Monday, 15 November 2010

D is for... Duck breasts with damson sauce and dutch cabbage with dill.


Although I felt pretty confident in the combination of duck and damsons - duck and fruit's a classic - I was slightly concerned that serving it with rich, creamy potatoes after a spicy starter might get my dinner guests reaching for the Rennies. BUT, my fears turned out to be entirely unfounded. The combination of flavours in this dish were, according to one diner, a triumph. There wasn't a hint of indigestion in sight and the dill added an aromatic freshness that made me wonder why I hadn't thought to add it to my cabbage before.

Duck breasts

People often mistakenly think duck is bad for you and full of saturated fat. In fact, duck meat is lean and rich in iron and B12. The fat is in the skin and the thick layer of fat beneath it. It is not only better for your cholesterol to render the fat off the duck, but also for flavour and texture. If you render off the fat before crisping up the skin, you will cut straight through a pleasing crust of salty crunch to the succulent and tender flesh beneath. Once you've rendered off the fat, why not pour it into a jug to save for later - roast potatoes are delicious cooked in duck fat for a Sunday lunch treat. Well, you wouldn't want to let your cholesterol levels drop too low, would you?

1 duck breast per person, skin on
Coarse sea salt
2 cloves of garlic

Take the duck out of the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour before you cook them to allow them to come up to temperature to prevent the meat from getting tough when you cook it. Score the skin with a sharp knife, making sure you don't cut through the flesh. In a pestle and mortar, pound  the salt and all of the pepper and garlic into a paste. Rub the garlic salt into the slits in the skin and all over the fleshy underneath. Preheat a non stick frying pan over a medium heat and place the breasts, skin side down into the pan for around 6 minutes. You don't need extra oil as the fat from the duck will gently render off. Pour most of the duck fat out of the pan and reserve for future use. Turn the hob up to high, pressing the breast down as it cooks to allow the skin to crisp up even more - this should take a few minutes only. Turn the breast over and cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes if you like your meat pink and juicy or leave it on for an extra five minutes or so if you prefer your duck well done. Transfer the meat to a warm plate to rest for 5 - 10 minutes. Once rested, slice the meat into three or four pieces and serve with a generous dollop of damson sauce.

Damson sauce

Although damsons can be awkward to stone, you really don't need that many of these ripe, purple plums to get a big flavour. I used about half a pound, dutifully stoned with an olive stoner (the bit on the end of a garlic crusher) by Richard. As is usually the way of things if I'm cooking, I made enough to feed at least twice the number of dinner guests, so feel free to stop stoning before your hands begin to ache and you'll doubtless have plenty. I used ruby Port for its sweet, velvety depth, but you can replace the port with a glass or two of decent red wine if that's all you've got to hand. If forward planning is your thing, you can make the sauce the day before, pop it in the fridge when it's cool and reheat it while your duck breasts are resting.

Olive oil
3 finely chopped shallots
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 lb (weight before stoning) damsons, stoned
2 glasses of ruby Port or decent red wine
2 bay leaves
A sprig or two of fresh thyme
A mug of chicken stock/ water
2 tsp soft brown sugar
Salt and pepper
A knob of butter

Place the Port/ red wine, thyme and bay leaves in a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat until the liquid has reduced by half.  Fish out the herbs and decant the Port into a mug for later. Heat the oil in the same pan, add the shallots and garlic and fry gently until soft. Add the damsons and sugar and simmer until the fruit has softened. Pour back in the reduced Port, add the same amount again of chicken stock or water, add sugar and season to taste. Once the sauce has reduced by half again, stir in the butter and the sauce is ready to serve.

Dutch cabbage in dill butter

Simply take off the hard, bottom root and slice the whole cabbage and chuck it in a collander. Wash the cabbage under running water and place in a steamer with a little salt until the cabbage is soft but still has some bite. In the meantime, chop up some fresh dill and once the cabbage is cooked, place it in a large bowl, chuck in a generous knob of butter and mix it through until melted. Add the dill and toss through until all the cabbage is coated.   

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