Healthy duck? Try this Mardi Gras recipe

With Mardi Gras looming, I thought it might be fun to cook up some goodies featuring duck, andouille sausage and Creole seasoning. This recipe delivers big flavor without the usual complement of fat and calories.

The star of this show is the breast of duck, a well-known fount of flavor that — depending on how you cook it — doesn’t have to be terribly heavy. I recommend you saute it with the skin on to maximize its deliciousness and moistness.

You can remove and discard the skin — along with most of the serious fat and calories — afterward. Duck meat without the skin is leaner than white meat chicken. And duck fat is not bad fat. Some of it is saturated, but a large percentage of it is mono- and poly-unsaturated, with the same properties as olive oil.

By the way, if duck has always struck you as gamey, you haven’t tried Peking (also known as Long Island) duck breast, the kind employed in this recipe.

The duck and its sauce are brightened with homemade Creole seasoning. My version is modeled on the spice mixes of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

I season the duck ahead of time and let it stand for 15 minutes, which allows the spices to flavor the meat more deeply. But if you’re short on time, just sprinkle the duck with the seasoning right before cooking.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Spicy Sauteed Creole Duck Breasts

Serves 6. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.

1 tbl. vegetable oil

2 oz. andouille sausage, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

1⁄3 cup finely chopped celery

1 tbl. plus 1/2 tsp. Creole seasoning (purchased or use the recipe that follows), divided

1 tsp. minced garlic

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup chopped or crushed canned tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)

2 whole Peking duck breasts (4 halves, about 2 to 21/2 pounds)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium, heat oil. Add sausage and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a bowl, then return the pan to the heat and add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6-8 minutes. Add 1 to 1½ teaspoons of Creole spice mix (more if you want a very spicy sauce) and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

2. Add chicken broth and tomatoes, then bring to a boil and simmer until much of the liquid has reduced, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

3. While sauce is simmering, using a very sharp knife, lightly score the skin on each duck breast half in a crisscross pattern, cutting well into but not entirely through the meat. Pat the breasts dry and sprinkle on both sides with remaining 2 teaspoons Creole spice mix, making sure the mix gets into the cracks of the scored skin. Let stand for 15 minutes.

4. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a large cold skillet. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until skin looks very crispy, about 12 minutes. Do not pour off the fat; the liquid fat in the pan helps to render out the fat in the skin.

5. When the duck skin is crisp, transfer the breasts to a plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan. Return duck to the skillet, skin side up, and cook another 3-5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer duck to a clean plate, skin side up. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

6. Pour off any remaining fat in the skillet. Add the sauce and the browned sausage to the skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add any juices that have collected on the plate the duck breasts are on.

7. Remove and discard the skin from the duck, if desired (separating it by slicing off the skin with a paring knife). Thinly slice the duck and arrange it on 6 serving plates. Spoon some of the sauce over each portion.

Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories (110 calories from fat = 32 percent of total calories); 13 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 255 milligrams cholesterol; 5 grams carbohydrate (1 gram fiber; 1 gram sugar); 50 grams protein; 670 milligrams sodium.

Creole Seasoning

Makes about 1⁄3 cup.

1 tbl. plus 1 tsp. hot paprika

1 tbl. garlic powder

11/2 tsp. onion powder

11/2 tsp. cayenne

11/2 tsp. dried oregano

11/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.