A quick glance outside is revealing a Wonderful Winter-Wonderland these days. Finally, I might add – the last couple of Decembers have been depressingly warm, way too warm to really appreciate the festive groove town decorations and christmas markets were struggling to spread. Yultide season around 15-17°C? Excuse me, when did I move so far south? I know it’s a clichée, but winters have to be cold to count around these parts of the world!
These days however, a Winter truly worth its name is calling for some serious, tummy-warming grub, huzzah!
One of the ingredients firmly rooted into the colder months of the year, as some of you might have noticed already, is duck – even though it’s not necessarily as fatty or heavy as its wintery rep might suggest. For some reason, although the bird only appears on our table when it’s time to change to long sleeves, I absolutely love combining it with other components usually to be found in summery dishes. Case in point, today’s combination with summery lemons and the black diamonds of autumn, blackberries.
For 2 servings, you’ll need…
The Lemon & Thyme Polenta Tiles
A word of warning in advance – these need to chill and set for about 12 or more hours, so I’d recommend prepping the polenta mixture the evening or early morning before you plan of griddling them up~ Oh and, in case a peek out of the window reveals a rather summery scene – or in case you’re a die-hard, sub-zero temperature BBQer – make them a bit thicker since they are absolutely delicious fresh off the coals as well~!
500ml Low-fat Milk
A generous Pinch each of Salt and Nutmeg
150g Polenta Semolina
40g Parmesan, freshly grated
1 Lemon, Zest
4 Leafy Sprigs of Thyme, leaves picked
1 Leafy Sprig of Rosemary, leaves picked and very finely chopped
1) Add the milk, butter, rosemary, a generous pinch of salt and a few scrapes of nutmeg to a pot and let them work up a simmer on medium heat.
2) Slowly sprinkle in the semolina in a steady sandfall while constantly stirring the quickly thickening milk-mixture with a whisk.
3) Turn the heat to low once the semolina is well incorporated and allow the mixture to soak and steam off excess moisture for about 5-6 minutes. Stir the lot with a wooden spoon from time to time to prevent the semolina to annoy you with a stick-and-burn routine.
4) Meanwhile, line a baking tray or brownie tin with a sheet of baking parchment – if you’re going with a brownie tin, make sure some of the parchment hangs off over the rims of the tin to provide you with an easy way to lever the polenta brick out of the tin once it has set.
5) Take the pot off the heat and quickly stir in the yolks, parmesan, thyme and lemon zest until everything is well combined.
6) Immediately pour the thick mixture out onto your tray or into the tin. Cover the surface with a second sheet of parchment, pick up a rolling pin and roll the heap of semolina out into a rectangle of about 1,5-2cm thickness – if you went with a brownie tin, use a wooden spoon to fit and smooth the mixture across the bottom in an even layer and into the corners. Even out the surface with the back of the spoon as well, while you’re at it.
7) Cover the tray or tin with a sheet of clingfilm once the mixture has cooled down to room temperature and pop it into the fridge to chill overnight.
8) Just before serving – in this case, while the duck is resting and the sauce on the way to yummyness – cut the brick into squares or go wild with dessert rings or large cookie-cutters, brush the resulting tiles with a bit of olive oil and pop them into a griddle set on high-heat until they’re nicely marked up on both sides.
The Blackberry-Port Sauce
If your headspace doesn’t have that silly “Winter” drawer where “Duck” is locked away until September or you’re sitting on the other side of the globe, try this one when blackberries are in season~! High-quality, unsugared frozen ones work nicely as well, though.
1 Shallot, finely diced
2 Tbsp Dark Muscovado Sugar
100g Blackberries on top, for decorative measures
250ml Red Port
1 Sprig of Rosemary, Thyme and 1 Bay Leaf – nick the ones currently hiding away in your duck mrinade~
1) Place the butter in a small pot set onto medium heat and allow it to melt.
2) Add the shallot cubes, sugar and a generous pinch of salt and, after a quick stir once the sugar has melted, leave them to glaze over and soften up for about 2 mins.
3) Pour in the wine, send the herbs swimming and add a generous crack of pepper.
4) Add the blackberries designated for the sauce and leave the sauce to simmer away for roundabout 30 mins. By the way, the half-time mark for the sauce is a good starting-point for the pan-stage of the duck~
5) Fish out the bay leaf and the sprigs, pick up a stick blender and carefully whizz up the remains of the blackberries in the sauce. Don’t overdo it at this point, otherwise the seeds will end up too small to get stuck in a sieve – speaking of, strain the sauce through a very fine sieve to remove the blackberry seeds and any stray bits the herbs have left behind.
6) Pour the sauce back into the pot and have a good look at it. Time for the consistency-check~ You should be looking at around 75-100ml of a dark and glossy, nicely thickened liquid. Dip the back of a spoon into it – if the sauce ends up coating it, rather than trying to run away, you’re golden. If it appears to be too runny for your liking, pop the pot back onto the stove to reduce it down further.
7) Have a taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then swirl the deco-blackberries in the sauce to warm through just before serving – at around the same time your duck is moving beneath the tinfoil covers.
The Honey-Glazed Duck
The marinading-bit of this part, too, is best prepared the evening or morning before the gig. The longer the marinade can work its magic, the better~
2 Small Duck Breasts
1 Bay Leaf
2 Sprigs of Thyme
2 Sprigs of Rosemary
1 Clove Of Garlic, sliced into thin shaves
10 Mixed Peppercorns
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Honey
Coarse Sea Salt
2 Pinches of Hot Chilli Flakes
1) Place both the honey and oil in a small pot set onto low heat and stir the lot until the honey has dissolved completely – pop in some of the peppercorns to help the honey along.
2) While the blend is slowly warming up, add the herbs and remaining peppercorns to infuse the oil for about 7-8 mins before taking the pot off the heat again. Set it aside and leave it to cool off completely
3) Have a look at your duck and trim the meat if necessary – if some stray bits of excess skin stick out along the rims or pieces of fat or silvery connective tissue still cling to the inner side, get rid of them.
4) Use a very sharp knife to score the skin in diagonally crossing lines, 1cm apart, creating the usual diamond pattern. Be careful to only cut through the skin and layer of fat beneath, not into the meat itself, which would make the meat go dry in the pan. Point of the exercise: enabling the marinade to work its magic, allowing the skin to crisp up nicely and making the whole thing look pretty.
5) Arrange 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 sprig of thyme, a couple of slices of garlic and some peppercorns, evenly spaced, across the bottom of an airtight container large enough to hold both pieces of meat next to eachother. Gently place the duck, skinside down, on top of the fragrant layer.
6) Distribute the rest of the solid bits on top of the meat and pour the honeyed oil on top of and around the breasts.
7) Seal the container, pop it into the fridge and allow the duck to enjoy its oil-treatment for about 12-24 hours. Keep the container in the fridge until about 1 ½ hours prior to use.
8) Once yum’o’clock is drawing closer, fire up a heavy-based pan on medium heat. Brush the spices and any excess oil off of the meat and rub the skin with a generous pinch of coarse salt. Keep the infused oil to glaze the duck later.
9) Place the duck, skinside down, in the still-cold pan.
10) Let them sit in the pan until you see a small rim of fat growing around the duck and hear small sizzling and popping noises growing louder, announcing the time to crank up the heat.
11) Set the heat to high, close the lid and find something else to do for 5 mins.
12) After those 5 mins, take care of each of the long sides by leaning the pieces against the walls of your pan, skinside tilted upwards – 1 min on each edge will do. In case either your duck or your pan aren’t inclined to follow your plan, use a slice of potato to prop the duck up against.
13) While you’re at it, have a look at the skin-side and decide whether to give it another round in the heat to bring I to crispy perfection, do so once the sides are taken care of.
14) Now turn the heat down to medium-low, flip the duck onto the meaty side, gloss it over with 1 Tbsp of the marinade and an extra drizzle of honey, sprinkle the skin with the chilli flakes.
15) Close the lid and give it another 3-4 mins before moving the meat to a warm plate, coating it with a generous layer of the infused oil and covering it up with a sheet of aluminum foil.
16) Allow the duck to rest for 5 mins, then get ready to plate up~!
Assembling The Dish
A handful of Mixed Salad Greens to support the lemon – make sure there’s some bitter leaves or herbs in the mix
1) Place your polenta tiles on two warmed plates.
2) Cut the duck into ~1cm thin slices and arrange them on top of the tiles.
3) Drizzle the lot with the sauce and make sure to decoratively wedge a couple of the berries into the heaps.