I admit it: This is not an original dish. It is my recreation of one I had at San Francisco’s Perbacco restaurant, where Swedish Chef Staffan Terje makes beautifully simple Northern Italian food. In truth, this dish would be at home anywhere from the Arctic Circle to the Alps, and there is nothing that screams “Italian” about it, especially if you are an American used to Southern Italian cooking.
But damn is this a wonderful dish! Perfectly cooked duck breast — I used specklbelly goose breast instead, which is a lot like the breast of a Muscovy duck — with rye spätzle, baby roasted turnips, their greens and a rich duck jus. It was a “shut up, I’m eating kind of moment.”
One of the things that was so remarkable about this dish was the spaetzle. You could really, really taste the rye. I happen to have a Vitamix blender with a dry blade attachment — you can use this to grind your own flour. So I bought some rye berries and ground them into flour to make these spätzle. Wow. You actually can taste the difference from regular rye flour, which can get stale easily. Not that I am asking you to do the same, but if you happen to have a way to grind your own flour, this would be a good time to do it.
This is classic California — and Italian — food: It’s not hard to understand, there’s not too many things on the plate, and each thing that’s there makes sense. Thanks, Chef Terje! I’ll be making this again.
Duck Breast with Rye Spätzle and Turnips
I used a specklebelly goose breast for this recipe, but you could use any duck or wild goose breast here. I would not use a domesticated goose breast, though; it’s a bit too large. Making spätzle is easy, especially if you have a spätzle maker on hand. If you don’t, increase the milk to 3/4 cup to make the batter runnier and use a colander with large hole to make the little dumplings. Or, you can buy regular spätzle in most supermarkets; look in the Jewish or “ethnic” section.
If you can find baby turnips, buy them. If not, you can either use radishes — they taste like turnips when cooked and add some nice color — or smallish turnips cut into pieces. Don’t use large turnips, as they are pretty starchy.
Prep Time: 1 hour, mostly to make the spaeztle.
Cook Time: 45 minutes, mostly to roast the turnips.
- 2 cups rye flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk (see headnote)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil for coating
DUCK and TURNIPS
- 1 pound baby turnips, with greens
- 2 tablespoons squash seed oil or other high-quality oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup duck glace de viande, demi-glace, or 1 cup beef stock boiled down by half
- 1 whole large duck or small goose breast (both halves), about 20 to 30 ounces
- 1 tablespoon duck fat or butter
- Salt and black pepper
- Splash of malt vinegar
- Start with the spätzle. Mix all the spaetzle ingredients together in a large bowl. The batter should be sticky and should flow like thick lava. Set aside while you bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water heavily; it should taste like the sea.
- Load up your spätzle maker and get a large bowl of ice water ready. Fill up the pot of boiling water with the dumplings. Once they float to the top, let the spaetzle cook for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and dunk in the ice water. When all the spätzle are cooked, remove from the ice water to a tea towel and let the dumplings dry a few minutes. Put into a baking sheet and toss with the vegetable oil to prevent them from sticking. You can make the spaetzle up to a day in advance.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the greens from the turnips and set aside. Toss the turnips in the squash seed oil, salt well and roast in an uncovered baking sheet for 35 minutes, or until slightly browned.
- Meanwhile, put the red wine in a small pot and boil it for 2 minutes. Add the glace de viande and keep boiling the mixture. You need to be vigilant here, tasting every few minutes, because you can get a weird, bitter taste to the sauce if you boil it down too much. When it tastes good to you, turn off the heat. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes total.
- Sear the duck breast according to my instructions here.
- When the duck breast is resting, add the turnips, turnip greens and half the spätzle to the pan you cooked the duck in. Saute over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the spätzle is hot and the greens are wilted. (You can either repeat the process with the rest of the spaetzle or reserve it for another dish.)
- To serve, give everyone some of the spätzle-turnip mixture and pour over some sauce. Slice the duck breast thickly and put it on the spaetzle. Splash a little malt vinegar over everything right as you serve.