Magret a la Mad Elf

Christmas dinner has come and gone, and brought some unusual triumphs.

First, the side dishes: alongside the usual boiled parslied potatoes and green beans, I slipped in a dish of glazed turnips. The turnips were so young and soft that I was afraid to really brown them for fear of turning them to mush, so they were just kind of boiled. But delicious. Like a potato and a radish made sweet, forbidden love. I never had turnips growing up, but they are certainly growing on me now. I suppose that increases my New Englander score a bit.

Next, the main dish. As already noted, I seared duck breasts — four Muscovy breasts and a Magret — then popped them in the oven to rest while I worked on the sauce. I poured out all but a thin film of duck fat on the bottom of the pan, dumped in a diced shallot, and scooted it around a bit while it sizzled. Then a few tablespoons of flour to thicken the roux while I pondered the deglazing. I steeled my nerves, opened a Troëgs Mad Elf—and poured the whole thing into the pan.

An aside on the Mad Elf. I try to find a holiday beer every year–sometimes it’s been a standby like the Harpoon Winter Warmer, sometimes Belgians like the Kerst Pater Winter Ale. Some of the selections have not lasted, and I’m still sad that Orchard Street Brewing Company’s Jingle Ale went away when the brewery did. This year’s holiday beer was the Mad Elf from the Troëgs Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA. An astonishingly subtle 11% ABV, the cherries and honey mask the heat until it’s too late, as a rule. Well worth snapping up a few sixes if you come across it.

At any rate, I thought, if I was going to do a cherry sauce for the duck but had no cherries, why not use a beer brewed with cherries instead? The answer became clear after I had deglazed the pan and cooked it for a bit: the bitterness from the hops threatened to swamp the other flavors and make the sauce inedible. I desperately cast about for something to fight the bitterness and found a bottle of pure cranberry juice in the fridge, and added about 3/4 cup, tasting after each splash. The cranberry juice did wonders: without totally removing the bitterness, it added a deep sweetness and redness to the sauce that made it piquant and splendid. I added dried thyme and sage, cooked it through, and we were ready to go.

And it was excellent. The flavor of the magret breasts was gamier than I thought, but the sauce carried it through. Definitely a keeper.

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