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Algerian-Style Duck Breast with Preserved Lemon and Olives


This exploration started, as they often do, with a chance find. I was browsing in the big case of olives and antipasto items in a small Italian market nearby, when my gaze fell upon a bowlful of preserved lemons. Bright, yellow and perfect. Though I knew of them, I had never cooked with  preserved lemons, so I did what I do to expand my horizons: I bought one. Later that day, shopping with E in the supermarket,  I bought a package of the nice duck breasts I had used for my Warm Duck Breast and Roasted Pear Salad with Ginger-Braised Cabbage and Apples. Still I had no plan...I was just buying ingredients I liked or was interested in on the assumption that an idea about how to use them would eventually suggest itself. Even later in the day I was surfing the 'net, looking for ideas for the preserved lemons, and I ran across a Williams Sonoma recipe for chicken tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish.

This made me think of Algerian Cuisine, the wonderful blog of Chef Farid Zadi, so I stopped in there and found his Algerian Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons (Djedj bel Zitoun). Reading this recipe, and thinking about adapting it to work with my duck breasts, I was reminded of a magical dinner about five years ago with my daughter Jennifer at Allard, the venerable 75-year-old bistro in the Odéon section of Paris, where we split a roast duck presented with about 60 olives on the plate.

Thus was born Algerian-style Duck Breast with Preserved Lemons and Olives, my adaptation of Chef Zadi's recipe. E and I were celebrating an important date in our lives and this was an appropriately important dish, served with plain couscous steamed three times according to Chef Zadi's directions and a salad of blood oranges, fennel and sweet onions, also based on a recipe of Chef Zadi's (subject of a future post).

This meal was a great success, pure and simple. The duck was perfect, and the sauce of olives, preserved lemons, onions, tomatoes and spices was suitably reminiscent of the wonderful dinner at Allard. The traditionally prepared couscous, while requiring a lot of steps and a significant investment of time (especially when compared to the 5-minute recipe on the back of the box) was light, fluffy and flavorful -- a perfect pairing with the duck and its sauce.

Algerian-Style Duck Breast with Preserved Lemons and Olives

Adapted from Algerian Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons (Djedj bel Zitoun) by Chef Farid Zadi.

Serves 4

4 duck breasts, boneless (about 3 lb total)
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced vertically into thin crescents
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 quarters preserved lemon, pulp scraped out and discarded
1/4 C tomato paste
1/2 C tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 - 1/2 C Spanish Manzanilla pitted olives (rinsed, then soaked in cold water for 4 hours)
pinch turmeric
pinch saffron
pinch paprika
salt, hot sauce to taste
cilantro, minced

In a heavy sauté pan, cook the onions slowly in olive oil about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent but not browned. Remove to a side plate.

Wash, then dry the breasts well. Score the breast skin deeply at 1" intervals and trim off any excess fat. Season lightly (both the olives and the lemon bring brine with them, so be cautious with salt until the dish is more or less done), set the heavy sauté pan over high heat and brown the breasts, skin side down, about 5 minutes. Turn the breasts and quickly sear the meat side -- about a minute -- and then remove to a side plate.

Add the onions, garlic, preserved lemon, tomato paste, and olives to the pan. Scatter in a pinch of turmeric, a pinch of saffron, and a pinch of paprika. Lay the breasts on top of the vegetables, skin side up, and then add about 2 cups water. The breasts should be in contact with the water but at the same time sitting largely above it.

Roast the duck uncovered in a preheated 350º oven until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 130º -- about 20 minutes. Remove the breasts to a side plate, cover with foil and allow to rest about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, return the sauté pan to the stove top, add in the chopped tomatoes and gently simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, to reduce slightly. Correct the seasoning.

To serve, spoon about 2/3 of the sauce with the olives and onions onto a serving platter. Slice the duck and place on top of the olive-onion sauce. Spoon the remaining olives, onions and sauce over the duck. Garnish with minced cilantro..


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Oh, oh, oh! I immediately thought of middle eastern cuisine when I saw the words preserved lemons. I love this dish, Stephen. Fabulous!


Morrocan Chicken is a favorite of mine The duck's a great idea.

I've made chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives but duck, now duck would make it more interesting! This looks great & happy whatever important date you were celebrating.

Looks delicious!!!

Wonderful to know that you were inspired by one of my recipes to create your own special version!

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