I have been caught out by the change in the weather; whilst outside it is steaming hot and more summer than spring, I still have blogs about parsnip latkes to write. And, however excited I am by the change in season, I haven’t quite got my head round the prospect of salads and new season vegetables yet. Hence this combination of a dish that could easily belong in November with one that brazenly shouts March and proud of it. The duck legs were spare from a night re-testing this recipe with pieces rather than a whole bird (and it works brilliantly; just keep the same proportions of liquid and spicing to four duck legs) but when I came to cook them I realised that the idea of a steamed green as an accompaniment was no longer very enticing. I wanted something refreshing, to honour the sunshine, but also to cut the fattiness of the meat. The result is a combination of Rose Prince’s duck and Jane Grigson’s watercress and orange salad. Both are incredibly simple recipes and require very little effort and yet the results are full of taste and texture, just right for nights when you still want a little roasted warmth but can’t face turning the oven on. Short method, short shopping list, short cooking time…what more could you ask for?!
Note: Prince suggests cooking the potatoes peeled but whole; however, I found this didn’t work because, of course, the cooking time will depend on their size. By the time my duck was cooked the potatoes were unappetisingly underdone. I’d suggest quartering them (use your judgement based on their size; if they are tiny they will turn to mush if cooked for the same length of time as the duck so add them later). And, if you don’t want to go to the bother of cooking the duck, this salad is delicious with some smoked duck slices over the top too.
For two you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
old potatoes, 4
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
duck legs, 2
fresh watercress, a couple of large handfuls
large orange, a navel is good
pitted black olives, a couple of dessertspoons
fresh orange juice, a tablespoon or so (either from the orange, if it’s juicy or not, or from a carton)
lemon, 1 (optional)
1. Season the duck legs with salt and pepper then put them into a heavy saucepan or casserole dish over a high heat, skin-side down, and brown them on both sides. The fat should start to run quite quickly so you shouldn’t need any extra.
2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters or thirds, then add them to the casserole. Turn them in the fat to coat then lower the heat, cover and leave both duck and potatoes to cook for about 45-50 minutes. Turn the duck legs and stir the potatoes every so often to ensure they are thoroughly coated in duck fat and cooked evenly.
3. For the salad, first rinse the watercress and put it in a salad bowl. Next peel the orange and de-pith it by using a sharp knife to cut a thin layer off the surface all the way round (you’ll end up with something akin to a hexagon not a ball) then cut it into slices widthways. Don’t waste the juice that escapes; put it into a small bowl for the dressing. Layer the slices over the top of the watercress then add the pitted black olives.
4. For the dressing mix together a tablespoon of orange juice, with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season and add more juice/oil to taste. I like it quite sharp so tend to err on the side of a high ratio of acid to oil. Dress the salad but don’t mix it together until you are just about to eat.
5. Finally, when the duck is done, serve it with the salad and, if you want some extra brightness, cut up a lemon and squeeze the juice over the meat to cut the fat even more. Didn’t I tell you that was easy?!