A brief QI style digression:
There are actually ten “books” in the Apicius writings that (sort of) add up to a complete treatise on cooking. The books are named in honour of Apicius, who was known for his love of fine food, but were actually compiled long after his death. And I think that’s more than enough facts for now.
You need a fair amount of imagination with some of the “recipes” in Apicius: there are few exact quantities given or methods described and some of the ingredients, such as the plant silphium or laser, no longer exist. So I feel justified in bringing you a fairly free adaptation of an Apicius sauce for duck (or, as Apicius suggests, crane). The sauce might sound odd, but I promise you that it works. If you can’t lay your hands on any lovage, you could use a little finely chopped celery instead.
This is not an Apicius method of cooking duck. In fact, it’s the way I saw Paul Rankin cook duck breast on the TV around 1994 and I’ve used it ever since. This will serve 2.
2 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp coriander seeds
Small handful of pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh lovage leaves, chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 tbsp dates, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 glass dry white wine
2 tsp runny honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 duck breasts, off the bone but with skin still on (I used Gressingham)
First prepare the sauce – in fact, you can do this an hour or two in advance. Lightly toast the cumin and coriander seeds with the pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Grind them quite finely in a pestle and mortar. Add the lovage, oregano and dates and pound these into the pine nut and seed mix together with a generous amount of pepper and a little salt. (You can pound as thoroughly as you like, but personally I prefer a little texture in the finished sauce.)
Stir in the olive oil and pour the mixture into a small dry pan. Heat until the mixture just begins to fry and then pour in the wine. Stir and allow the wine to reduce by about a half. Lower the heat and stir in the honey and mustard. Either keep the sauce warm or chill and reheat later.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Trim any excess skin or sinewy bits off the duck breasts. Score the skin with a very sharp knife and season them all over with salt and pepper. Place the duck breasts skin side down in a dry frying pan: this needs to be one that can be placed in the oven. Place the pan on a moderate heat and cook the breasts for about 5 minutes until the skin is looking crisp. Pour off all but a little of the fat released by the duck and turn the duck breasts over. Cook on the flesh side for 1 minute until lightly coloured. Turn them back onto their skin side and place the pan into the oven. Let the duck breasts roast for 4 minutes (or 6 minutes if you like your duck less pink and 8 if you like it not really pink at all). Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let them rest for a few minutes, skin side up.
Serve the duck breast sliced or whole on a puddle of the reheated Apicius sauce. Simply cooked fresh veg is as good as anything else alongside it.
Karen over at Lavender and Lovage has suggested that I link this recipe up to the May Herbs on Saturday Blog Challenge and that seems like a fine suggestion to me. Thanks, Karen.