One of the nicest meals we had in Istanbul last week was at Amedros after we’d seen the Whirling Dervishes. The meal was fabulous, beginning with a wonderful selection of meze. My main course was Ottoman Chicken served with a fresh pomegranate juice, walnuts, cinnamon and red onion sauce. It was so good I decided to recreate the sauce tonight to go with the duck breast I’d bought for supper. Fruit sauces go so well with duck that I was sure it would work as well as it had with chicken. The first thing I did was score the duck breast skin with a sharp knife and then grate over a good amount of sea salt and then left it for 15 minutes. Then I heated a large pan with a heat-proof handle that could go straight into the oven. When it was very hot I put the duck breast on it, skin-side down. My pan was actually a griddle but if you use a ‘proper’ pan then smear it with a little oil so the duck doesn’t stick. Once the skin is nicely golden brown, flip it over and quickly seal the underside then pop into a hot (220C/200 Fan) oven for about 15 minutes.
My duck, once I cut it, was only slightly pink so another time I’d cook it a little less as I prefer duck quite rare (it’s a long time since I’ve cooked duck – I was out of practice!). However, it still tasted good and was deliciously moist and tender. When you take it out of the oven, cover it with some foil to keep it warm and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, get the sauce going. First of all, toast a handful (about 20g) walnut halves in a dry pan and when they’ve browned a little, crush into rough pieces in a mortar and pestle. Now slice a small red onion and gently cook it in a pan with a good glug of olive oil. Add half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Once the onion is beginning to soften add the crushed walnuts, the seeds from half a pomegranate and the juice from the other half. Now add 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. Add a little hot stock or water to loosen it all and season with salt and pepper. Leave the sauce to bubble away gently for about 15 minutes until it thickens a bit. Check the seasoning.
Now slice your duck breast and lay on a warm plate.
Gently spoon over some of the sauce (I used just half and froze the other half for another time). I served it with rice and some steamed sprouting broccoli on the side, but just a nice green salad would do well too.
It was really delicious. The duck was tender and flavourful and the sweetness of the sauce complemented it beautifully. The pomegranate molasses makes a wonderful addition bringing a noticeable and brilliant edge of sourness to the sauce – a gorgeous sweet and sour effect. I was really pleased with how it turned out – and it brought back lovely memories of the time in Istanbul. We saw pomegranates and walnuts everywhere: displayed in the markets and piled on street stalls selling fresh pomegranate juice.
We were told there were sour as well as sweet pomegranates (the kind we usually buy in UK). Pomegranates are the stuff of myth. Persephone was said to have been tempted by a pomegranate and ate six seeds leading to her having to spend six months of the year in Hades. One can perhaps understand her temptation for the sparkling red seeds are like little jewels and their taste is divine. They really do bring a touch of the exotic to a meal and although I’ve added them a lot of salads of late and made dressings with the juice, tonight was the first time I’d cooked with them and what a success it was.