French in a Flash: Sweet-Tart Duck Breasts with Fresh Cherry Sauce

When I was little, my dad used to drive my mom and me hours from Manhattan out onto Long Island so he could have a specific, never to be duplicated duck à l'orange (Long Island has the best duck). Is there anything more French-iconic than that dish?

One of the readers of my blog requested that I make a dish that she had staying with a family in the French seaside city of La Rochelle: duck breast with cherry sauce. I thought it might be an opportunity to revisit why fruit pairs so beautifully with duck, and a chance to bring the haute cuisine gastrique-based à l'orange back down to the family table.

Baking a terrific duck breast is actually very easy, and is a skill worth mastering. Just score the skin and salt the breast, sear over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, then flip and bake for 10 minutes. It just always works, and you have enough fat left over to roast some fabulous potatoes.

In making the cherry sauce, I wanted to hit the right balance of tang and sweetness, the two flavors that make cherries themselves so unique. The sauce took on the shape of a fresh Bing cherry and red wine reduction studded with balsamic vinegar and honey. It's sharp enough to cut the gaminess of the duck, but soft and sophisticated enough to compliment it.

I know we're still a month out, but it's never too early to prepare: I think this is the perfect stay-at-home Valentine's Day meal. The cherries themselves look like little crimson hearts, and this dish is decadent and different while being really easy to pull off,