With Cherry Orange Sauce
2 duck breasts with the skin on
1 tablespoon butter,1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Splash of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of cherry preserves
Zest and juice of half an orange
1/2 cup of duck stock (chicken stock or water should work)
1. Score the skin and fat of the duck breast with a sharp knife, making sure not to pierce the meat. If your breasts don't have a good yellow layer of fat, then you'll need to use that butter and oil. Season the breasts well on both sides.
2. Start the duck in a cold pan skin-side down if the breasts are fatty enough and let them cook on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes on one side until the fat renders. Occasionally spoon fat over the other side. If your duck is lean, let the butter and oil heat up on medium heat and add your breasts. Cook for the same length of time and spoon fat over the breasts as they cook.
3. Flip and cook for another five minutes. The skin should be crisp and golden and the internal temperature at around 125 F (51.6 C) so that residual heat off the pan takes it up to about 140 F (60 C) for a pink inside.
4. Remove from the heat and let rest covered in foil while you make the sauce.
5. Remove all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan and turn up the heat.
6. Deglaze with white wine vinegar.
7. Add in the cherry preserves, zest and juice of the orange and stock or water. Cook until you reach your desired consistency, or about when reduced by half.
8. Slice your duck breast and drizzle with sauce. Serve, ideally, with potatoes roasted in duck fat.