Duck Burgers with Cherry-Walnut Relish

Cider food pairings duck

I love the irony of this recipe. It is elegant and it is a burger at the same time. You can serve this recipe whenever you are looking for a recipe that will satisfy and surprise at the same time. The relish is perfect with the duck and adds another layer to flavor profile: sweet from the cherries and a crunch from the walnuts.


Yield: 4 burgers

1 pound duck breast with skin (about 4 breasts)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 cup walnut halves
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 medium-hot red chile pepper, such as a cherry pepper, Fresno chile or red jalapeño, sliced into thin rounds
3/4 cup dried sweet cherries
1/2 cup Tieton Cider Works Cherry Cider
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Honey, to taste
1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion (green part only)
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves

Soft sesame seed hamburger buns
1 1/2 cups arugula, rinsed and dried, tough stems removed

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  When the oven is hot, place the walnut halves on a rimmed sheet pan and toast in the oven until they are fragrant, 10-12 minutes.  Remove the nuts from the oven and place them on a plate to cool.  Set aside.

Remove the skin from the duck breast.  With a sharp knife, roughly chop 3/4 of the skins and set aside along with the remaining piece of skin, left whole.  Cut the duck into 1-inch cubes.  Arrange the cubed duck and the reserved skin in a single layer on a large plate or sheet-pan and freeze until the edges of each piece of meat are frozen but the center is still soft, 15-20 minutes.  Place the par-frozen meat in the bowl of a food processor, leaving the skin in the freezer, and pulse until the meat is roughly chopped.  The goal is to have 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces of duck rather than a mixture that resembles pâté.  This will take about 15 to 20 short pulses.  Transfer to a medium bowl.

Place the chopped duck skin in the bowl of the food processor and process until finely chopped.  This may take a minute or so.  Some of the fat will become creamy and not all of the skin will be finely chopped after a minute.  Remove any pieces of skin larger than 1/3-inch.  Scrape the remaining finely chopped skin and fat into the bowl with the chopped duck.

Add the Dijon and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Use your hands to mix thoroughly.  Divide the seasoned duck into 4 balls of equal size.  The seasoned duck mixture will be loose, but you should be able to form the balls into patties, placing them on a plate as you work.  When you have formed all the patties, place them in the refrigerator while you make the relish.

To make the the relish, heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat for a minute or so.  Add the olive oil and heat for 30-60 seconds longer.   Add the shallot and a generous pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is soft and pale golden-brown, 2-3 minutes.  Add the chiles and cook until they have softened, 1-2 minute more.  Add the cherries and walnuts and cook for another minute before adding the cider.  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the cherries have plumped and almost all of the cider has been absorbed.  Add the pomegranate molasses and honey.   Transfer the cherry mixture to a medium bowl to cool slightly.  When the relish has cooled slightly, stir in the scallion.  Taste and add additional honey, salt and pepper to taste.

*Note: The Cherry-Walnut relish will keep at this stage for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.  Add the cilantro leaves just before serving to keep them from wilting and turning dark.

To cook the burgers, heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat for a minute or so.  Add the chopped duck skin and cook until it is deep golden-brown, crispy and has rendered a few tablespoons of fat.  If you like duck crackling, transfer the crisped skin to a paper towel lined plate, sprinkle with salt and eat.  If not, discard the crisped skin.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the duck fat, reserving the additional fat.  Add the duck patties to the pan and cook until golden-brown and crisp on one side, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to press on the center of each burger while they cook as they want to pull away from the pan in the middle and not take on any color.  Flip the burgers and cook the other side until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minute more, adding a bit of the reserved rendered duck fat if the pan looks dry.

Transfer the cooked burgers to a plate to rest.  Brush the cut sides of the buns with some of the remaining duck fat and cook in the hot pan until the edges are crispy and golden.

To serve, divide the arugula among the bottom buns.  Place the burgers on the arugula and top generously with the Cherry-Walnut Relish.  Place the top bun over the relish, pressing down slightly to keep the relish in place.  Serve immediately.