Back in the December-January issue of Field & Stream, my esteemed colleague T. Edward Nickens wrote a brief missive on his love for the duck sandwich. Nickens take on it included a butterflied duck breast grilled medium rare and pinched between two halves of a ciabatta roll dressed with sun-dried tomato spread. All in all, it sounds utterly delicious.
However, I have duck sandwich favorite of my own, one that takes more of a countrified–or maybe that’s country-fried–turn. Mine starts with one half of a skinned and filleted duck breast off the bone–generally mallard, though a widgeon shows up from time to time. Place that on a cutting board and drape a square of plastic wrap over the top. Now it’s time to tenderize. Some folks have a specially designed mallet or one of those fancy Jaccard tools (see below), but not me. I use the spine of a heavy butcher knife, chopping away in a cross-hatch pattern to break down the proteins and create a thin–about 1/8-inch–filet.
Next comes some seasonings–always coarse salt and some black pepper. After that, I go free form. Maybe a little Colman’s dry mustard, some red pepper, or even cumin. Dust on the spices, followed with a sifting of flour over both sides. From there, the cutlet is splashed into an egg wash, then into a gallon Ziploc with some finely crushed cracker crumbs. Regular old Saltines work best, but feel free to try Ritz or even Club if it happens to be payday. Press on the cracker coating well, then let the breast sit a few moments while you heat an inch or so of canola oil in a heavy cast-iron pan or Dutch oven.
When a pinch of flour sizzles in the oil (at about 350 degrees), it’s time to add the duck. The thin cutlet will cook quickly–about two minutes per side, so don’t wander off. Flip it once and when both sides are brown, transfer the duck to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. If you’re making several, a 200-degree oven will keep the breasts warm as you cook them in batches.
As for the bread, two slabs of thick, white bread works about as well as anything. What is important are the condiments. The more ambitious among us might go for a country gravy, but I like a good slather of mayo mixed with garlic-chili paste. That and some slivered cabbage and a slice of eye-watering onion is all I need for the perfect duck sandwich.