One of the best young chefs in Suffolk is James Carn. It's not just me saying that, he won the county title of Best Chef against very experienced competition in last year's East Anglian Daily Times food and drink awards.
James recently took over as head chef at the Angel in Bury St Edmunds. I had lunch there with some friends and James cooked, among other things, a very good duck dish which included an absolutely delicious blood orange gel.
I call it a gel, he calls it a purée, but in any case he has generously allowed me to share the method with you ... the rest of this recipe is mine and any blame can't be laid at James's door. I may have got a bit carried away: it's a bit of a faff if you complete all the steps but I'd like to think the end result is worth it.
If your blood oranges are very sweet, cut the juice for the purée with lime or lemon juice. If you can't get hold of any, use bottled 100% blood orange juice, with ordinary eating oranges for the salad.
Duck and Orange Salad with Duck Crackling (4 as a starter, 2 as a main)
2 duck breasts
2 tspn Chinese Five Spice powder
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
A knob of butter and a splash of oil, for cooking
1 or 2 oranges, segmented
1/4 small red onion+ juice of 1/2 lemon
For the blood orange gel:
290g pure blood orange juice
3g powdered agar agar
For the vinaigrette:
Juice of 1 blood orange and 1/2 lemon
1/2 tspn honey
1 tspn Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Enough light olive oil to make a sharp emulsion
Carefully peel the skin and fat from the duck breast and put to one side. Place the duck in a dish and rub in 1 tbsp olive oil mixed with the five spice powder and a few grinds of pepper.
Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or two but bring them back to room temperature before cooking.
Turn the duck skin over and scrape off any big lumps of fat. Cut the skin into strips and place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment.
Put another sheet of parchment on top and weight it down with a second tray. Bake at 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5 for about 20 minutes or until the skin is golden-brown and crispy.
Carefully pour off any fat and when the crispy skin is cool enough, peel it from the parchment, sprinkle with salt and place between two pieces of kitchen paper.
The blood orange gel/purée:
To make James's purée, put the orange juice in a pan with the agar and salt, stir to remove any lumps, bring to the boil and then pass through a sieve into a bowl.
Once it has set, whack it in the blender and then pass through another fine sieve. Store it in a piping bag or squeeze bottle in the fridge until you need it.
Prepping the salad and dressing:
Segment one or two oranges: cut a slice off the top and bottom, place on a level surface then cut down and around the orange in sections, removing all the pith and peel. With a sharp knife, cut between the membranes, slicing out each segment. Place in a bowl.
Shave the onion whisper-thin on a mandolin or with a very sharp knife. Put it in a bowl, cover with lemon juice and leave to soak for at least half an hour to take some of the harshness away.
To make the vinaigrette, strain the orange and lemon juice into a small jug and whisk in the honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until you have an emulsion - probably less oil than you'd normally use as this dressing should be sharp and tangy. 50/50 should do it.
About half an hour before you want to eat, melt a good knob of butter and splash of oil in a pan. Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and cook on a medium heat for about 5-6 minutes per side, depending on how pink you like it, basting as you go. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice across the grain on the diagonal.
Put a tablespoon or so of dressing in a large bowl and add two handfuls of lambs lettuce and the drained onion and orange segments. Toss to coat. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Put a small tangle of salad in the centre of a plate and fan the duck slices on top. Pipe or squeeze a few circles of the blood orange gel around the edges, garnish with the duck crackling and tuck in. Yes, I know, you've earned it by now.