Four-time James Beard Finalist Best Chef South Slade Rushing knows a thing or two about celebrations. As executive chef of French Quarter institution Brennan’s of New Orleans, his restaurant is a traditional spot for celebratory moments, from birthdays to engagements to toasting that big promotion, and cooking for special occasion moments is a responsibility he relishes.
12 Dec 2018
So it makes sense that when it comes to holiday celebrations, Rushing applies the same approach. “It’s not about getting too crazy with the food,” he explains, referencing the attraction of a recipe that might be beyond your skill set or flavor combinations that are new to everyone in attendance. “It not your time to show out. It’s about coming together, giving people the experience of sharing a good meal together.”
Therefore, he suggests trying to keep some familiar dishes or flavors on the table, and then using your cooking skills to execute a dish that starts with good products. For a holiday meal centerpiece, he suggests duck in a cast iron skillet, which can be used as a serving dish to bring to the table for a more laid-back celebration (slicing the meat in front of guests) or kept in the kitchen if you want to plate and slice the duck breast for a more formal, restaurant-style presentation.
“A duck breast is a lot easier to execute than a whole duck,” says Rushing, “since cooking a whole duck has a lot more steps that invite room for error.” Duck breasts are readily available, too, so if you’re buying fresh, look for red flesh, and a thick, white fat cap under the skin. Frozen duck breasts can work just as well, but make sure to defrost properly, and then pat dry before adding to the skillet.
“The key to this method is to have patience,” he explains. “Turn the pan down low and the let fat slowly render out and the skin get crispy. Cast iron is perfect for this because the heat is really consistent. ”
This dish is full of familiar ingredients and flavors, but combined in a fresh way, speaking to celebration. The sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts are holiday table traditions, but cooked alongside the duck, they will take on a depth of flavor from the meat and the spice combination. And since the skillet goes from stovetop to oven, there will be less clean up and more time to enjoy guests, and that’s really what gathering is all about.
“A simple recipe can still have a gourmet finish,” he says. Spoken like a true chef. Let quality ingredients and cast iron do the work, and you’ll be celebrating too.
– By Stephanie Burt
Roasted Holiday Duck Breast
Chef Slade Rushing - Brennan's Restaurant [New Orleans, LA]
What You Need
4 8-oz Boneless Duck Breast
2 Large Sweet Potatoes, Peeled and Cut into .5 inch Discs
1 Pound Brussels Sprouts, Cut Into Quarters
12 Pearl Onions, Peeled and Cut in Half
2 Bay Leaves
1 Teaspoon Quatre Épices [Recipe Below]
Salt and Pepper, To Taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place large Smithey cast iron pan on burner, on low heat.
Place duck breasts on cutting board, skin side up, and make shallow crosshatch incisions just through the layer of fat with a sharp knife. Season generously with salt and pepper on all sides, then add to skillet, skin side down.
Cook breasts until skin is crisp and fat is largely rendered, about 5 minutes. Turn and cook for 1-3 additional minute. Remove duck breasts from pan and rest on a large plate.
Leave pan on burner and add all vegetables. Season with quatre épices, bay leaves, and salt. Stir into duck fat and place skillet in the oven for 12 minutes. Plate vegetables onto 4 plates and top with thinly sliced duck breasts and any remaining duck drippings.
What You Need
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Ginger
1 Teaspoon White Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Mix all ingredients together.