Christmas evening supper

Christmas eve–what’s for supper? Your basic duck breast, pan-seared and dressed with some of the spoils of my visit to Bull City Olive Oil. Just a take-off on a vinaigrette, but what fun. A nice fatty duck breast pan-seared so that the skin is cracklin’ crispy–with a very simple sauce–fruity.

Turn off the smoke alarm so you won’t be interrupted while cooking. You need to start with a skillet that will tolerate high heat–it needs to be almost smoking hot to begin–and no worries about sticking given the fat in the duck skin. I used my favorite carbon steel skillet–very well cured (now black and nonstick), and has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight. Just the right size for two duck breasts.

20161224_173256I had thought that perhaps just a drizzle of one of the infused vinegars would be good, but after tasting the vinegars with a piece of breast that was loose in the package, I decided it needed  more complexity, so I started with  extra-virgin olive oil infused with mushroom and sage–awesome as a condiment in its own right, but for nice fatty duck it needs to be brightened a bit with one of the infused balsamic vinegars. Decisions, decisions!

I had black mission fig, black cherry, and blackberry with ginger. After tasting I decided that blackberry-ginger was what I wanted this evening, though any of these would have been good with duck. I didn’t use typical vinaigrette proportions but I did emulsify the oil and the vinegar (1:1). The mushroom-sage oil is very earthy and a great contrast to the fruitiness of the blackberry with that little spark of ginger.

20161224_174026To prep the breasts I patted them dry and scored the skin side, careful not to cut into the meat–just to help the fat render while pan-searing. You need a very sharp knife so that just the weight of the knife pulled across the skin will cut into it. Then I salted the meat side of the breasts and let them sit for about 20 minutes to season.

After patting them dry I put them into a  very hot skillet, skin side down, and cooked until most of the fat rendered and the skin side was brown and crispy (about 5 to 8 minutes), reducing the heat a bit to keep them from getting too brown before a sufficient amount of fat had rendered. Then turned them and continued to cook until the temperature was 135ºF by instant read thermometer (about 5 minutes).

While the breasts were searing, I whisked the oil and vinegar together, and got the roasted potatoes out of the oven. While the breasts rested (and continued with carry-over cooking), I poured off the excess fat from the pan, left just enough to  sauté a mix of  baby arugula and radicchio for a side. Very quick. Very tasty!

The bitterness of the arugula and radicchio was a great contrast to the richness of the duck, and the blackberry-ginger/mushroom-sage sauce. (Blackberry and sage are awesome together–makes me want to try a sorbet with that combination.)  The Les Hérétiques wine (old vine Carignane grapes) has lots of berry fruit (blackberry  with some earthiness, and minerals) all in all a great wine for this meal even though it’s just my “house” wine.

All together a very flavorful supper for no more time than it took.  So many possible flavor variations possible with this simple sauce. A son gôut!

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Cabbage with juniper berries

I’ve always liked cabbage–slaw, steamed, and even boiled if it was not cooked to mush. I’ll even just nuke a wedge with a little olive oil and salt sprinkled over it and call it a vegetable dish. It’s a good keeper that doesn’t get foul if it stays in the crisper for a while–especially if you just peel off the leaves from the outside of the head as you need them, instead of cutting the head in pieces.

Cover of book

Nigel Slater’s “Tender”

I’ve read a lot of Nigel Slater lately (Kitchen Diaries, Ripe, and Tender). I like his style: very descriptive of the garden, and the kitchen–almost makes me feel that I’m right there with him. I’m anticipating the followup volumes for Tender and Kitchen Diaries; his website is also well worth checking out.

Tender is a vegetable cookbook (as well as a gardening book)–not a vegetarian cookbook, though most recipes could be pretty easily adapted if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion.  The discussion of each vegetable includes cooking as well as growing information, and most delightfully, a discussion of seasonings for the vegetable.

His recipes are simple, designed to make the most of excellent fruits and vegetables without being at all fussy.  Quantities are rather loosely given, which makes it ideal for my improvisational style of cooking for myself (and the cat). I’ve found all sorts of thing I want to try, but here is one that particularly caught my fancy–perhaps because it’s fall, or maybe just because I had a head of cabbage in the crisper.

One of the seasoning he mentioned for cabbage was juniper berries. I’ve used juniper berries for other dishes, but can’t honestly say that I’d ever thought of trying them with cabbage.  Here’s what I did to try this out.

Cabbage with juniper berries

Ingredients

  • About 6 leaves from a medium head of cabbage
  • 3 juniper berries
  • dash of red pepper flakes if desired for spice
  • dash of salt to taste
  • small pat of butter

Preparation

  • Flatten the leaves on a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Add crushed juniper berries, (see note below.), chili flakes if desired, and salt.
  • Toss the cabbage to distribute seasonings.
  • Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Cover and microwave for about 4 to 6 minutes, until cabbage is still bright green, but tender (See NOTE).
  • Serve.

Cook’s notes

  • Though I used white cabbage, I’m sure this would be fine with red or savoy cabbage as well.
  • The juniper berries are very oily, so I did not put them in my spice grinder–I used a mortar and pestle that could be cleaned easily.
  • The microwave really seems to bring out the heat in the chili peppers, so add less than you might were you just going to sauté the cabbage.
  • The amount of water needed will depend on whether the cabbage is just washed and still wet, and/or how tight the cover is. I don’t usually use plastic wrap, but Pyrex bowls with vented covers, so I do lose some steam.
  • Sauté or steam-sauté would work as well–I just didn’t want to wash another pan when I was preparing this after a day of indexing work.

I’ve tried it now–right up there with caraway seeds.The combination is a winner–I’m not sure I can easily describe what the juniper berries do for the cabbage, but it certainly puts it in a different class from “boiled” cabbage that I grew up with and what is typical of “southern” cooking. I think it adds background earthiness and complexity to the flavor. It was no longer “just” cabbage!

It was a side for roast turkey thighs, but I can easily see this as a great side for pork, or most particularly for duck legs or duck confit.  I’ll certainly make it again–probably on many occasions.

I didn’t use extra virgin olive as I normally might with cabbage because I just could not get the flavors of that and the juniper berries together in my head. (Cabbage with a little extra virgin olive oil is excellent, though.) If I were making this to go with duck, I make it with duck fat instead of butter.

bowl of cooked cabbage

cabbage with juniper berries

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