Rich duck and tart-sweet fruit are always a great match. Here, we’ve added one other element: smoke. Duck takes to this method beautifully, ensuring moist and flavorful meat. Serve with mashed potatoes, a spinach salad or simple dinner rolls for a special spring meal.
Smoked Duck Breasts with Cherry Compote
1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) kosher salt
2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. each chopped fresh thyme and fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
4 boneless, skin-on duck breast halves, about 12 oz. (375 g.) each
For the cherry compote:
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) white wine
1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) sugar
1 lb. (500 g.) fresh cherries, pitted
1/4 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) red currant jelly
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
About 2 cups applewood or cherrywood chips, soaked in water for 3o minutes
In a small bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, thyme, rosemary and 1 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over both sides of the duck breast halves and rub in gently. Place a rack on a rimmed baking sheet, put the duck breasts on the rack, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To make the compote, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine and sugar and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the cherries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cherries soften and begin to lose their shape, about 4 minutes. Stir in the currant jelly, vinegar and thyme. Remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature. The compote will thicken as it cools. (The compote can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
At least 30 minutes before you are ready to begin grilling, remove the duck breast halves from the refrigerator. Pat dry with paper towels.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for smoking over high heat; the temperature inside the grill should be 400-425 degrees F (200-220 degrees C). If using charcoal, bank the lit coals on either side of the grill bed, leaving a strip in the center without heat. Place a drip pan in the center strip and fill the pan with water. Add the 2 cups wood chips to the fire just before grilling. If using gas, fill the smoker box with up to 2 cups wood chips, then preheat the grill. Turn off 1 or more of the burners to create a cooler zone. Brush and oil the grill grate.
Place the duck breast halves, skin side down, on the grill over the indirect-heat area. Cover the grill and cook the duck breasts for about 20 minutes. Move the breasts to the direct-heat area and cook for about 5 minutes longer to crisp the skin. The breasts should be medium-rare at this point.
Transfer the duck breast halves to a platter and serve hot or at room temperature. Pass the cherry compote at the table. Serves 4.