Chocolate, or more precisely cocoa, has been used in savory cooking since its discovery thousands of years ago. Its distinctive, sweet-earthy flavor adds an exotic nuance to savory foods. In this recipe, cocoa adds depth and richness to the spice blend.
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably natural
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder Kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon garlic powder freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 (8 ounces ) boneless, skin-on Long Island (Pekin) half duck breasts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating arugula
4 ounces arugula or watercress (4 big handfuls), rinsed and spun dry sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Stir together the cocoa, chile powder, 2 teaspoons salt, the cumin, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and the cayenne in a small bowl.
If the duck is joined as whole breasts, cut each apart to make 4 separate pieces. Trim excess fat and score the skin with a sharp knife, making parallel cuts about 1/2 inch apart that go into the skin without cutting into the flash. Make a second set of parallel cuts across the first to create a crosshatch pattern. Rub both sides of the duck breasts liberally with the cocoa-chile rub and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Lay in the breasts skin side down and cook until the skin renders its fat and turns golden brown, about 10 minutes. Leave the duck in one place during this time to allow it to form a crust that stays with the meat rather than sticking to the pan.
If too much fat has collected in the pan, transfer the duck to a plate and carefully pour off the fat into a heatproof container. Discard or save for another use. (I love it for sautéing potatoes.) Return the duck breasts to the skillet skin side down.
Put the skillet in the oven until the meat is medium rare and has an internal temperature of 140 degrees at the center of the breast, 4 to 6 minutes. (You may follow the USDA recommendation of cooking the duck to 170 degrees, but it won't be medium rare.) Remove from the oven and let rest in the skillet for 5 minutes.
Just before serving, toss the arugula with olive oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper. Mound the arugula on six plates. Place the duck skin side down on a cutting board and slice crosswise at a 45-degree angle into thin strips. Fan about two thirds of a duck breast over the arugula and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
For the most flavorful and aromatic rub, toast and grind the cumin seeds just before using them. If you can't find ancho chile powder, or to vary the flavor, substitute another mild to mildly hot, pure ground chile such as pasilla, guajillo, or red New Mexico varieties. If you use a super hot variety like chile de arbol or habanero, cut the quantity in half or less, depending on your heat tolerance.
As prepared, each serving contains 160 calories, 8g total fat, 80mg cholesterol, 1290mg sodium, 6g total carbohydrate and 18g protein.