In this elegant and easy dish, a quick sauce of red wine, port, and cherries tops seared duck breasts. Serve with haricots verts blanched and sautéed in brown butter, then tossed with hazelnuts.
Put the wine, port, ginger, and sugar (1 Tbs. for sweet cherries; 2 Tbs. for sour) in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat as needed, and simmer until reduced by half, 8 to 12 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the balsamic vinegar and cornstarch. Whisking constantly, add the cornstarch mixture to the wine mixture and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute more. Discard the ginger. Reduce the heat to low, add the cherries, and simmer slowly until the cherries are warm, 1 to 2 additional minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Put the duck breasts on a work surface skin side up. Using a sharp knife, score the skin in a grid pattern, cutting just halfway through the thickness of the skin. Season the duck generously with salt. Scatter the cracked pepper on a small baking sheet and press the duck into the pepper, coating both sides evenly.
Heat a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the duck skin side down and cook until the skin is deep golden-brown and the fat from the skin has rendered, 6 to 8 minutes. Carefully spoon off and discard all but about 1 Tbs. of the fat. Turn the duck and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a breast reads 135°F for medium rare, 4 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the sauce over very low heat. Cut each duck breast on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve with the sauce.
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Photo: Scott Phillips