Roast duck with peaches
Heston Blumenthal translates his meticulously researched version of food from the court of King Henry VIII into his iconic “meat fruit”. The Chinese have had an affinity with ducks and plum sauce since imperial times. But a bit of cultural cringe creeps in whenever poultry and stone fruit are mentioned together in Australia, mainly due to the 1970s classic apricot chicken.
Seen on suburban dining tables everywhere, it was created by dousing good old chicken marylands in a tin of apricot nectar and a packet of French onion soup. Perhaps we needn’t cringe too much, though, as the recipe seems to have originated in America a year before it became the done dish in Australia.
With this dish there need not be any cringing. Roast duck with summer peaches is a truly delicious combination: think crisp duck skin, sweet yet tart peach flesh, soft yielding rich meat. Eaten as a salad version on a super hot day it is just as delicious as the hot version from the oven, just add a handful of fresh greens and your favourite vinaigrette.
Roasting a whole duck seems to be an experience that vexes an inordinate number of people. After many conversations with friends and customers, the problem seems to be that people are frightened of overcooking the duck so they take it out of the oven too early, when the legs are still tough and the breast is dry.
Cooking a duck should be like drawing a circle. Place the duck in the oven at the beginning of the circle. A quarter of the way through the circle the breasts will be beautifully cooked pink but the legs will be raw. Halfway through, the breasts will be seemingly overcooked and the legs will be tough. Three-quarters of the way through, the whole thing will seem like a disaster and you may think there is no way back. But do not give up there and serve a duck that is both tough and dry. If you just wait for the circle to close, it will all come together. The legs will be tender and the breast meat will have become soft and succulent.
The secret is that the duck has to have its own sense of rapprochement. Something magical happens at the last moment where the leg meat is soft and the breast meat has become soft and denatured. Have a little patience, have a little faith and you will be rewarded with beautiful roast duck.
Roast duck with peaches
– 2 carrots
– 2 onions
– 2 sticks celery
– 3 No. 18 ducks (preferably Pekin)
– salt and pepper
– 6 yellow peaches
Preheat your oven to 220ºC.
Chop the vegetables into a medium dice and scatter around a baking tray.
Place the ducks, breast side up, on the vegetables and thyme. Season the skin. Add a cup of water to the bottom of the roasting dish and place in the oven.
Cook for 30 minutes, then turn the ducks and cook for another 30 minutes. Throughout this process baste every 15 minutes. Turn the ducks back over, reduce the heat to 160º, and roast for 45-60 minutes until tender (when you push at the leg meat and it is soft).
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the vegetables at the bottom of the pan. If the liquid evaporates, add more water so the vegetables don’t catch.
When the duck is cooked, remove it from the oven and place it on a plate to rest. Strain any cooking juices from the vegetables and reserve to drizzle over the duck.
Turn the oven back to 220ºC. Cut the peaches in half and add to the roasting dish, cut-side up. Place in the oven for eight minutes or so to soften.
When ready to serve, remove the joints of the duck from the frame, and serve with roasted peaches on the side. Remove any fat from the cooking juices and drizzle over.
The duck can also be roasted in advance and reheated in a 180ºC oven.
2016 Latta Vino Zero SO2 pinot noir, Coghills Creek, central Victoria ($38)
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 2, 2019 as "Good duck charms". Subscribe here.