A true magret de canard is the breast meat of force-fed ducks raised to produce fole gras. The breasts are extremely thick and have a much beefier taste than ordinary duck breasts. Long a speciality of the south-western provinces of France, today magrets are served in restaurants throughout the country. Like steaks in France, they are served rare, but unlike beef they are often served with a slightly sweet and sour sauce and/or fruit, to counteract the natural fattiness of the meat.
NOTE: At Le Cordon Bleu, real magrets are used, but since they are rarely available outside of France, this recipe substitutes ordinary duck breasts with excellent results.
12 small pears
700 ml (1.25 pints) dry red wine
45 g (1.5 oz) sugar
45 ml (3 tbsp) red wine vinegar
225 ml (8 fl oz) Brown Veal Stock
45 g (1.5 oz) butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 whole boneless duck breasts, split and trimmed of excess fat and nerve tissue
45 g (1.5 oz) butter, melted
Chervil or parsley, to garnish
Butter, softened, for baking parchment and baking sheet
Peel the pears, leaving the stems intact. Insert a vegetable peeler into the base of the pears and work it in to a depth of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Twist and pull out the cores. Put the pears into a bowl, and add the red wine and peppercorns. Leave to macerate for 30 minutes. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cover with a buttered round of baking parchment. Cover the saucepan with a lid. Bring to the boil reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until che pears are just tender when pierced with the point of a knife. Remove the pan from the heat and let the pears cool in the cooking liquid. Transfer the pears to a rack with a slotted spoon and leave to drain. Reserve 500 ml (16 fl oz) of the cooking liquid for the sauce; discard the remainder or refrigerate for another use (such as other poached fruits).
Combine the sugar and vinegar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then raise the heat to medium and cook until the mixture turns a light caramel colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the stock to stop the caramel from cooking. Be careful, as the caramel will sputter. When it stops sputtering, add the reserved pear cooking liquid and simmer over low heat until the liquid reduces and becomes slightly syrupy. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Lightly score the skin of the duck breasts with criss-cross incisions. Rub both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large frying pan over high heat until hot. Add the duck breasts, skin side down (the fat released from the skin will be sufficient to cook the breasts), and cook for 2-3 minutes until the skin is browned and crisp. Turn the breasts and continue cooking for about 6 minutes, until medium rare. Remove from the pan and wrap in aluminium foil to keep warm; set aside. Discard the fat from the pan. Add the sauce and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom to release the cooked particles. Cook for 1 minute, strain and return to the pan. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, bit by bit. Adjust the seasoning.
Preheat the grill. Brush a baking sheet with softened butter. Arrange the pears upright on the baking sheet. Brush with the melted butter and reheat for a few minutes under the grill.
To serve, cut the duck breasts into thin, diagonal slices and arrange in the centre of a large serving platter. Spoon over a little sauce. Garnish with chervil or parsley leaves. Arrange the pears around the duck breasts. Serve the remaining sauce in a sauceboat. (For individual serving, see photograph above.)