I’m originally from the Pacific island of Guam, a U.S. territory. It is part of the Marianas Island chain which sits just above the equator about two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines. Our cuisine is a mix of indigenous, regional and historical influences. We are a relatively short flight away from South Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.. The Marianas Islands’ first inhabitants are known as Chamorros. The islands were independent until “discovered” and colonized by the Spanish then won by the U.S. in the Spanish-American war.
Of all the dishes beloved by Chamorros there is one that is one of my personal favorites; chicken kelaguen (photo below). Basically, it is roast chicken that has been diced then mixed with freshly grated coconut, fresh lemon juice, sliced scallions, chilis and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s absolutely delicious but not a dish I would associate with fine dining.
I’ve always wanted to transform this dish into something that would be more refined. I had always considered using chicken in a more refined version but nothing ever clucked, I mean clicked (sorry I couldn’t resist). However, when I was presented with the opportunity to work with Grove Ladder Farm in Sarasota, Florida, and their amazing poultry, I knew that the duck breast from their American Pekin duck was the right ingredient, I had the right technique in mind, and it was finally the right time.
Having said all of that this was still an experiment of sorts, but a very successful one if I do say so myself. My apologies for the self-congratulatory remark but some of my experiments never make it to the plate; that cycle goes something like this…taste, groan, trash. Fortunately, this was not to be the fate of this dish.
Duck breasts are usually pan-seared, perhaps finished in the oven, sliced and served, medium-rare to rare I might add. I knew that I wanted to serve the duck breasts at their best so medium-rare it was but I didn’t like the picture in my mind of diced medium-rare duck breast, with its light red juices mixed in with the pearl white flakes of freshly grated coconut; it would be a bloody mess if you don’t mind my saying.
After considering several other ideas, including confit in coconut oil, I settled on marinating the duck breasts in coconut milk seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper overnight, pan-searing and basting them on the stovetop until they were at the right temp, slicing them as usually done and dressing them with a simple sauce of lemon juice, scallions, chilis, kosher salt, and black pepper. It’s a keeper of an experiment and on the first try!
Chicken kelaguen – a favorite Chamorro dish made with diced, roast chicken, freshly grated coconut, lemon juice, sliced scallions, chilis, and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was the inspiration for making this pan-seared, coconut milk marinated duck breast with a spicy lemon and scallion sauce.
Chicken kelaguen inspired pan-seared coconut milk marinated duck breast and freshly grated coconut with spicy lemon and scallion sauce, and watercress and lemon vinaigrette salad.
2 duck breasts including both tenders (from a whole Grove Ladder Farm duck broken down into individual parts; see Extra below on instructions)
Coconut milk marinade:1 13 oz can of organic coconut milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups fresh grated coconut (optional)I’ve listed this as optional as this will be the most challenging ingredient to procure. However, you should be able to find frozen grated coconut at Asian groceries.
Spicy lemon and scallion sauceJuice of one lemon
1 scallion thinly sliced
1 fresh chili thinly sliced
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Make the spicy lemon and scallion sauce:
Juice one lemon into a small mixing bowl.
Wash and pat dry one scallion, cut the white and green parts of the stalk into 1/8 inch wide slices, add as little or as much you prefer to the lemon juice.
Wash and pat dry the fresh chili, cut into very thin slices, add as little or as much to the lemon juice and scallions.
Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
Note: This may be made a day ahead.
Marinate the duck breast in coconut milk:
Season both sides of the duck breast very generously with salt and pepper.
Gently pour the coconut milk into the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, place in the fridge for 24 hours.
Remove a duck breast from the coconut milk marinade, pat dry with a paper towel, place on the cutting board in prep to score the skin.
To score the duck breast skin slice very gently through the skin but DO NOT penetrate the meat. Make parallel cuts about 1/2 inch apart, turn the breast and make the next set of parallel cuts in the same manner as the first. This will form the classic crosshatch pattern. Remove the tenders from the coconut milk marinade. Pat dry both the tenders and the duck breasts once again before pan-searing.
FOOD SAFETY TIP!Make sure to wash everything used in preparing raw poultry such as kitchen tools, cutting boards, containers, surfaces, and especially your hands in hot soapy water afterward to prevent cross-contamination.
Also, I use a yellow cutting board just for poultry as an added precaution against cross-contamination.
Place a non-stick frying pan or cast iron skillet over high heat, when hot place the duck breast, skin side down, onto the pan. Cook until the skin is golden brown, about five minutes, turn over and cook the other side for another two minutes.
Remove from the pan and allow to rest for ten minutes before slicing.
Slice at a 45° angle about 1/4 inch apart, plate, drizzle the spicy lemon and scallion sauce over the duck breast.
Your pan-seared, coconut milk marinade duck breast.
Serve with a simple salad, and brown rice if you don’t have access to fresh (or frozen) grated coconut.
Pan-seared, coconut milk marinated duck breast with spicy lemon and scallion sauce. Served here on top of a simple watercress and lemon vinaigrette salad.
In the photos below I’ve added freshly grated coconut lightly dressed with lemon juice, fresh chilis, scallions, salt, and black pepper to bring the dish full circle and closer to its inspiration.
Pan-seared, Coconut Milk Marinated Duck Breast with Spicy Lemon and Scallion Sauce
Breaking Down a Whole Duck
What you’ll need to break down a whole duck: cutting board, stiff boning knife, a tray for individual parts, and a bowl for the trimmed fat and skin.
Make a cut into the skin between the leg quarter and the breast. Make sure to cut closer to the leg quarter than breast as you will want to keep the skin that covers the breasts complete and intact.
Pull the leg quarter away from the carcass and toward the back. Cut the leg quarter at the joint connecting the thigh and the body of the duck. Make sure to include the “oyster” from the backbone.
Repeat on the other leg quarter. The leg quarters are ready for your favorite recipe like duck confit.
Remove the wings.
Trim the flap of skin extending from the tip of the breastbone.
Make a cut as close to and parallel to the breastbone. While carefully pulling the breast meat away from the breastbone begin cutting the meat away from the breastbone.
Carefully remove the tenders and trim any excess skin, fat, and silver skin from the breasts.
The breasts are now ready to be used in your favorite recipe. Check out my recipe for pan-seared, coconut milk marinated duck breasts.
Trim off the skin and any fat from the carcass. Combined the trim from the carcass with the other trim to render the fat that can be saved and used in dishes like duck confit.
Cut up the trimmed carcass into smaller pieces, save to make stock.