The lentil salad and date-bacon purée can be prepared ahead (both don’t take all that much time to make), so they’re ready and plated when you’re slicing the seared duck breast. Trust me, the unexpected flavors of the purée heightens the total taste experience.

Ingredients

  • 3 slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1-½ cups pitted dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup lentils, any variety
  • 4 smashed garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
  • 1 celery rib, finely diced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons light balsamic vinegar
  • 3 1-pound duck breasts, skin on
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • ½ cup chicken broth, home-made or packaged (not canned)

Directions

1.   Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat, and add the bacon, browning until crisp. Deglaze the pan with the brandy, scraping up any browned bits. Add the dates and water, and lower the heat, simmering 10 minutes, until the dates are very soft. Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender or food processor, and purée, dribbling in water, if it gets too thick. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

2.   Combine the lentils, garlic, bay leaves and 4 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover, simmering 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain the lentils and rinse under cool water. Pick out the garlic and bay leaves and discard. Transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl.

3.   Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced carrot, celery and all but 1-½ tablespoons of the shallot, and sauté 4 minutes. Combine with the lentils and toss with the light balsamic vinegar. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper, if desired.

4.   Using a sharp paring knife, score the duck skin in a cross-hatch pattern without piercing the flesh. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper.

5.   Heat a large skillet (or 1 medium skillet and 1 small skillet) over medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin-side down, and cook 8 minutes, as the fat renders and the skin crisps deep golden-brown. Turn the duck breasts over and cook an additional 6 minutes. Flip the duck breasts over, cook 1 additional minute, then transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. (Step-by-step tutorial for how to cook duck breast.)

6.   Spoon 2 or 3 tablespoons of the date-bacon purée on 6 plates. Apportion the lentils on top of the purée.

7.   Pour the rendered duck fat into a bowl and reserve for a later use. Over medium heat, sauté the reserved minced shallot until just starting to brown. Add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil 2 minutes, then take off the heat.

8.   Slice the duck breasts into ½-inch slices and arrange on top of the lentils. Whisk any collected juices into the shallot-chicken broth sauce, then spoon a bit of sauce over the duck, and serve.