Phew!… it has been HOT! The white-hot pace of life and the weather too. When it gets like this all I want to do is float around a pool, indulging in tall, cool drinks with umbrellas in them. But as I write this a storm is brewing outside, a cool breeze is cooling the house and I’m sitting in front of our twinkling Christmas tree that we put up early this year – much to the girls’ delight – and I am again entranced by the seasonal spell. There is so much going on at this time of year, preparations for big meals, parties, holiday trips, more parties, finalising everything I need to for work, that I really need meals that require very little effort and make me feel spoilt and treated. This is really a super simple duck breast salad that you can whip up for one, two or a little dinner party starter too. I know our duck is sold out! Crazy, but there it is, we did not want to have stock left over the break, but next year will bring steadier supply I promise. There are good, free range alternatives out there though. The heirloom lettuces from Aloe Dale are gorgeous at the moment, and any excuse for a cool, crisp salad in this weather is great by me. Anyway, when you make the right choice in using the best produce you really need to do very little to it. This has a zingy citrus dressing that really goes beautifully with your succulent breasts, but should not overpower them, rather just pull all the ingredients together. Have some fun with it.
duck breasts, room temperature & patted dry
chinese five spice or a mix of other spices
a little duck fat or olive oil to fry
fresh salad greens & maybe some herbs like rocket
handful of dried cranberries (not too many)
orange, peeled and sliced out of the segment membranes
For the dressing: olive oil
fennel seeds, finely ground
coriander seeds, finely ground
star anise, finely ground
fresh red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
salt & pepper
Put just a little fat/oil into a heavy bottomed pan on a med-high heat, the fat will help the duck to render, but be careful not to use too much as your breasts should render a lot of fat. Score the skin of each duck breast (one per person) with diagonal crosses – try not to cut all the way through to the flesh – and season with chinese five spice, or alternative, and salt and pepper. Put in the hot pan, skin side down. I like the duck nice and pink, far prefer it very pink than over cooked. Leave it undisturbed for about 7mins then turn over for another 7. While the duck cooks, throw together your salad ie: put your selection of leaves on your chosen plates! Cooking time will depend on the size of the breasts and how you like them done, but you do want your skin to be nice and crispy and fully rendered. Remove from the pan and leave to rest while you make your dressing. For two of us I use 1 orange. Squeeze juice into a submersion blender jug, add a little salt & pepper, a pinch of your spices, small tsp mustard some chilli if you like some heat and then olive oil. A classic vinaigrette works on a 1:3 ratio – 1 part vinegar, or orange juice in this case, 3 parts oil, olive oil here. A lot depends on the acidity of the orange, so add a little less oil to leave you some room to adjust. Make an emulsion by blending the dressing. Taste, see if you need more oil and maybe a little more spice. I like mine fennel heavy. Add a scant teaspoon of honey and blend again, add your chilli and taste again. Now slice your duck beautifully and place on the leaves, sprinkle the cranberry jewels over the salad along with some orange segments. Before drizzling over the dressing, I like to add just a little of the still warm duck fat and mix that into the dressing before spooning over everything and making it all glossy and yummy. That’s it – Enjoy!
While writing I thought about mangoes, wondering when they’ll appear again. I would love to make this salad with mangoes, keeping the citrus dressing the same. Use another fruit if you prefer, maybe plums? I love the spice in this, it feels festive, the duck feels decadent, the chilli gives you a little lift and the rest is refreshing and lovely!