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Saturday, December 04, 2010


Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Ever since I made my first roast duck with my dad — smothered in Cassis sauce — I have loved the flavor of this French black currant brandy. It is a great flavoring to add to your repertoire. The Brits make a great jellied candy with it, as well as a beverage called Ribena, which they forced the children to drink during the war for extra nutrition because it was high in vitamin C and some other good stuff.

So what is Cassis? Crème de cassis (its formal name) is a beautiful, red, sweet, blackcurrant-flavored liqueur. The black currants are smashed into refined alcohol, with sugar subsequently added. Cassis is one ingredient of a Kir Royal, which is a cocktail made with champagne. While crème de cassis is a specialty of Burgundy, it is made in other cities of France, as well as in Luxembourg and Quebec.

I like to use it in vinaigrettes and sauces. Here is a classic duck recipe and a wonderful ice cream recipe using Cassis. It’s also great in whipped cream, but who isn’t?

Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Cassis Compote

4 (6-ounce) boneless duck breasts
3 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
4 shallots, minced
1/4 cup crème de Cassis
1/2 cup black currant jam (unsweetened if possible),
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the duck skin-side-up. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits across the skin at a 45 degree angle. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper over the meat side of each duck breast.

Heat a well-seasoned skillet or nonstick pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add duck breasts, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes, or until skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove pan from heat (save the drippings) and transfer duck breasts, skin side up, to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 6 minutes.
Carefully discard all but 2 tablespoons of duck drippings from the pan. Return pan to medium heat and add shallots. Stir occasionally for 3 minutes, or until shallots begin to turn golden. Add Cassis to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen up the browned bits left by the duck. Add jam, vinegar, and remaining teaspoon of black pepper, and stir occasionally for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove duck from the oven and slice each breast at a 45 degree angle into 1/4-inch-thick strips (properly cooked duck should resemble medium-rare steak). Arrange in a fanlike pattern on a warmed plates and spoon Cassis compote overtop. Serve immediately. Call me!

Cassis Ice cream

2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup red currant glaze
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup Cassis liqueur
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Scald the half-and-half in a saucepan. Add currant glaze and stir over medium heat until glaze is dissolved. In a medium-size bowl, beat egg yolks until light and fluffy. Gradually add honey and beat until thick and smooth. Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture, stirring with a whisk. Beat until well blended. Return mixture to saucepan, place over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick and smooth (about 5 to 7 minutes). Cool, and then chill in a freezer for about 10 minutes.

Stir in Cassis and refrigerate until cold. Whip cream and fold into the mixture. Pour into container of ice cream freezer and process until thick and smooth. Spoon into tightly covered container and put into deep freeze to harden.