June - Quickening Pulses (Duck Breasts with Braised Vegetables)

Bacon and pea pasta

Those of us who have been overdosing on 'sparrow-grass' since St George's Day, and who might feel ready to move on - only right and proper in the pursuit of seasonal eating - will welcome June, the end of the spears and the onset of the pods. As the baton is handed from one green star to another, late asparagus and early peas, broad beans and sugar-snaps interact very pleasingly, not only on their own in salads, pasta sauces and risotto, but also as luxurious side dishes.

All these sweet, tender but determinedly leguminous things make their own demands of the wine in the glass. On its own, asparagus chimes with aromatic whites like dry muscat, while I've found that peas have something of a pash for Kiwi pinot gris - see my 'Podcast' recipe which is perfect for this time of year. Bring them all together in a creamy, bacon-and-sage infused pasta sauce, and they suddenly become sauvignon, chardonnay and even red wine worshippers. Add something rich and spicy like duck and you're nudging gewürztraminer territory, especially if you include a dusting of Chinese five-spice powder.

There is a certain alchemy between duck and peas which I can't explain but can vouch for. The usual rules about young veg - eat them quickly, barely boiled, with the minimum of fuss - don't apply in the recipe below: the peas here are simmered in wine with lettuce and spring onions, enlivened with new season garlic. The recipe below works beautifully with whole roast duck, but duck breasts, quickly cooked on the hob and finished in the oven, bring the dish into spontaneous supper range. Cooked with butter rather than duck fat, the peas make good vegetarian eating in their own right.

Janet Wynne Evans


Serves 4

  • 4 x duck breasts, skin on
  • A pinch of Chinese five-spice powder (optional)
  • A pinch of coarse salt
  • A bunch of spring onions, white part only, sliced thickly
  • a clove of fresh green garlic, minced
  • 250g peas (shelled weight)
  • 3 Little Gem lettuces, hearts only, quartered
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 120ml white wine or stock
  • Freshly-ground white pepper
  • 30g herb butter to serve - a mixture of parsley and tarragon or mint is especially good
  • A bag of fresh pea shoots to garnish

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7

With the point of a sharp knife, score the skin side of each duck breast in a diamond pattern taking care not to pierce the flesh. Rub in the salt and Chinese five-spice powder.

Put the breasts skin-side down in a large ovenproof non-stick pan and wait for the sizzling to begin before giving them 3-5 minutes, depending on the size. The skin should be brown and crisp, and the pan awash with rendered duck fat. Transfer the pan to the hot oven and roast for 7-10 minutes depending on how pink (or not) you like your duck. Remove the ducks and rest in a warm place for at least 5 minutes to settle the juices.

Now for the peas. Spoon all but a tablespoon of the rendered duck fat from the pan into a little dish (save it for sublime roast or fried potatoes) and put the pan back on the hob over a gentle heat. Add the spring onions and let them soften, rather than brown for a few minutes. Sprinkle in the garlic, lettuce and peas and coat them well in the fat. Add the wine, sugar, salt and pepper, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for a few minutes, until the peas are tender. Turn up the heat, remove the lid and let any remaining liquid evaporate. Transfer from the pan to a warmed serving dish, pop the herb butter on top and let it melt in gently.

If you've a mind to make a flourish, carve the duck breasts thickly and line them up on a long, narrow serving platter, garnished with fresh pea shoots. Serve with the braised peas.


Friendly: Three Choirs Stone Brook, 2011 (ref EN751, £7.95)

Premier League: Gewurztraminer, Trimbach, 2010 (ref AL9651 £12.95)

Director's Box: Neudorf Maggie's Block, Pinot Gris, 2009 (ref NZ4941, £16)

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