The combination of pumpkin (or butternut squash in this case) and banana seems has been something I’ve wanted to try out for a while. Specifically since I saw it in an Alinea dish combined with duck. In the Alinea cookbook the recipe is for a pumpkin soup and bite of grilled duck breast with a dollop of banana pudding all flavored with Thai-inspired components. Carol cooked this dish on her blog, and Martin made it as well on his fantastic Alinea blog. The combination popped up again on Ideas in Food, this time in what appears to me as a dessert and combines raw and cooked pumpkin with crumbled and pureed banana. For my take on it I used Alinea’s recipe as a guide/template but made it into more of an entree as opposed to a small soup course.
I brined boneless skin-on duck breasts in a liquid with Thai flavors comprised of fresh pineapple juice, salt, brown sugar, chillies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and cinnamon. All the brine ingredients were brought up to boil along with water and allowed to steep for a few hours. After straining and chilling, the duck went in there for about 3 hours. In hindsight, I think more time in the brine would’ve even made for a better duck.
The banana “pudding” was done in the now-familiar Alinea style for these sauces. Roasted banana and banana chips were simmered with half and half and agar agar then allowed to set. I then pureed it in a blender and added kaffir lime juice. I almost never see fresh kaffir limes, so when I saw some at Central Market while shopping for this dish, I immediately picked some up and knew I will use the zest and juice. I roasted the butternut squash and to make a puree I simmered the roasted flesh with a little cream and duck stock then passed it through a sieve to make a smooth puree. After tasting it, I decided it needed a little more sweetness to round the flavor and make it a better match to the kaffir flavored banana pudding and the tart pomegranate sauce. I did not want to add sugar though so I used grape molasses. In Lebanon this product, called Dibs Inab, is eaten as a snack mixed with tahini and bread is dipped in it. It is delicious like that but I love to use it as a component in dishes just like any other syrup. It is sweet but n0t cloying and has a great flavor that is a bit smoky and reminds me of chocolate to some point. So a couple of tablespoons of that rounded the squash puree’s flavor nicely.
I wanted to add an interesting tart element and first thought of a cranberry coulis. However, pomegranate juice seemed even more appropriate. I just blended it with Ultratex-3 until it thickened properly. The barley was done following a procedure from another Alinea recipe. I first cooked it with in water, then dried it in a dehydrator (aka my countertop electric convection oven). An hour or so before serving, I fried the dried cooked barley in very hot oil until puffed a bit and became nice and crunchy. This stuff is delicious and a very addictive snack. It works well in savory dishes or on ice cream. It definitely added a much needed textural variation to this dish and a nutty taste.
I removed the duck from the brine, and sealed it in a FoodSaver bag. It was then cooked Sous Vide at 132 F for about an hour. Before serving, I seared the skin side only on low heat to crisp and brown the skin. On the plate went a long “squiggle” of the banana pudding flanked by the squash puree. Duck cubes went on top of the banana and were garnished with a small dollop of the banana pudding. That drop was used to anchor the garnish of red chilli, cilantro leaves and candied kaffir lime zest. I topped the squash puree with dots (waited too long to take the picture and the dots “ran” a bit) of the pomegranate sauce.
The dish was delicious and I would be happy to make it again. The flavors worked great together and the crunchy nutty barley was a perfect foil for the squash and juicy medium rare duck. The colors of the dish look great as well, but I am not too happy with the overall plating. It’s a bit sloppy because the plate is a bit too narrow. Next time I will more than likely serve this in a square or round plate.