Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cloak & Petal's Glazed Duck Breast

Step into the new Little Italy restaurant Cloak & Petal, which opened last December, and what's most striking are the two strikingly large faux cherry trees in breathtaking full bloom that sit in the middle of the main dining room. They immediately signify that you're in a Japanese restaurant, but not a traditional room. As new executive chef Dominic Valenzuela (he started in the restaurant as sous chef but took over the kitchen recently after the departure of executive chef Trace Jerome) described it, it's "Japanese Soul." By that he means Japanese in essence but "continuing to strive for perfection, for a balance of flavors."

The menu reflects an eclectic Japanese style that also takes into account its location in San Diego. So, seaweed salad, sashimi and nigiri sit cheek by jowl with grilled beef tongue and salmon tostada. There's elk sashimi, a variety of rolls, including a wagyu roll, and manilla clam miso. And glazed duck breast, which Valenzuela taught me how to make.

Japanese soul is an intriguing way to look at Valenzuela's own background. Born and raised in Albuquerque, he knew he wanted to be a chef as a high school freshman. He took community college cooking classes before enrolling in and attending Johnson & Wales University in Denver. He earned money and got experience working as a breakfast cook at a golf course and at a Mexican restaurant, where he learned how to work on the line.

Following his graduation, Valenzuela moved out to Southern California and worked for three years with Travis Kamiyama of Kamiyama Sushi in Torrance. "I loved it," he said of his experience with sushi. "It's instant gratification to give someone something you just made."

Since that experience, Valenzuela went on to work in a variety of sushi restaurants, but he also took some detours, including time in Hawaii where he worked for six months under Hank Adaniya at Hank's Haute Dogs, making traditional regional dogs--Chicago, Polish, chili, bratwurst, and the like, but also hot dogs made from lobster, alligator, rabbit, and even duck and foie gras. From there he returned to Albuquerque and launched Dia de los Takos, a food truck that he set up at breweries around town--something the breweries loved since he used their beers as the base of his fish taco batter.

San Diego is home now and Valenzuela returned to sushi, working first for Rob Cassidy at Sushi on the Rock and then at Cafe Japengo under Jerry Warner. He also worked at Sushi Lounge in Point Loma. He briefly returned to Albuquerque and his Dia de los Takos food truck before coming back to San Diego in 2017 to help open Cloak & Petal.

Now to the glazed duck breast. It's a new menu item. Valenzuela created a yuzu marmalade for the glaze, and sits it in a swirl of vibrant green edamame puree, accompanied by confit turnips.

The dish Valenzuela taught me substitutes edamame puree for potato puree, but the technique remains the same and it's something you can recreate with your favorite, seasonal vegetable. The glaze, too, is something you can riff on with your favorite marmalade.

The first thing you'll do is brine the two skinned and boned duck breasts in one quart of water mixed with a tablespoon each of salt and sugar. Valenzuela pointed out that this simple brine works just as well for chicken and pork. Note that the duck breast is skinned but still has a nice layer of fat on it. You'll trim the excess fat--but, Valenzuela suggested, keep the excess to render and then cook scrambled eggs or sauté vegetables. Score the fat and place the breasts in the brine. You can brine it for a couple of hours or up to overnight.

Once the duck breasts have been brined, pre-heat the oven to 500° and score the breasts to help render the fat for crispness. Heat a skillet, preferably aluminum, cast iron, or stainless steel--not non-stick, and once it's smoking hot, add a little melted butter or ghee or even vegetable oil to the pan.
Lay the duck breasts fat side down on the skillet and cook for about a minute and a half. Sprinkle some ground black pepper onto the breasts before turning them and cooking for another minute. Then flip them again and place the skillet into the oven for 7 to 8 minutes for medium rare (think of duck as meat, not poultry). Add or subtract cooking time in 2-minute increments for rare or for medium to well done. Remove the skillet from the oven and let the breasts rest for 3 to 5 minutes, tented with foil.
To make the puree, dice and boil the potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and drain. Place in a blender with 2 teaspoons of salt and about 1 1 /4 cup of heavy cream. Puree, then pour into a bowl with a sieve to remove any lumps and make impeccably smooth. It reminded me of the texture of mayonnaise. Valenzuela explained that the puree can be made in advance and reheated in a pan with a little butter.

Valenzuela then sautéed mizuna, a Japanese green (you can substitute with other favorite greens), in butter, adding a splash of sake and lemon juice for flavor. He also placed his yuzu marmalade in a pan and added ponzu and unsalted butter to create the glaze, swirling it around to warm it until it reach a boil, at which point he took it off the heat.

Now comes time to plate. First place a mound of puree on the plate and using the back of a large spoon, push it into a swirl. Place the greens in the center. Then slice each duck breast and (tip) place on a paper towel first to drain the released liquid before placing on the puree, crispy side up on each plate, fanned out. Finally, spoon the glaze over the duck. Valenzuela then garnished the dish with cilantro oil and edible flowers.

Glazed Duck Breast
from Dominic Valenzuela of Clock & Petal
Serves 2
(printable recipe)

For duck
1 quart water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 duck breasts, skinned and boned
1 tablespoon melted butter, ghee, or vegetable oil

For potato puree
2 russet potatoes, peeled
Ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 heavy cream

For greens
1 tablespoon butter or oil
2 cups mizuna or other greens
Lemon juice

For glaze
1/4 cup marmalade
1 ounce ponzu
2 tablespoons butter


Mix together water, salt, and sugar. Score the fat on the duck breasts and add them to the brine, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one to two hours or as long as overnight.

Do a large dice of the potatoes and add to a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain and add potatoes to a blender bowl. Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Puree.

Place a sieve over a bowl and pour the potato puree onto the sieve. Press through into the bowl. Set aside the puree.

Pre-heat oven to 500°. Remove the duck breasts from the brine. Heat a skillet until it's smoking. Add melted butter and lay each breast fat side down and away from you onto the pan. Sprinkle some ground pepper on each breast and let cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Turn over and leave for another minute. Flip again and place in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Add or subtract cooking time in 2-minute increments for rare or for medium to well done. Remove the skillet from the oven and let the breasts rest for 3 to 5 minutes, tented with foil.

While the breasts rest, sauté the greens in a tablespoon of butter or oil. Add a splash of sake and lemon juice. Once the greens have cooked, remove from heat.

Make the glaze by adding 1/4 cup of marmalade, an ounce of ponzu, and 2 tablespoons butter to a warm pan. Swirl around to keep the butter from breaking. Once it reaches a boil, remove from heat.

To plate, place a mound of puree on a plate and, using the back of a large spoon, swirl it around. Place the cooked greens in the center. Slice the duck and place on a paper towel to drain the liquid, then fan the slices of each breast onto each plate. Spoon the glaze over the duck.

Cloak & Petal is located at 1953 India St. in Little Italy.

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