But there is more to the story than that. You see, I have had duck burgers in restaurants. Both times I found fault with the preparation. Let’s face it; duck can be fatty, and rich. I love fatty… and rich too. But a 1/2‑pound of fatty and rich on huge buttery brioche bun makes me a little queasy.
The other version of a duck burger I shunned was closer to duck confit on a bun. More like a Sloppy Joe than a proper burger. Had they called it a Dirty Donald or something similar and served it open-faced with poached duck egg I might have dubbed it genius. But alas, they served it with lettuce and tomato. I ended up just feeling sorry for that once proud confit.
So I set off to invent my own. The lessons I learned are two-fold. One: less is more, and Two: burgers have rules, and evidently I can be a fanatic about those rules. One of the rules I fanaticize about is simple. I like burgers to have the proper condiments. Burgers like ketchup. People like burgers with ketchup. My ground duck concoction would have ketchup.
But not just any ole Heinz will do. Duck is a fairly complex flavor, to avoid getting tagged with the “gamey” moniker it’s best to augment its assets. I think duck pairs nicely with fruit and spice and sweet. It can stand up to bold acidity too. Ketchup is all those things– fig ketchup is all those things and more.
I was first challenged to make fig ketchup by Andy one of my partners at The Table Set podcast who also blogs at The Wind Attack. He wanted something at his birthday party familiar, yet creative to slather onto his duck fat fries. In fact you can listen to the latest episode of The Table Set which is all about taste and the process Andy went through planning this elaborate party. Which is a long-winded way of saying that this is one of those “which came first the duck or the egg?” stories.
In truth I can’t answer. I had been thinking about duck burgers for quite sometime. But I might not have done anything about it had Andy not suggested I make fig ketchup for his birthday party.
So here they are together at last. Duck Sliders with Fig Ketchup.
As you can see, I addressed the “less is more” issue by shrinking my burgers down to slider size. They ended up taking on an Asian flair, so I served these sliders on Filipino pandesal rolls and adorned them with cilantro and Napa cabbage. But just so you know, you could replace the cabbage with shredded green papaya too. That was my original plan. But green papaya is fairly seasonal and my Thai market was waiting for season to begin before stocking it again. Good for them.
- 1 lb figs, quartered
- 1/2 lb diced tomatoes, use roma or other ‘paste’ variety
- 1 t coriander seeds
- 1 t cumin seeds
- 1/2 c palm sugar
- 1 c malt vinegar, plus more to taste
- 3 T pomegranate molasses, or substitute with honey
- 1/2 t cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 t thai style chili paste
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 6 boneless duck breast halves, with skin
- 1/2 c cilantro leaves, loosely packred
- 1/2 c panko breadcrumbs, as needed
- 6 scallions
- 1 t five-spice powder
- 1 t sriracha sauce
- 1 pn salt and pepper, as needed
- 12 filipino pandesal rolls
- 1 c napa cabbage, shredded
Make the fig ketchup: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay figs onto a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Lay the tomatoes onto a separate parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast them both in the oven until they begin to color, about 15 minutes for figs about 20 minutes for tomatoes.
In a medium sauce pot, toast the coriander and cumin over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the roasted figs and tomatoes, scrapping up as much of the juice and crusty parts as possible, palm sugar, vinegar, pomegranate molasses, cayenne pepper, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Raise the heat to high and cook until the mixture reaches a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until it’s thick and jam-like, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
Discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Use a blender or food processor to thoroughly puree the mixture, adding a splash of extra vinegar to achieve the proper consistency if necessary. Taste and adjust acidity with more vinegar to taste. Refrigerate for several hours before using.
Make the duck patties: Remove the skin from the duck breasts, then roughly chop them. Place the duck breasts and 1 of the skins (also chopped) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 6 or 8 times until well combined and the texture resembles slightly wet, coarsely ground beef.
Transfer the duck mixture to a large bowl. Roughly chop about half of the cilantro. Add 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, scallions, the chopped cilantro, five-spice powder, sriracha sauce, salt and pepper to the bowl. Next, handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix well. You be the judge if you think you need more breadcrumbs, add too many and the burgers will get rubbery, but the meat should hold together when pinched (but just barely). Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the pandesal rolls.
Grill and assemble the sliders: Prepare a medium-hot fire for both direct and indirect cooking in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the direct heat area of the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, just until done, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Watch for flare ups. During the last few minutes of cooking, place the pandesal rolls, cut side down, on the indirect edges of the rack to toast lightly.
To assemble the burgers, place some shredded Napa cabbage, cilantro leaves onto the roll bottoms, place a duck slider on top. Spoon on some of the fig ketchup to taste. Add the roll tops and serve.