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Salt, fat, acid and heat have been on our minds recently. Not only are they the four elements of good cooking, but they are also the title of one of the best cookbooks to have come out recently. The author, Samin Nosrat, a Californian with Persian origins, has managed to articulate beautifully what is instinctive to every cook: that all good meals are a balancing act of these four things. Far from being a dry, didactic manual that reduces the magic of cooking to a set of instructions, Nosrat’s book is personal, funny and fun to read — full of insight and beautiful drawings. For the nervous novice, it will provide a good understanding of kitchen basics and give confidence to experiment; while those with a little more experience will gain a better understanding of why we do what we do and how to do it better.
A good case study for how these principles work is this lovely duck dish: salting the duck in advance will bring out the meaty flavour and help to keep it moist; the layer of fat on the breast will melt and lubricate the dish, giving a luxurious feel to every mouthful. Acid comes from the pomegranate — duck and fruit always go so well together, a sweet, sharp contrast to the rich, savoury meat. Gentle and judicious application of heat will keep the duck pink and juicy, and a bit more heat will char the endive, mellowing the bitter edge and giving some much-needed sweetness.
As you follow this recipe, note how all the elements work to produce a very pleasurable plate of food. Everything you cook will benefit from it, and if you want to explore further, well: there’s a book on the subject.
Duck breast with roasted endive, chilli and pomegranate
Dinner for two.
- Score the skin of each duck breast with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern. Mix the salt with the chilli flakes and crushed peppercorns, and sprinkle it over both sides of each breast. Then set both on a plate, cover and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (and up to four hours).
- Place a frying pan on a medium-low heat, then position the duck breasts (skin side down) in the pan. Slowly crisp up the skin for six to eight minutes. Once the skin has coloured nicely and released some fat into the frying pan, flip each breast and fry for two to three minutes on the other side. Carefully remove to a plate.
- Place the cut halves of endive into the same frying pan flat side down and increase the temperature to medium-high. Add the chilli slices and whole peppercorns, and fry for three to four minutes or until the endive cut side has gone a deep golden colour. Flip it and then squeeze three of the pomegranate quarters over the pan, letting all the juice and some of the seeds fall into the frying pan.
- Add the pomegranate molasses (or the honey-vinegar mix), and stir well. Return the duck breast skin side up to the frying pan and reduce the heat. Baste the breasts and the endive halves with the juice that is in the bottom of the pan and cook slowly for a final four minutes. Remove from the heat and rest for a couple of minutes before plating.
- Thickly slice each breast and set on a plate. Add half an endive and drizzle any remaining sauce all over, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds from the last quarter you set aside. Serve immediately.
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