Chile Jam + Crispy Duck Breast

I write this watching the snow fall in Big Sky, Montana, listening to Billie Holiday (couldn't be more perfect). We're here on Christmas Eve with my husband's family - a ski and snow loving bunch, and it has definitely grown on me. My family is definitely a "warm-weather" family - my dad can be found in Florida or India, wearing a long-sleeve shirt (and possibly a jacket) when it's 85 degrees outside. Currently, they wait for me in San Francisco, where it is unusually chilly, and my parents are raiding both my husband's and mine closets, searching for a jacket thick enough to keep them warm. Luckily, I'm able to provide them with some comfort from afar - inside the refrigerator awaits a spicy and warming chile jam. Now that I've turned my dad onto it, I know there is no hope for leftovers when I return to SF in a couple of days.

This chile jam was a happy accident - the result of some gorgeous fresh cayenne chili peppers I bought on a whim, an overabundance of "ugly citrus" (the kind they won't sell at the grocery store, but they do sell on the Bay Area's online farmers' market, Good Eggs!). I was making a pre-holiday meal for some friends, and knew I wanted to highlight my favorite cut of meat- duck breast. As there is nothing more classic than duck with orange, I decided to do a spicy twist on the orange marmalade usually served with a crispy, seared piece of duck breast. 

And so I offer you this citrusy, gingery, chile jam, perfect for serving on top of any meat - duck, steak, chicken, pork; or with a meaty piece of fish like salmon, or tossed with roasted carrots or really any vegetable. Coarsely ground fresh cayenne peppers, fresh orange juice, minced ginger, white wine vinegar, and sugar combine to create a versatile spicy jam that will hopefully bring you some warmth this Christmas Eve. 



3.5 oz fresh cayenne chili peppers (another fresh pepper would work fine!)

1.5 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

3.5 cups cane sugar

3 tbsp finely minced ginger

1 cup white wine vinegar 


coarsely grind chili peppers in a food processor. some pieces can be barely chopped in half. variety in size makes the end result quite beautiful.

combine everything in a heavy-bottomed skillet. simmer on low-medium for 45 minutes. place a plate in the fridge. check to see if jam is ready by 1.) taking the jam off the heat, 2.) placing the jam on the cold plate, and then seeing if the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger. If it's not ready, simmer for a few more minutes and check again with the same test. Done! 


The amazing thing about duck breast is that it only requires itself to cook - the skin renders, meaning the skin's own fat sears and crisps the outside. What you get it is a yummy, yummy piece of meat with some leftover duck fat to cook a million other things!


4 duck breasts (that's it.)


Preheat the oven to 425.

Score the duck breasts, meaning cut into the skin at evenly spaced distances, through the skin and almost up to where the meat begins (see the picture below for reference). This allows the fat to render out of the skin, cooking the duck breast. Do not cut into the flesh. Heat an oven-safe pan to low-medium, stainless steel OR cast-iron.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Cook two breasts at a time per skillet; do not crowd the pan. Place the duck skin side down, and after 2 minutes, turn the heat up to medium-high. There will be a lot of splatter, so protect yourself! Cook the breast for 4 minutes undisturbed, and then check the skin side of the breast. When the skin is golden-brown, crisp, and there is no visible fat left (there should be a lot of fatty liquid in the pan), turn the heat down to low-medium and flip the breast. Cook for 1 minute, and then place the breast (skin side-up) on a rack over a baking sheet. Wipe out the skillet (reserve the duck fat), and repeat with the remaining duck breasts. 

Roast the duck in the oven for 7 minutes, or until a thermometer registers 130 for medium rare. After removing from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes (at least!) - this step is so important: the juices will redistribute, making for a super juicy slice of duck. Serve with chile jam!

Serves 4.