Monday, May 18, 2009

The Latin Inspiration: Duck with Habanero-Raspberry Pique and Caramelized Cauliflower Arepa


Every once in a while, it's good to have a challenge. Competition, by its nature, asks us to test our ability, to confront ourselves with tasks we otherwise might not have considered.

To this end, when Burning Pasta was selected to participate as part of a "battle" held by Foodie Fights, the online cooking competition website, who was I to back down? The rules were simple -- cook one dish. The only requirement? The dish had to include both cauliflower and raspberries.

As someone who doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, I immediately decided to make a savory entree. I was particularly pleased by the inclusion of the cauliflower. A much maligned veggie, I love it for its mild creaminess, its versatility, that it's crunchy and bright when raw, yet oh-so-silky smooth when pureed. As for raspberries, I grew up eating them all summer long from the bramble behind my parents' house, and I knew that their unique sweet/tart flavor profile simply cried out for the addition of a little heat -- more on that in a moment.

I decided a bold, bright, Latin-inspired preparation would be the best way to make these ingredients sing -- it didn't hurt, of course, that I found myself still riding on the emotional (and caffeine) high of last week's Gelato Cubano. This presented an opportunity to create the perfect entree to pair with it, and I must say, I was quite happy with the results.

(Editor's Note: This dish may look daunting, but it's been broken down for you into four, simple, separate recipes. Don't be intimidated -- each one, on their own, is quite simple to make, and the product of their combination is more than worth it. This will make entrees for three people, with a little extra arepa dough left over -- feel free to make extras for breakfast the next morning.)

Coffee-Rubbed Duck Breast

1 Duck Breast

1 Poblano Pepper, roasted, seeded, and chopped
1 Rocoto Pepper, roasted, seeded, and chopped
1/2 teaspoon Tumeric
1 Tablespoon Smoked Salt
1 Tablespoon Chipotle Chili powder
2 teaspoons ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Water

3 Tablespoons Ground Coffee
Caramelized Cauliflower Arepas

1/2 Head Cauliflower, chopped and boiled
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Masa Harina (corn flower)
1 Cup Cauliflower Cooking Water (plus more if needed)
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/4 Head Cauliflower, processed as small as possible
1 Tablespoon Pimenton (smoked paprika)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Habanero-Raspberry Pique

1/2 Cup Raspberries
1/2 Habanero Pepper, seeded and diced
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice (about half a lime)
3 Cloves of Roasted Garlic
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
1 Tablespoon Butter, unsalted

Kosher Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Plantain Crema Fresca

1/2 Yellow/Black Plantain, as ripe as you can find
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream, whipped
1/4 Cup Sour Cream

Kosher Salt and Pepper (to taste)

You'll want to start the process of preparing some of the ingredients the night before you make the dish.

First and foremost, you'll want to roast a head of garlic for the habanero-raspberry pique. It's always good to have a head of roasted garlic lying around anyway -- it makes a wonderful addition to any number of dishes (and isn't bad just smeared on a chunk of bread with a little salt, either). Heat your oven up to 425, make a little bowl out of tinfoil, place the garlic inside, pour the three tablespoons of olive oil over the garlic, and pop that baby into the oven. Set a timer for 30-45 minutes -- the garlic will get nice and golden brown, and your kitchen will smell fantastic while you do the rest of the prep.

Meanwhile, place your Poblano pepper on top of your stove's burner, with the flame as hot as you can get it. Cook, turning with tongs, about three to five minutes, or until lightly blistered (as seen at the top of this post). Poblanos are referred to as Ancho peppers when roasted -- toasting it lightly will allow you to enjoy the flavors that both raw and cooked preparations offer.

From here, you can start assembling the marinade -- from the top of the picture below down, you can see the chopped poblano and rocoto peppers, followed by the dry ingredients: tumeric, smoked salt, chipotle chili powder, cinnamon, and cayenne. While this may seem like a lot of heat, I assure you, that's far from the case. Neither the poblano nor the rocoto pepper is particularly spicy, and the cinnamon adds a mellowing sweetness to the entire affair. We're looking to layer flavors here, not fry people's taste buds. Add the water and wine, and place the duck breast into it, fat side down. Flip it once during the marination process.

By the time you finish these steps, your roasted garlic should be finished. Place it in a bowl or other container, cover with more foil, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, about an hour before you want to serve the dish, remove the duck from the marinade and rub it with the coffee. Incidentally, this would be a great time to have some home-roasted coffee lying around. Just saying.

Wrap the rubbed duck in a dry paper towel and return it to the fridge.

Next, you'll want to start making the arepas. For those not familiar with the preparation, arepas are corn flour-based quickbreads, known for their crispy shell and creamy, polenta-like interior. Tradition calls for these to be stuffed with a meat filling, but by incorporating the cauliflower into the dough and placing the meat on top, this recipe both intensifies the creaminess of the arepa's center and keeps the meat from being overcooked by the steam that builds up inside during the baking process.

Start by chopping your head of cauliflower in half.

Be sure to save the cauliflower greens -- so many people throw these out, but they have a delightful and brisk crunch to them, as well as an herbal, celery-like flavor. You'll need them later in the recipe, so keep them close by.

Chop up half of the cauliflower head into florets and throw it into a couple cups of boiling, lightly salted water, cooking until tender.

Saving the cooking liquid (you'll need it in a moment), transfer the cooked florets to a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, add the heavy cream in slowly and whip until fluffy, about two minutes.

Letting the cauliflower/cream puree rest, place half of the remaining raw cauliflower into the food processor and process until as small as possible.

Dust the small bits of cauliflower with the pimenton -- because cauliflower does not have a high liquid content, this should result in lots of little, dry, powdery bits of cauliflower. Feel free to add a bit more pimenton if you need in order to get the right consistency. Get your olive oil nice and hot (feel free to cut it with a little vegetable oil if you're worried about it smoking), and slowly, very slowly, sprinkle the bits of cauliflower into the oil, 1/4 cup per batch.

Cook until lightly browned and crunchy: Fry for about 30 seconds initially, followed by a quick stir in the pan, followed by another 30 seconds. If you burn a batch, by mistake, toss it out. No worries. Batch by batch, reserve the crisped bits in a bowl until finished. Resist the temptation to eat all the delicious, crunchy, smoky cauliflower bits like they're popcorn. Okay, fine -- have a little handful. It's your prerogative, right?

At this point, it's time to assemble the arepas. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Add 1 cup of the cauliflower cooking water into the cauliflower puree, and, using your hand mixer at low speed, slowly add in the masa harina (corn flour). Once you're satisfied with everything being well blended, let it rest on the counter for five minutes to thicken.

After five minutes, the dough should be moist but pliable, able to be shaped into a biscuit-like shape with wet hands. Adjust by adding more masa harina or water as needed until you're happy with the consistency. Right before you start to shape the arepas, stir in all those fantastic little cauliflower bits. Form the dough into discs with your hands, about one inch tall and three inches wide. Using a non-stick (or lightly oiled) pan over medium heat, toast the arepas, three to five minutes on each side, or until just golden brown.

Transfer the toasted arepas, either still in the pan you toasted them in, or on a cookie sheet, into your oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes.

While they bake, you'll want to start making the habanero-raspberry pique. Traditionally a reduced pepper sauce, this pique recipe has both the juiciness of raspberries and a French-style twist in the form of red wine and butter, helping it pair nicely with the duck.

Place the raspberries, habanero, roasted garlic, lime juice, and red wine into a saucepan. Cook and reduce until reduced by half and thickened (the pectins in the raspberries will help with this). Once reduced, keep it warm over a very low burner.

Meanwhile, remove the arepas from the oven and crank up the broiler as hot as you can get it.

While the burner warms up, take your duck out from the fridge and rinse the ground coffee off with tap water. Pat the cleaned breast dry with paper towels.

After five minutes have passed (allowing time for the broiler to get up in temperature), flip the arepas, place them back into the oven, placing them away from the heat. If you have a broiler below the oven, like I do, place the arepas in the main oven section above it. If your broiler is inside your oven, at the top, place the arepas on the bottom rack, as far from the flame as possible.

At the same time that you return your arepas to the oven, place the duck inside the broiler on a roasting pan, about six inches away from the flame.


Keeping an eye on both the duck and the arepas, watch as they turn deep golden brown. DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM THE OVEN -- no one wants burnt food. The arepas should be done in about five minutes, the duck in 8 or 10, max. Remove both from the oven to rest.

There's only one more thing to make! You've come this far; you can do it. Crema fresca, very similar to crème fraîche, can be approximated by a combination of whipped cream and sour cream, and will help balance the heat of the pique. Start with the heavy cream in a bowl, and, using a hand-mixer, whip it up at high speed. Once it starts forming soft, foamy peaks, add in both the sour cream and the plantain, and continue to whip for another minute, or until well blended. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper to taste.

One last thing! Remember those cauliflower greens? After rinsing them well, slice them up as thin as possible, and sprinkle them with a little lime juice and salt, right there on the cutting board.

Time to assemble!

Take the pique off from the low heat and mount it with butter, whisking until glossy. Adjust with salt and pepper. If you want to strain the seeds out, go ahead. If you want to keep them, that's fine too.

For each serving, start by placing an arepa on the plate. Spoon a little pique on top, and cover that with four slices of duck breast. Place a dollop of the crema fresca over that, and sprinkle the top with the sliced cauliflower greens. Artfully arrange additional pique over the exterior of the duck and around the plate.

The finished product, below:

The resulting dish is a revelation of flavor, yet never cluttered on the palate. Each element sings as part of the larger ensemble: The arepa, crusty on the outside, custard-like inside, with little pockets of caramelized, pimenton-scented crunch; the duck, redolent with spice, coffee, and luxurious fat; the pique, sweet and hot, a bright slash of raspberry to brighten the dish; the crema fresca, cooling and soothing the tongue's warm glow; and, last but not least, the cauliflower greens, a crisp, refreshing contrast, ever inviting another bite.

Appropriately enough, it is the encounter, the tango between the soothing cauliflower and the fiery raspberry pique that captures the essence of the dish. The two ingredients manage to complement each other by dint of their contrasting nature, meeting and marrying as they interact with the deep, luscious duck meat.

Clearly, this is an ambitious dish; that being said, any amateur cook has the ability to pull it off. Think about it: no outrageous kitchen tools needed, no absurdly difficult technique or knife skills, every ingredient available at the supermarket. This kind of cooking is within anyone's reach -- you just have to challenge yourself.

Next week, we'll move in the opposite direction with a beautiful, basic, sustainable fish dish; proof that simple can be delicious as well, and that it's often found where we least look for it. We'll see you then.

Music: Luz Roja -- "La Media Arepa"


  1. mmmm.... arepas! I love how you incorporated the cauliflower with the coffee from your previous week's post. It's great to compete against other great foodies and see what everyone came up with! Bravo.

  2. Wow, beautiful, creative, and it sounds tasty. The picture alone would do it for me.

  3. wow this looks delicious! Congratulations, that's such a unique and creative idea.

  4. OH goodness that looks yummy. I love the idea of mixing the raspberries with the hot peppers; that's something I'm definitely going to have to try in the future.

  5. That is beautiful! I love anything with fresh masa. Duck is the perfect vehicle for that sweet and spicy sauce, very inspired!


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