Here in Victoria, we are only now nearing the end of the most wonderful black fig season that Maggie and I have experienced together. And for all of the second half of the season, the supply has been plentiful, quality consistent and prices fair.
Last week, we realised that we hadn’t savoured one of our two favourite ways of using fresh figs – in a salad that also features duck and walnuts and which is a faultless partner for a pinot noir wine. (The other fave is fig and ginger jam.)
Although we have modified the recipe in various ways, we remain indebted to the original version, published in 2007. It was written by leading Australian restaurant and food writer, Terry Durack and appears, albeit tweaked, courtesy of him.
We first made it to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2007. It was love at first bite! We made the dish an annual tradition, with occasional second helpings on other dates or to share with friends.
This time, we bought two generous duck breasts, with wings attached, from Cester’s Poultry. Maggie detached the wings but we included them in the preparation to give us a little snack along the way.
The fresh ginger we bought at Toscano’s was a soft variety, with little fibrous content, so it grated elegantly. Also, we warmed the honey gently first and this made it easy to produce a very smooth marinade.
Ingredients (for two to share by candlelight)
2 duck breasts
10 walnut kernels, lightly toasted and rubbed with a dry cloth
3 ripe figs, quartered
mixed salad leaves
For the marinade
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
For the dressing (these days, for convenience, we use our vinaigrette dressing instead and it works equally well)
1 small brown shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
60ml olive oil
¼ tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp finely chopped walnut kernel
2 tsp finely chopped parsley
2 tsp snipped chives
salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 125C (fan-forced). Using a metal skewer, prick and pierce the skin of the duck, with no more than ½ cm between each prick mark. Place breasts skin-side DOWN on a grill-rack sitting in a pan with 1cm of water in the bottom. Bake for 1 hour and remove from oven.
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Brush all surfaces of the duck with the marinade, put breasts and any leftover marinade in a suitable container, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours. Remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before step 3 and brush off any excess marinade (see the first photo below).
- Preheat oven to 175C. Place breasts skin-side UP on a grill placed on the top shelf and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until skin has turned a deep golden brown. Rest breasts while you prepare the other salad ingredients. (This time, we roasted the breasts in our Weber Q – purchased since we last made the dish – and cooked the duck skin-side down for 6 minutes once the skin was golden brown, which added some appealing char to the flavour mix.)
- To make the dressing, put shallot, vinegar, mustard, oil and sugar in a jar, put lid on jar and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Add chopped walnut, parsley and chives and briefly shake to combine. Adjust seasoning.
- Combine leaves, fig and walnut kernels in a large salad bowl. Slice duck breast, place over salad and spoon over about half the dressing. Toss gently to combine and serve immediately.
We think this was the best version we had ever prepared, reflecting the quality of the duck, a more refined marinade and the impact of the Weber Q. Not forgetting the delicious pinot that Julian and Sara gave me for my birthday!
Next time – alas, not before 2016 – we will take the duck breasts out of the fridge just before we roast them, to see if the end result has pinker flesh in the middle of each breast.