Cooking can be a catharsis or a conundrum depending upon the flexibility of your imagination.  I find it relaxing and a great excuse to call a friend, open a bottle of a Quail’s Gate Reserve Merlot and set about finding some suitable repast and pleasurable pastime.

Pluvial unpleasantries of November aside, it is a great time to be a duck.  Similarly if you are game enough to embrace the foul weather, it provides nice inspiration for a duck risotto.  Ducks having been on my mind as often as Noah as the rain comes down, my fridge had recently acquired several quarts of duck broth (the rich residual remains from the makings of a duck pate en croute about a week earlier).

My fridge being an odd magnet of meals to be, I also found a duck breast from Gourmet Warehouse in the freezer (richly ruby with a thick skin of fat that cries for a skillet), a duck and apricot sausage (compliments of Patrick the Butcher on 10th who sold me the duck for the pate) and a brown paper bag from the Farmers Market filled with plump portabellini mushrooms.

That’s one of the real graces of living in Vancouver even in the rainy season: fresh finds at the Farmer’s Market all year round.  The Winter Farmer’s Market keeps the action centered at Wise Hall every other Saturday and as a result, I have a few other essentials on hand: local organic winter greens, apples, shallots, garlic and thyme from the box garden. A run to the world’s best corner store yielded a bag or juicy dried figs.  Cheaper than cherries, figs dance with duck and this was definitely destined to be a duck night.

Fair truth, it had been a ducky day.

Only three hours earlier, I had received a master instruction in the art of duck by two of Canada’s most ‘golden’ chefs; chefs David Wong and Jason Harris took their tasteful talents to Lyons, France to represent Canada at the international Bocuse D’or.  The one-time apprentice of chef David, the two are stepping forward together once more in 2010 with the opening of Fairmont Pacific Rim and its Oru restaurant.  The dynamic duo were a lot of fun to spend an afternoon with – especially when the menu they were working up showcased…you guessed it, duck.  Talk about picking up pointers from the pros!  That particular article – and the recipes – will be posted shortly to

It’s a funny life. Sometimes good meals are just waiting to happen.

Rustic Winter Green Salad

(Serves Two)

Getting geared up about the greens of winter takes nothing more than a fresh dressing and a few festive options tossed in for variety.  For a warm spin on the dish below, consider giving the entirety a flash in the frying pan before serving.

4 cups hardy winter greens (kale, chard, radicchio, mustard, mizuna)

4 Tbsp hazelnut oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 shallot, diced

to taste sea salt/fresh cracked pepper

blue cheese (optional)

pear, cored, cut into wedges (optional)

Shred greens in hand as desired.  Mix remaining ingredients to create dressing.  Toss and serve.

Pan-Seared Crispy Duck

(Serves Two)

Plenty for two with one breast, but if you are the hungry sort, spring for one each.

1 8 oz. duck breast

2 Tbsp olive oil (or hazelnut)

to taste smoked sea salt and fresh pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Score skin of duck breast in a cross-hatch pattern without piercing the flesh itself.  Coat with oil and seasoning.  In an oven-proof pan over medium-high heat sear the fatty side of the duck until golden (about 5-7 minutes) before turning and moving into oven for 8 minutes.  Remove and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing 1/2” thick.

Fig Anise Sauce

This is a deliciously simple sauce inspired by a cherry-centric version served at Hamilton Street Grill.  A great accompaniment for chicken and pork dishes as well.

1 Tbsp olive oil (or hazelnut)

2 Tbsp shallot, diced

1 Tbsp fresh thyme

4 dried figs, rough chop

1 star anise, whole

1/2 stick cinnamon

2 cups full-bodied Merlot

1 cup duck broth (or chicken)

to taste smoked sea salt and fresh pepper

Add oil to a small pot and heat to medium before adding shallot.  Stir until translucent (about 4 minutes), before adding remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally until reduced by 2/3 (about 30 minutes over low heat).  At this point the sauce will coat the back of the spoon.

Duck and Apple Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

(Serves Four)

There is never a bad time for risotto and come winter it is a staple comfort food.  This particular dish could stand on its own if you added another duck sausage and definitely gets its full flavour from the duck broth.  Likely as delicious with a chicken broth, but the key is REAL broth.  Your guests and your sodium count will thank you – I use no salt when making broths.

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cups arborio rice

1 cup white wine

5 1/2 cups duck broth (or chicken)

1 Tbsp butter

3/4 cup fresh parmesan, grated

1 Tbsp olive oil (or truffle/hazelnut oil)

1 duck sausage, skinned, minced

2 cups wild mushrooms

3 dried figs, diced

3 Tbsp fresh thyme

smoked sea salt and fresh pepper

In a heavy pot over medium-high heat, add the diced onion to the olive oil and stir until translucent (about five-5 minutes) before adding arborio rice and stirring to coat for about 2 minutes.  Add the white wine to deglaze before adding the first cup of the broth.  Stir until liquid has been incorporated.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Heat a separate pan over medium-high heat before adding minced duck sausage and cooking for two minutes.  Add wild mushrooms cut to desired size, dried figs and fresh thyme and cook for 6-8 minutes until golden.  Remove from heat.

When no more than a cup of broth remains to be added to the risotto, fold in the duck/mushroom/fig mixture.  Heat through and finish cooking of risotto – aim for a bit for al dente firmness.  When ready to remove from heat, add a dab of butter and the fresh grated parmesan.  Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Place sliced duck atop risotto and dress duck with fig anise sauce.

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