I am often asked by our agriturismo guests why they rarely find chicken in restaurants here in Umbria. Often, they are under the impression we don’t eat chicken at all. In reality we eat chicken, but mostly at home. In a rural region like ours people is used to properly raised birds and cooked by your grandmother.
Ordinary chicken is considered cheap food and therefore relegated to fast food eateries or tourist oriented establishments.
The meat of choice in Umbria is pork which is of excellent quality both fresh and cured. The Umbrian salumi (charcuterie) have been appreciated for centuries. The butchers from Norcia were hired in Rome already in pre-imperial times to preserve meats in the winter.
In Umbria you will also find delicious beef from the majestic Chianina cows. However, game like wild boar and fowl are considered a real delicacy and almost an obligatory menu item in better restaurants. Don’t be intimidated! You will find pigeon, pheasant, guinea fowl, duck and occasionally even goose. There is no better region to enlarge your bird eating habits!
If you visit Umbria you will realize that like in most of Italy, locals favor small portions of meat rich in flavor, served with light sauces – or no sauce at all – complemented by a refreshing side of steamed vegetable or salad doused in olive oil and may be a touch of vinegar. This is a perfect way to savor a well made dish and get acquainted with its natural taste.
Duck breast is a great alternative to chicken and surprisingly easy to make. This is my foolproof recipe based on a classic French sweet and sour marinade. I have twisted it with Italian ingredients and herbs and I must say it’s quite lovely.
- one 1/2 kg (1 lb) duck breast with skin
- 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
- Juice of 1/2 lemon or of 1 orange
- 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoon red wine
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 3 tablespoon extra virgin live oil
In a bowl large enough to fit the breast snugly, mix the marinade ingredients, add the garlic cloves and whole rosemary sprigs. Place the duck breast in the marinade skin side up, cover and marinade in the refrigerator overnight.
I try to avoid single use plastic, so I don’t make marinades in freezer bags.
Remove the duck breast from the marinade, pat dry and transfer skin side down into a heavy cast iron pan. Reserve the marinade.
Cook the breast on very low heat for at least 5 min. Be patient as the duck fat renders out slowly melting onto the bottom of the pan. This is the most important phase of the cooking by which you get lovely crispy skin. If the skin burns too soon the breast will taste fatty and rubbery.
When the skin turns golden, remove the breast, quickly drip away the fat (or keep to roast potatoes) and wipe the pan with kitchen paper.
Now you need to be fast. Bring the heat to high, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sear the skinless side of the breast all over until slightly brown, about 2 min. Pour the marinade in the pan and reduce, it will take less than 1/2 min.
Remove the pan from heat but leave it on the stove, cover with a lid and 1 or 2 folded kitchen towels. You want to keep the pan as warm as possible. The breast will finish to cook with the indirect heat of the pan and will keep wonderfully moist. Wait for 5- 10 min, then slice thinly, toss with the pan juices and serve.
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One breast with a side of vegetables or potatoes serves 4. You might need to double the portions if you have large meat eaters in your party.