Chooks and geese and ducks and things

Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts
Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts

Duck breasts are one of my favourite foods though I eat them rarely – they’re so rich and it always feels like a great indulgence – which it is. Cooking duck breasts is tricky – don’t cook them long enough to render the fat and they’re impossibly tough. Cook them too long and you’ve lost that wonderful ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ texture, flavour and succulence. Plus they go grey – never an appealing colour to have on your plate.

My favourite duck breast dish is one accompanied with cabbage and roasted pears. Doesn’t sound very enticing but it is a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the duck. Finely shred cabbage and mix with half a finely sliced red onion. Briefly saute in some of the leftover duck fat – the cabbage should just be wilted but still have a crunch and a gloss to it. Season with salt and pepper and a splash of verjuice or white wine. I put the pears (beurre bosc or corella), peeled and halved in a small baking tray, cut-side down with a drizzle of oil and a good splash (ok, a generous pour) of white wine to cook for around 20 mins. The duck only takes 10 minutes in the oven so timing is key: I first pan fry the duck then put them in the baking tray with the pears. By the time the duck has rested (sigh) the pears should be cooked. I sauté the cabbage at the last minute so it doesn’t wilt further.

Recently I’ve been trying other recipes. One was a Maggie Beer recipe for cabernet jelly glazed duck breasts with a salad of baby beetroot leaves, pickled figs and walnuts. Seriously. It looked good and I assumed that the Maggie Beer cabernet paste and  pickled figs would be readily available from places like the Essential Ingredient. I found the cabernet paste but no-one had heard of pickled figs. Oh well, time to get creative. Beetroot leaves ditto. I did however find walnuts!!!
This recipe just didn’t work:

  • Place duck breasts, skin side down, into a pan over medium heat and leave to render the duck fat.
  • When crisp on skin side, turn breasts quickly over and seal the underside for 1 minute.
  • Pour out fat and brush skin side with cabernet jelly and turn.

You have to repeat this process every 2 minutes, turning and brushing the duck with the cabernet jelly until its cooked to medium rare – approx 10-12 minutes. Problem is, the jelly burns and then the duck skin burns. Maybe it would have worked on a gas stove but on my electric one I couldn’t really control the temperature. Admitedly the flavour was lovely but it seemed like too much of a process.

Having an extra packet of duck breats in the fridge I decided to try this recipe again –  but with a variation. Nowhere could I find pickled figs but I did manage to find a jar of pickled walnuts and some lovely fresh figs.  I cooked the duck in the usual way and made a salad with the following:

  • Rocket
  • fresh figs, halved and grilled
  • lightly roasted walnuts
  • pickled walnuts (sliced)
  • pomegranate seeds (just because I had them)
  • dressed with some vino cotto and olive oil. Delish.

Unfortunately I was on the phone while cooking the duck breasts and lost track of time.  At first thinking I hadn’t cooked the underside long enough I left them in the oven a little bit too long.  Damn.  Although the duck was tender it was a bit over cooked for my liking (I like them to be pink).  Fortunately I could hide their greyness amongst the green rocket leaves and the bright red jewels of the pomegranate.  And for those who are wondering what pickled walnuts look and taste like:  the walnuts are pickled whole in their shell and are very soft to slice through – they really no longer resemble walnuts – and they taste much like caper berries.  Nice amongst things (and perfect in a pigeon terrine) but not something you would eat on their own.

My endeavor to master the perfectly cooked duck breast continues.