If you don’t think salad is a hearty enough meal for the dead of winter, this one will certainly change your mind… With a warm duck breast sliced atop a flavor packed mix of greens, vegetables, nuts and cheese, it’s a dish that’s rich and satisfying but also pretty skinny.
I only recently stumbled upon this fabulous combination of flavors at The Waterfront Restaurant in our favorite home away from home, Camden, Maine. It was Christmastime and there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground…but the sun was bright, the sky a vivid blue and the outside temperature was an almost balmy 34 degrees. Somehow, I didn’t feel like a cold seafood salad but didn’t really want a hot chowder either.
I ended up ordering this dish instead and, by the time lunch was finished–and everyone at the table had sampled my plate–we all decided that this warm salad would be perfect any time of year.
If you’ve never cooked duck breast before, there are a couple of things to know…
First, duck breast is actually a very dark meat, with a richer and oilier taste and texture than the thigh or leg meat from chicken or turkey. And duck skin is extremely fatty: a 3.5 ounce breast with skin has almost 350 calories! But, with the skin removed, the same size breast has just 200 calories. And duck is also highly nutritious: that same small breast is a rich source of B vitamins, has 15 percent of your daily iron and a whopping 24 grams of protein…more than half of what most women need in an entire day!
In this preparation, we make the most of the rich flavor of the duck while minimizing the fat and cholesterol by cooking the breast in the skin but discarding the rendered fat and skin before serving. And by letting just enough (1/2 teaspoon) of the flavorful drippings mingle on the greens with the Balsamic vinegar, there’s no need for a separate dressing…which saves a few more calories.
And though I don’t count the calories of spinach, bell peppers or shallots, after adding in 2 tablespoons of kalamata olives (50 calories), 2 tablespoons of feta cheese (50 calories), and 1 tablespoon of glazed walnuts (50 calories), you have a rich (and generously sized) lunch or supper loaded with taste, texture and nutrition for only 350 total calories.
If you don’t care for olives, try artichoke hearts; roasted cherry or grape tomatoes are great in place of roasted peppers; and any type of nut or vinegar can be used.
So whether you spend your winter in the snow or sun, try this simple recipe to warm your tummy, spark your creativity and help you be slimmer by spring!
WARM DUCK BREAST SALAD WITH SPINACH, KALAMATA OLIVES, ROASTED PEPPERS, CANDIED WALNUTS AND FETA
(Thinking again of my Skinny Singles, I’ve written this recipe for one, but it can easily be multiplied. Though fresh duck breasts can be found at many butcher shops, most fine grocers sell them frozen, two to a pack. It’s perfectly fine to cut them apart and thaw only one.)
1 5-oz duck breast, boneless, with skin, completely thawed and left at room temperature for 30 minutes.
salt and pepper
2-4 handfuls of fresh spinach
1 red bell pepper, roasted, skin removed (To roast, roll over gas flame or broil until skin is charred. Place in closed paper bag for 10 minutes, remove skin and seeds and slice. Or, of course, you can always buy them in a jar!)
1/4 cup sliced shallot or red onion
2 T sliced kalamata olives (Kalamatas are very flavorful and salty, but any Greek olive can be used.)
2 T crumbled feta cheese
1 T chopped candied walnuts (These are crazy high in calories, fat and sugar. Chop fine to stretch their impact and use only 1 T!)
scant bit of rendered duck fat, about 1/2 teaspoon
drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar or Sherry Vinegar
Preheat oven to 400.
Using a sharp knife, score the duck skin (so that fat escapes and to help prevent curling), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don’t forget to season the duck before cooking, it is key to having tasty drippings to dress the salad.
Heat a stainless steel frying pan (NOT non-stick!) over medium high heat for several minutes before adding duck, skin side DOWN, to pan. There is no need to oil the pan, the skin will render more than enough fat to keep breast from sticking.
Let cook for 6-7 minutes, shake the pan to help release the skin, then flip and cook another 5 minutes with skin side up. Briefly remove breast to a plate and pour fat off into a heat proof bowl. (If you have dogs, you can save those drippings for their dinners….they’ll love you for it!)
Return breast to pan, skin side down, and set in the preheated oven to finish cooking, about 5-7 minutes more.
While the duck cooks, fill a plate with spinach (or a mix of spring greens, arugula or mizuna), sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. (La Brea Bakery and Mozza founder Nancy Silverton insists greens be salted before being dressed, and I’m not arguing with her.)
When duck is done, I slice it on top of the salad–so that the delicious juices from the meat and skin will dribble down and wilt the top layer of greens–and then trim off the remaining skin. It’s a little quicker to remove skin first and slice on a cutting board but you end up with a little less of the tasty drippings.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
Once you understand the calorie count in the “big ticket items” in this dish–the duck, cheese and nuts –you can improvise with any of the low calorie options you have on hand. You can try artichoke hearts, roasted or raw cherry tomatoes, poached or grilled asparagus or capers. If you don’t have candied walnuts, try a few dried cranberries or slivers of fresh apple to add the sweet note. You might also want to experiment with artisan vinegars…or skip the vinegar altogether and just use a squeeze of fresh lemon as the acid for the dressing.
There are literally dozens of options so have fun and find your favorite taste sensation!