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Valentine’s Day Dinner: Seared Duck with Vanilla-Scented Mashed Potato-Parsnip Purée

Valentine’s Day is coming up just around the corner and if you don’t want to brave the dinner crowds, this Valentine’s Day dinner recipe is sure to impress. Vanilla-scented mashed potatoes may make you cringe a little at first, but trust me, the flavor is super subtle and absolutely delicious. Paired with our white chocolate vanilla-maple mousse this dinner will make you glad to have date night in!


Serves: 2, with leftover mashed potatoes

Skill Level: Intermediate

Time to Make: 45 minutes (30 minutes inactive)



2 skin-on duck breasts


2 tablespoons butter

1 medium shallot

6 garlic cloves

2 sprigs of thyme

1/2 cup red wine (such as merlot or red zinfandel)

2 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon Wondra flour dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water (or 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water)


3 large Yukon gold potatoes

3 parsnips

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 vanilla bean pod (or 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk (more or less depending on your consistency preference)

Salt and pepper to taste

A few thyme leaves, optional, for garnish


Prepare Ingredients: Peel the potatoes and parsnips and cut into 1” cubes. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and shallot. Slice open the vanilla bean pod set aside. Pat the duck dry and remove the tender and set aside (reserve the tenders for the sauce). Using a sharp paring knife, carefully score the duck breasts diagonally in one direction, with slices about 1/2” apart. Be careful not to score the flesh. Turn the breast around and score diagonally in the opposite direction, with slices 1/2” apart to create a cross-hatch pattern of slices. Season the duck liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Set out at room temperature.

Prepare the Potato-Parsnip Purée: Place the potatoes and parsnips in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes until fork tender. Drain and transfer the potatoes and parsnips to a large food processor. In a saucepan, combine the heavy cream, milk, vanilla bean pod (or extract), and butter and cook over low heat until the butter has melted. Use the back of your spoon to mash the vanilla seeds out of the pod. Cook for 5 minutes and discard the vanilla bean pod. Transfer half of the liquid to the processor with the potatoes and parsnips. Pulse until puréed. Continue adding the warm liquid until the purée reaches your desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the purée to an oven-safe bowl, cover with foil, and transfer to the oven at the lowest temperature to keep warm.

Prepare the Sauce: As the potatoes are cooking, prepare the sauce. In a wide pot, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Once melted and frothy, add the shallots, garlic, and duck tenders. Cook, stirring regularly, until the shallots and garlic are golden and brown. Add the thyme sprigs along with the red wine, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. After the sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve and discard all the solids. Wipe out the pot and transfer the sauce back to the pot. Return to a very low boil and whisk in the Wondra (or cornstarch) dissolved in a water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cook an additional 5 minutes until thickened. Turn the heat off and cover until ready to serve. Note: You may need to gently return the sauce to heat and whisk right before serving.

Cook the Duck Breasts: Gently lay the duck breast, skin down, in a cold skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary until all the fat has rendered and the skin is well-browned. Flip the breasts, cover the skillet tightly with foil (not a lid as it will produce too much condensation) and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the duck reaches your desired temperature. I recommend 135ºF. Remove the duck from the skillet and rest for 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing cross-wise.

To Serve: Divide the warm purée between plates, using the back of your spoon to smooth out the top. Drizzle the red-wine sauce over the plate and arrange a sliced duck breast on top of each plate and garnish with a few thyme leaves if desired. Serve with additional red-wine sauce on the side.

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