I love cooking for friends and I don’t know why I don’t do more of the things I love. Maybe I love too many things and forget old loves. In an effort to make up for the lack of dinner parties in 2017, the next few Saturday nights will be spent over drinks, dinner and dialogue with friends over at ours. Last night was the first in the series; with Thomas, Ned and Phil as guests.
As it turned out, most of my Saturday afternoon was spent waitressing for Ash, who is doing a Chungking Noodles Lunch Takeover all January at The Hidden while its proprietor Daniel is away on holiday. By the time I got home around 15:00, I was pretty tired and wanted to take a nap. Time for dinner party cheats!
Friends often ask me what goes into my decision-making process for putting together a dinner. Guests, time and context mostly. This in itself deserves its own blog post, but I list my thought process for last night’s dinner below.
Go for something different…
- New dish: meh, incalculable, how much can I estimate about whether a dish is new to a friend or not?
- New ingredient(s): I like to think my favourite flavour combinations are not what most people eat
- New cuisine altogether: I’m incredulous that many friends haven’t had proper Indonesian food so typically this is what I make
Achtung! I’m under time pressure and I need to impress. So?
My go-to options were…
- Onglet de boeuf –> again?
- Steak frites with white chocolate Bearnaise –> no dice, Bearnaise requires tarragon and fresh tarragon’s been difficult to find lately
- Indonesian food –> too long plus I’d have to shop for the specialty ingredients
- Duck breast –> super easy, crowd pleaser, works with my requirements
So somehow my mind distilled the keyword “duck” into…
- Duck is winter
- Flavour affinities:
- duck + orange –> a classic!
- duck + cinnamon + cloves + nutmeg –> the three spices make up one of the base triage in Indonesian cuisine
- duck + honey/sweetness + ginger –> another Asian classic
- orange + fennel
- Can spread the flavours across the dishes
- duck au jus: orange juice as a base with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg as spices and brown sugar instead of honey
- potatoes with lemon and ginger
- salad with fennel and citrus-honey dressing
- lemon sorbet
Recipe and pics below. Thanks to Thomas for lending me a couple of his pictures!
I typically prep everything for the meal before friends arrive, and leave the duck until after the aperitif. The duck really only takes 10 minutes to pan fry, so I do this towards the end of finishing the cheese and cold cuts plate.
The recipe below is for 5 people, and is totally doable in about 30 minutes, plus the 10 minutes for the duck.
Prep the salad and dressing
- Salad greens, around 200g
- 1 large fennel bulb
- The juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp dried or fresh thyme
- 1 tsp of honey
- 3 tbs olive oil
- A handful of pine nuts or almonds
Spin the salad leaves clean. Slice the fennel thinly, using a knife or mandolin. Normally I place the dressing ingredients in a bottle (lemon juice, thyme and olive oil) and just shake vigorously then pour over the salad leaves and fennel. Toss together and then sprinkle the nuts over it.
Prep the potatoes
- 500g small potatoes, scrubbed/cleaned and unpeeled
- 3 tbs butter
- An inch or so of fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
- The juice of 2 lemons
- Fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 150C. Melt the butter together with the ginger root in an oven dish. Don’t brown the butter. Set aside.
Place the scrubbed and cleaned unpeeled potatoes in a large pot with salted cold water. Bring to a boil and continue boiling on medium heat for about 10 mins or until the skin starts to come loose. Drain and add to the oven dish with the butter and ginger. Add the juice of 1 lemon and stir well together.
Bake in oven for about 10 minutes; typically I pop the potatoes in the oven as I start to pan fry the duck. Once the potatoes have crisped up, add the remaining lemon juice and stir in with the fresh parsley.
The duck au jus
- The fresh juice of 1 large orange
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon, clove, nutmeg
- 5 duck breast
- salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, heat the orange juice. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar and the ground spices. Once the orange juice is hot, add the sugar and spice mix and whisk until well-blended. Set aside.
Pat dry the duck breast with kitchen or paper towel. Score the skin.
Season a cast iron pan with salt and pepper, and place the duck breasts skin side down. Heat over a medium-high fire until the fat renders, about 2 minutes. At this point, reheat the orange juice over a medium fire. Flip the duck breast and cook on the meat side for 5 minutes with the heat slightly turned down. The duck breast sometimes soaks up all the duck fat, but that’s ok, it’s flavourful. Just make sure it isn’t burning.
Flip the skin side down again and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.
Add the rendered duck fat into the orange juice, whisk well. Serve with the duck.