Recipe: Warm duck salad with baby beets, caramelised pear, gorgonzola & toasted walnuts

There’s a scene in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love where everyone in Mrs. Suen’s kitchen are crowded around a rice cooker, chattering away excitedly and poking about it – curious people. The rice cooker was brought home from Japan by Mrs. Chan’s husband as a gift, and as the device *clicks* loudly, everyone leaps up and cheers.

In the Mood for Love is probably one of my favourite films. It’s set in 1920’s Hong Kong and the story revolves around two neighbours who find out their spouses are cheating on them with one another. It’s a weird story to fall in love with. But despite the unfortunate circumstances that drive it, the film manages to be extremely beautiful. I think this is because WKW chooses to pick at and observe the other things going on in the background – like the rice cooker scene. There’s also a 3 minute-ish ode to Mrs. Chan’s daily trek to the noodle stalls for dinner, taking in the hustle and bustle of the markets, accompanied by a gorgeous violin soundtrack playing in the background. It’s almost as if the movie is channelling the characters’ denial. It’s bittersweet, funny, and oddly heartwarming.

This is the part of the blog post where you note down the name of this movie to watch later over dinner – with my duck salad and glass of wine of course.

I get as excited as the tenants of Mrs. Suen’s apartment when I succeed at a new recipe. While this isn’t really a new recipe per-se, it is a new protein. I rarely  cook with duck and the last time I cooked it I may have been lazy and bought an overpriced, pre-cooked luv-a-duck that came out dry and overcooked when I followed the instructions to heat it up in the oven. So your second note to take from this post: don’t even bother with the luv-a-duck range. Do not take short cuts. Do duck properly.

Despite this being a salad, I’m going to have to give you a heads up that there’s a lot going on in it. If you generally cook alone, you will need to multitask. The toasting, roasting, caramelising, etc all take quite a while and have to be done concurrently. It’s extremely hearty, and impressive for a dinner party though, so it’s worth the extra effort.

Happy feasting, and remember to mind your table manners!

Warm Duck Salad, baby beets, caramelised pear, gorgonzola & toasted walnuts

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Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves: 4-6 people

Difficulty: moderate


Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 500 grams of mixed salad leaves (spinach and rocket would work well)
  • 2 red anjou pears, sliced thinly
  • 2 duck breasts, skin on
  • 150 grams gorgonzola, crumbled (or any blue cheese of your preference)
  • 150 grams golden walnuts
  • 8 baby beetroots, roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon coconut blossom sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
  2. Heat the oil on medium high heat, in a heavy bottom skillet
  3. Fry the duck breasts skin side down to render off some fat for 6 minutes
  4. Turn duck breast over and sear for an additional minute
  5. Once seared, remove from pan and place the duck breasts on a lined oven tray and roast in the oven for 7-8 minutes (for medium rare), 15-20 for well done (if you must…)
  6. Whilst the duck is in the oven, use the duck fat – or fond – at the bottom of the pan you used for searing the duck to begin caramelising your pears. Sprinkle the coconut blossom sugar onto the fond to caramelise, and then place the sliced pears in the caramel to cook through for 7 minutes, or until soft and golden brown. Stir occasionally.
  7.  Take the duck breasts out of the oven and set aside for later, keeping it warm under some foil
  8. Remove the caramalised pears when ready and set aside for later
  9. Using the same tray from the duck, and not removing any of the duck fat that has leaked out (we’re being French here and using duck fat like it is liquid gold), scatter the chopped baby beets and rosemary sprigs over it, and season with salt. Toss the beets around so it is coated in duck fat (liquid gold, I’m telling you).
  10. cover the tray of beets tightly with foil and throw back into the oven at 200 C for 50 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork.
  11. Meanwhile – back to the pan – use the left over caramel from the pears to flavour the toasted walnuts. Crank the heat up to high and toss the walnuts around on the pan until it is coated in the caramel for about 5 minutes.
  12. When the walnuts become fragrant, remove from the pan and set aside for later.

Assembly

  1. Wash and dry your salad leaves, and place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the caremalised pear and it’s juices.
  3. Add the toasted walnuts.
  4. Slice the duck breasts thinly and add to bowl.
  5. Remove the rosemary from the beets and add beets to bowl.
  6. Crumble gorgonzola or mild blue cheese of your choice over the mixture.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Using tongs, toss the salad carefully to evenly mix the ingredients together. The caramelised juices from the pears should coat and act as a dressing.

Produce Notes

  • I purchased my duck from Hagens Organic Butcher in Prahran Market , and whilst expensive it is nowhere near the rip-off price of the luv-a-duck range.
  • Coconut blossom sugar is unrefined, organically grown and sustainably farm in Java, Indonesia (represent!). It has the most amazing flavour – think caramel and bittersweet dark chocolate – and it is lower in GI than other raw sugars. It is also a good source of calcium and iron.
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