Roasted Duck Breast with Spiced Blueberry Sauce

(Photograph courtesy of Pat Berrett)

When I first came across this photo of my friend Vicente Griego “El Cartucho”, I knew that I was looking at the true meaning of flamenco, captured so elegantly by Pat Berrett! Thank you Pat for letting me share your beautiful photo! Anyone who has heard Vicente perform, will attest to the fact that he sings with his entire soul and being. His robust voice lends itself to the cante jondo (deep songs) style of singing. At a time when hardship, anguish, and despair were the order of the day, gitanos would belt out their private laments.

Thanks to Vicente I came to find out that he was singing a toná. Once you understand the toná, the photo makes absolute sense. What I see is a solo voice surrounded by a circle of mourning. The toná is a palo seco song style, i.e. without guitar accompaniment. Notice that the dancers are holding bastons. No doubt they used these sticks only to add rhythmical elements in a subtle way without interfering with the complexities of the voice.

For the musicologists amongst you, the toná is a true example of phrygean excellence. Back in the day, when there were no guitars and no flamenco shoes, the power of the voice was it. In the case of the toná, one of the earliest cante jondo songs (some even believe it to be the forerunner of flamenco cante), it is said that the difficulty of this song style almost led to its extinction. Thankfully, this is not so.

To showcase the toná in the sense of food, I chose duck as the center point, the solo voice if you will, surrounded by a complexity of flavors melded together into a spiced blueberry sauce. Please do not be intimidated by what seems to be a complicated list of ingredients, it really isn’t, this is a very easy recipe to make and the flavors will pleasantly surprise.

!Olé a la toná!

(Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as an appetizer)

2 duck breasts (skin on)
salt, pepper, and pimentón to season
2 shallots, approx. 1/2 cup (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon rendered duck fat
2 tablespoons date sugar (I prefer date sugar since it is not as sweet as regular granulated sugar)
2 tablespoons demi glace (beef, veal, or duck)
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
10-12 clove spice
6-8 star anise
1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper
10-12 juniper berries
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger
4 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground birdeye chili pepper or cayenne (optional)
5 oz (150g) wild blueberries (frozen)
2 cups red wine (I used Syrah)
50 ml Cointreau

Start by pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees F. Score the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and pimentón. In a cast-iron pan or dutch oven, place the duck, skin down, and brown for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Remove the rendered duck fat except for approx. 1 tablespoon. Turn the breasts over and sear for 1-2 minutes. Place uncovered into pre-heated oven and roast for 8-10 minutes. The duck breasts should be medium rare to ensure that they remain tender. Set duck breasts aside and cover with foil to keep warm.

For the sauce, sauté shallots in approx. 1 tablespoon of duck fat until translucent. Add the date sugar to the shallots, sauté for a couple minutes, then add wine, cointreau, blueberries, and demi glace. Combine remaining spices in a spice basket or teaball and add to the wine mixture. Simmer on medium to low heat to absorb flavors for 15-20 minutes. Remove spice basket. Continue to simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes or until sauce takes on a jam-like texture. Adjust with salt and birdeye chili pepper to give a smoky, sweet, citrus-flavored sauce with a little kick. Diagonally slice duck breasts into strips and drizzle with blueberry sauce or serve sauce on the side for dipping.

(Dedicated to my friend Vicente Griego, “El Cartucho”)

“El Cartucho” is the resident cantaor for Yjastros,  The American Flamenco Repertory Company at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Pat Berrett is an Albuquerque-based commercial photogrpaher, who specializes in working with artists of all kinds: painters, potters, weavers, jewelers, sculptors and performers. He may be contacted through his Facebook page or his commercial website.