MasterChef challenge, day 12: Maple glazed duck breast with sweet potato, potato and parsnip oven fries


Well it's day 12, the last day of the third week of the preliminary rounds. The ingredients were:

  • Guinea fowl
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Gorgonzola cheese
  • Bacon
  • Penne pasta

A word about the selection of the ingredients on the show itself. Sometimes they specify 'bacon', sometimes 'pancetta', and then they have specified 'gammon' once. Is there a huge difference between those? I think that 'gammon' is a big piece of bacon that is usually eaten like a pork chop. Pancetta is Italian bacon. Bacon is... bacon. Sliced. Um so... when you cook them is there a huge difference? I don't know. As far as I can see, there is smoked bacon, and non-smoked bacon; heavily cured bacon, and lightly cured bacon. It's hard to say what just 'bacon' might be. I'm a bit hazy on my 'pancetta' too, except that it's more expensive than plain old 'bacon' (or around here, 'Speck'.)

But anyway, back to the list for this day. Guinea fowl is something we can't get here, or at least certainly not in February, so I substituted duck breast. And what goes with a nice duck breast? Why, fries/chips/frites of course. (In the U.S. they are called fries, in the U.K. chips, and here-ish they are frites.) This is a mix of sweet potatoes, parsnips, and regular white potatoes. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes and parsnips goes very well with the duck.

This is my favorite way to make fries - not deep fried, but in the oven. With butter, or olive oil. The types of oil that have a high enough flash point to be used as frying oil, such as peanut or safflower oil, don't really add any flavor, but butter and olive oil certainly do.

The only thing to be aware of is that regular white potatoes take a bit longer to cook than sweet potatoes or parsnips, so they are parboiled. This also roughens up the surface of the potato a bit, making it more crunchy.

The duck breast really cooks fast, so you will want to start it off about 15 minutes before the end of your target cooking time. It will take about 5 minutes on the skin side, 3-4 minutes on the other side, then the rest of the time is for 'resting' - leaving the succulent breast lying there to relax and re-absorb its juices before slicing. Maple syrup is sweet but has other flavors in it so that it's not just sugary taste hitting you. It makes a really great glaze.

I have used a grill pan for this - this is the kind of pan with ridges on the bottom. It's really terrific for grilling, since barely anything sticks to it. If you don't have one, you can use a nonstick frying pan.

Serve with a green salad.

Unused ingredients: cheese, bacon, penne.

The verdict on this meal from an anonymous diner: "Plate-licking good!"

The amounts here will make two servings.

The order to make this meal is as follows:

  • Switch the oven on right away to heat it up.
  • Start the water boiling.
  • Peel your vegetables, and slice.
  • Toss the potato in to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Toss the vegetables in the butter. Spread on the baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Set your oven timer to 25 minutes.
  • Prepare the duck, while heating up your grill pan.
  • Grill the duck.
  • Rest the duck, while you take out the oven fries.
  • Slice the duck, assemble the plate.

Mixed oven fries/chips/frites

  • 1 medium boiling type potato
  • 1 smallish sweet potato
  • 1 small or 1/2 large parsnip
  • 2-3 Tbs. butter
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F.

Start a pot of water boiling, with a little salt.

Peel and slice the vegetables into french-fry/chip/frites size, keeping each kind separate. Put the white potato slices into the boiling water, and cook for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a pan. Line a baking sheet with a non-stick silicon pad.

Drain the potatoes. Add them and the rest of the slices into the butter pan, toss well and season with salt and pepper. (You can add a little nutmeg here if you like.)

Spread evenly on the baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning them about midway through.

Serve hot!

Maple-glazed duck breast

  • One 300g / 10ounce boned duck breast piece, skin on
  • Maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper

Special equipment needed: grill pan

Dry the duck breast with several paper towels if necessary. Score the skin in a crisscross pattern with a very sharp knife. This is to release more fat from the skin, which also makes it crispier.

Heat up the grill pan until it's very hot.

Place the duck, skin side down, on the grill pan. Salt and pepper the exposed side. Don't move the duck for at least 5 minutes. At that point, take a look at the underside - it should be golden brown but not charred. Flip the duck.

Brush the surface of the skin with maple syrup several times. Salt and pepper that side. Cook for about 4 minutes, or more if you can't abide duck that's rare in the middle. (I love it that way though, and it's the most juiciest too.)

Take the breast off the heat and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Slice thinly, and serve.

Filed under:  masterchef potatoes duck

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Maki, I love your blog! The photos are so wonderful. It's such a treat to come home feeling tired greeted by stunning pictures of your cooking. Thought I'd let you know how happy reading your blog makes me feel. I admire you for undertaking the MasterChef challenge and producing excellent results.

wow, thanks for your kind words, and I'm glad you enjoy my site!

Hi there. I think gammon is ham - just plain old boiled ham.

This is an American company
that sells British-style pork products. Their explanations are pretty good - except that I couldn't find any bacon that resembled USA-style strips of thin bacon, which we get from the Migros (too salty) and Coop, in Switzerland. My experience with bacon in the UK is that it's the big thick pieces shown on the site above, and it's hard there to find strips. I've had gammon steaks prepared several ways and always found them much drier (often thicker) than most hams.

Ellen: so, gammon looks kind of like Buurehamme ... which is available at Migros, and many other places.

I've never had fries with duck before, so to me that actually seems odd! It looks like a fantastic combo, though.

Of all of the masterchef ingredients, this one seemed to be the easiest to incorporate all of them into a dinner if you so chose.