I would be flat out lying if I told you that I haven't been thinking about making some kind of wild game mac and cheese for a while now. I thought about using venison, but then figured it could get too dry, I thought that turkey would work until I realized that it was too mild and quite honestly hog was too close to the standard pulled pork found in many restaurants. Then, last week, it hit me, "duck is the answer". For whatever reason, duck just seemed to strike me as the perfect balance of flavor, texture and consistency, which none of the other meats could equal. Why it took me so long to figure this one out if beyond me. So, after giving it a little thought on my way home from the ranch, I had a preliminary recipe already in the works and I was finally ready to give it a try. To me, duck is one of my very favorite game meats. For something that is so rich in flavor, it doesn't have a heaviness to it, which is why I think it makes perfect sense for this recipe in particular.
In my kitchen, I don't pull out the Chinese five spice very much, but when I do, I forget just how amazing it is, especially with duck. Traditionally speaking, this spice blend is a mixture of fennel, Chinese cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan pepper and cloves, which makes for a warm and earthy combination, perfect for game meats. But do take some caution, because it is easy to "over do-it" if you add too much. So in order to keep things balanced, I mix the five spice into all purpose flour and dredge the duck before cooking. Once browned in butter, the duck comes away with a super flavorful crust and the pan will be left with five spice butter, perfect for to use for baking your mac and cheese!
Chinese Five Spice Duck Mac n' Cheese
4 skinless duck breasts
3 tablespoons, all purpose flour
2 tablespoons, Chinese five spice
3 tablespoons, salted butter
1/2 pound of medium pasta shells
1/2 Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 cup of duck stock(see how to make it here) or chicken stock will work just fine
3/4 pound of white Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/4 pound of Gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
Rinse off the duck breasts under cold water and dry well using a paper towel. In a sealable plastic bag, add the flour and Chinese five spice and shake well. Once the spices and flour are combined, add the duck to the bag, seal and shake until the duck is coated on all sides. The key here is to make sure that the duck has a nice thin dusting of flour on it, nothing too heavy.
In a cast iron pan or oval roaster(one that can be used both on the stove and in the oven), add the two tablespoons of butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Once the skillet is hot, gently place the duck in the pan, cooking until brown on either side, about 5 minutes total. Depending on the thickness of the duck breast, the internal temp should be right around medium rare. Once cooked, remove from the pan and let rest on a cutting board. Do not discard the brown butter in the bottom of the pan-- you'll need this for later!
Before continuing to the next step, it's time to get the pasta cooking. In a medium pot, boil your pasta water, add some salt and cook your shells. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
In a small sauce pan, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, garlic and Serrano pepper. Sautee over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Next, add the heavy cream, grated cheddar and duck stock to the pot. Mix well and turn down the heat to low. The cheese sauce won't reduce, but you'll want to keep it hot until you're ready to pour over the shells.
Now that the duck has had time to rest, thinly slice the meat and depending on the size, you might have to also cut in half so that you're left with one inch pieces. Remember that buttery pan that we browned the duck in? Here's where it comes in handy. Add the cooked shells to the pan and mix in the sliced duck meat. Once everything is mixed together, pour in the cheese sauce and grate Gruyere over the top. Before placing in the oven, add panko breadcrumbs over the top and bake for 25 minutes at 350F. For the last 2 minutes, finish under the broiler to crisp up the top.