Romance: That’s what these lettuce wraps are all about. Not that first-date kind of romance, when you might be too nervous to eat with your hands, or concerned about getting a pear sliver stuck in your teeth or having scallion breath. No, this dish comes much later, after you’ve really gotten to know each other, maybe even had a little spat or two, seen each other’s crankypants side and bad hair days and yet it’s still all good. Really, really good, because you’ve found yourself falling in love over and over each time you’re together, and you think this might just be the one. Maybe you’ve had some kind of revelation or event that forced you to take inventory of your life or chart the course of your future and you can’t imagine a life apart. That’s when you serve this dish, because it’s the kind of thing you need to eat with abandon, in that happy and amorous zone, taking little nibbles while you talk, and not having a care in the outside world as the juice runs down your arm. The spiced orange-honey dressing and duck infused with clove, cinnamon and star anise are going to keep you coming back for more little morsels; the pear and pomegranate add sweet and sour pops of flavor, soft texture and crunching contrast. Open up a Pinot Noir, scoop some lettuce pockets, and enjoy the romance ahead of you.
Duck, Pear & Pomegranate Lettuce Wraps with Orange-Honey Spiced Dressing
2 star anise pods
1/2 tsp. each of ground cinnamon & ground cloves
3-4 scallions, chopped and separated into white and green pieces
Juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 Tbs. good honey, more for seasoning to taste
1 pear, chopped into small cubes
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 bunch of romaine lettuce (about 12 leaves of varying size), separated, washed & dried
Directions: Using a sharp knife, score the duck breast on the fat side in a diamond pattern, slicing through the fat and being careful not to cut through the meat. Sprinkle the fat side with salt & pepper and half the ground cinnamon & ground cloves (1/4 tsp. each). Heat a saute pan over medium heat (no oil needed) and when evenly hot, add the duck breast fat side down in the pan. As the fat begins to melt, halve the star anise pods and add to the pan in the melted fat; sprinkle the top side of the duck breast with salt & pepper. For a 400 g./14 oz. piece, let the duck breast cook fat-side down undisturbed for about 16 minutes or until most of the fat has melted off. Turn the duck breast to the other side and cook undisturbed for another 4 to 5 minutes. (It should be still slightly pink inside so will not look completely cooked through). Turn the heat off and remove the duck breast to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes under tented foil.
Carefully pour out and reserve for future use (or safe disposal) all but 1 tsp. of the duck fat left in the pan; keep the star anise pods in the pan. Turn the heat back on low and add the orange juice, 1 1/2 Tbs. honey, plus a sprinkle of a bit more cinnamon and cloves to taste; stir to combine and cook briefly. Add white parts of scallions and chopped pear to the pan and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. When pear is soft and liquid is thickened, add salt & pepper and stir, and remove from heat. Strain out the pears/white scallions and remove the star anise pods and reserve the sauce.
Slice the duck, then cube it. Combine in a large bowl the duck and the slightly cooled pears & white scallions and add the green scallions. Taste the mixture and add more honey (give or take 1 Tbs.), salt & pepper to taste (go for a strongly sweet and salty seasoning, because the lettuce wrap will mute the flavor a bit). Mix well. Spoon mixture out into lettuce wraps, add the pomegranate seeds, and drizzle the orange-honey spiced sauce over as dressing.
Pairs nicely with a Pinot Noir. Serves 2 for a full dinner; would serve 4-6 as an appetizer.