Duck with Pomegranate Gastrique

This dish is a special one for me. It is the first dish I ever cooked on camera and so it felt like a natural first choice to share with you. Now, this recipe may look a little intimidating but it is actually very achievable and is a sure bet to knock the socks off of anyone who doubts you in the kitchen!

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Notes on the gastrique:

This is a French sauce that is delightfully sweet and sour! First, we’re going to make a caramel base. Chefs on the telly always take the heat much stronger than I do; I prefer to take more time and cook more slowly to make sure I don’t burn the caramel – hence I start with a cold pan.

To prevent the sugar from burning on the side of the saucepan, I like to keep some extra water to the side in a glass. Swirl the forming caramel, dip a pastry brush into the water and gently sweep the sugar crystals back into the mixture.

We are going for a golden brown, wet caramel; if your mixture gets too dark or smells of treacle, chances are you have taken it too far. Thickening the sauce comes later and so don’t worry about the consistency prior to adding the vinegar etc.

Once you are thickening the syrup, the consistency you have in the pan will be the consistency you serve – once the room-temp sauce hits the hot duck, it will loosen and so just bear in mind that, while you don’t want a solid mass, you don’t want a really ‘wet’ sauce either.

You can certainly make this ahead of time. The longer the gastrique rests, the longer the flavour has to develop. The sauce and any leftovers will stay good in the fridge for up to one week – though good luck with it lasting that long!!

Notes on the duck:

Because duck breasts are so high in fat, we score the skin-side before we cook them to enable the fat to flow out of the meat, or render. Many people choose to go for many ‘hedgehog’ slices however I prefer a set of simple, diagonal slices – this lessens the chance of going right through the fat layer and slicing the meat! You’ll be surprised how much fat you’ll get – don’t let it go to waste; keep a little bowl next to you while you cook to collect this liquid gold.

It is essential to rest your duck for a few minutes, just like a red meat, to allow the juices and flavours to fully develop and reabsorb before plating.

Notes on the fondants:

These are a traditional French comfort food, like roast potatoes to the Brits! I hadn’t heard of them until a few years ago, they had been resigned to ‘old school, fine dining’ menus however I’m so pleased they’ve made something of a retro comeback!

You can use a cookie cutter (with a towel to protect your palms) if you’d prefer perfectly round spuds, I however rather enjoy the tower-look you get from cutting them into rectangles. Rather than bin your skins, you can keep them and the other vegetable off-cuts for a stock bag.

Now go get that apron, put on some good music and enjoy!

Duck with Pomegranate Gastrique

Perfectly cooked duck breast with a tangy, fruity dressing, fondant potatoes and asparagus.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: French
Keyword: Dinner, Duck, Fine dining, Gourmet, Main
Servings: 2

Equipment

  • Meat thermometer
  • Pastry brush
  • Thick-bottomed saucepan
  • Two oven-proof pans; these will transfer from the stove to your oven

Ingredients

  • 2 Duck breast Approx. 340g each
  • 6 Potatoes Medium size; such as Maris Piper, Russet
  • 10 Stalks asparagus Italian purple or regular; medium thickness
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 4 Stalks fresh rosemary
  • 4 Stalks fresh thyme
  • 2 cups Stock (preferably chicken) Stock, rather than broth, is ideal
  • 50g Butter + 1 tbsp
  • 3 tbsp Olive oil Extra virgin
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Coarse black pepper

Gastrique

  • 1 Pomegranate If you can't find fresh pomegranate, try ripe plums or blackberries
  • 1/2 cup Cane, golden or brown sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup White vinegar + 1 tbsp
  • 1 tbsp Red wine Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon

Salad (optional)

  • 1 Fennel bulb
  • 1-2 Small heads lettuce Such as Lolla Rossa, frissee
  • 1 Shallot
  • 2 Stalks fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp Apple cider, red wine or white wine vinegar

Garnish

  • Extra fresh herbs
  • Pomegranate seeds

Instructions

The gastrique

  • Add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water into a cold, thick-bottomed saucepan and place over medium-high heat. While the sugar dissolves, gently swirl the pan occasionally to loosen the mixture; this will take around 5-10minutes. After every swirl, dip your pastry brush into the water and gently ‘sweep’ the sugar from the sides of the pan back into the forming caramel.
  • Don’t let the sugar get to a raging boil; while it simmers, cut the pomegranate in half on a large chopping board. Over a large bowl, grab a wooden spoon and gently tap the skin side of the pomegranate, knocking the seeds into the bowl. You could hold the pomegranate with a kitchen towel to cover the bowl and save you from some of the juice mess!
  • Once your caramel is formed,carefully add ½ cup white vinegar. You will see the sugar constrict into a kind of solid again. Continue the swirling motion and cook for another couple of minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved again.
  • Add your red wine (sip for the Chef?!) and turn the heat up to high and add around ½ cup of pomegranate seeds and a pinch of black pepper. Continuing to swirl the pan as the sauce thickens, reduce it into a nice thick syrup,thicker than a maple syrup, but looser than a thick honey.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat, dip your pastry brush or a spoon into the gastrique, wave it about to cool, and carefully taste test. If the sauce tastes overly sweet (it should already be fruity/sweet/sour), add one more tablespoon of vinegar, put it back on the heat and get back to that desired consistency. Pour over a sieve into a prepared, clean jar and set aside to cool.

Meat 'n' Veg

  • Preheat your oven to 200C/390F fan / 220C/430F / gas mark 7.
  • Rinse the duck breasts and pat them dry; gently score the skin with around five slices diagonally across the breast (imagine where you are going to slice the meat once cooked), taking care not to slice through the fat layer. Season both sides with salt and pepper, rubbing into the skin. Lightly cover and set aside.
  • Now to the fondants: lay one potato down on its flattest side and slice off the ends where they approach the centre of the potato. Stand it up on one end and make sure it is relatively upright, adjust if necessary. Slice to remove the skin from the remaining sides of the potato to create a ‘peeled’ tower. Use this as a guide for the remainder of your potatoes until you have two-three per person. Season each side of the potatoes with a little salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Slice the end of the garlic cloves, smash them with the back of your knife and remove the skins.
  • Heat 50g butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat; stand the potatoes up in the pan, avoiding the central heat if you’re on a gas burner. Add in the smashed garlic and 2 stalks of fresh rosemary and the thyme. After 2-3 minutes, use tongs to check your first potato’s bottom. If it is nice and browned across the surface, turn the potatoes over and brown the other end. If the garlic begins to brown, set them aside temporarily.
  • Once the other ends of the potatoes have browned, turn off the heat;return the garlic to the pan and pour in some stock to cover just under 1” of the potatoes – they will absorb all this goodness! Set a timer for twenty minutes.
  • Cut your fennel and shallot lengthways through the centre and slice into thin wedges, and roughly chop your parsley leaves. In a bowl, add your salad leaves, fennel, shallot and parsley, and gently toss 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, season with a large pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
  • When that twenty-minute timer has gone off, reduce the temp. on the oven to 180C/350F fan / 160C/320F / gas mark 4. Place your duck skin-side down into a cold, dry frying pan and place over medium heat. This is not a steak – don’t go for a crazy high heat or you’ll end up with burned skin! As the fat starts to melt out of the breasts, use tongs to hold the breasts in place and carefully collect the fat.
  • After around 8-10 minutes, once the flow of the fat has slowed and the skin is a beautiful deep golden colour, add 2 stalks of rosemary to a far edge of the pan, turn the breasts meat-side down and place into the oven for 5minutes.
  • Wash and trim the asparagus,removing the woody ends. If the stalks are particularly thick, you can carefully slice them lengthways down the middle – ensuring they’re roughly the same thickness.
  • Remove the duck from the oven and check the temperature with a meat thermometer by guiding the end to the centre of the breast. You are aiming for approximately 57C/134F for medium; 54C/129F for medium-rare; remember your meat will continue to cook slightly while it rests. If the temperature isn’t quite there, place the duck back in the oven for 3 minutes, check again, then lightly wrap in foil and set aside to rest for 5 minutes, keeping the pan to hand.
  • Check your potatoes have softened by carefully piercing the middle of the thickest with a knife,which should glide through. Turn up the temperature of the oven up to 220C/430F fan / 200C/390F / gas mark 6 if you need a little more heat, or if they’re looking good, turn the oven off.
  • Place the duck pan over medium heat and add the asparagus and 1 tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper; if the stalks are quite thick, you can carefully add a little stock to the pan to soften them more quickly.

Plating

  • If you’re going for a sharing option, you may slice your duck along the scoring lines. Check you’re happy with the doneness; if the meat needs to be cooked a little more, you may swap add the duck, meat-side down to the asparagus, and whack up the heat for 30 seconds.
  • Place the duck in the centre of the chopping board and surround it with the potatoes and asparagus, serving the gastrique on the side and the salad in a large bowl or to one side of the board.
  • If you’re plating individual plates, I’d leave the duck whole for that wonderful slicing experience!
  • Final note: If the gastrique has set too thick, don’t panic, put some hot water in a bowl and place the whole jar in for up to one minute to loosen back into a sauce.

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