This recipe was produced as part of a paid partnership with fine wine merchant Millésima.
When I first met my boyfriend he lived in Paris. We would zip back and forth on the Eurostar like it was a fun game and I spent dizzying weekends zooming around the 18th arrondissement rummaging in markets and eating at tiny bistros where the menus were always the same. This was, ooh, seven years ago now? A few memories are salient: the tiny lift in his apartment which just about fit two people if you really breathed in; the cold marble steps leading up to the flat, which seemed glamorous and so Parisian, my stomach tingling; us mesmerising a child in the street with a large golden pig we bought in an Asian supermarket on a whim; me mortified after knocking a full glass of red wine into his lap while we ate at a bistro near Gare du Nord; running for the Eurostar because we decided to have just one more pastis and anyway the train doesn’t leave for half an hour…
I wish I could’ve bottled the magic of those weekends so I could give it a little sniff now and then; a hit of intoxicating nostalgia. We made this salad together in our London flat on a grey afternoon and he teased me because I’d unwittingly created a French bistro-style salad. To be honest, I just wanted duck and loved the idea of a pickled walnut dressing, which sings through the richness of the fat perfectly, much like the accompanying Pinot Noir.
A note on Millésima – because that’s why we’re here – which is a huge, Bordeaux-based fine wine merchant. With the aforementioned boyfriend working in wine, there’s generally no shortage of bottles in this house so I’ve never used an online merchant but basically, you pick a selection of six wines and they pack them up and send them to your door. At first, the choice can seem overwhelming, comprising as it does pretty much every posh wine in the world but they actually have a lot of reasonably priced bottles too, most of them cheaper than you’d expect in any UK wine shop. We ordered a few bottles of fun, everyday rosé from the Perrin family (of Beaucastel fame) and a couple of more interesting bottles, including Bruno Colin’s Santenay Vielle Vignes 2015, a Pinot Noir from the Cotes de Beaune in Southern Burgundy. It was perfect with the duck salad – very fine-grained tannins with excellent crunchy acidity and lots of perfumed dark red berried fruit.
I love the combination of bitter leaves, rugged garlic croutons, rich duck meat and spiky, sweet/acidic dressing. The boyfriend said it reminds him of a little of a salade gourmande which often has smoked duck and walnuts but I’m having none of it. This is less a hankering for a taste of French bistro days gone by, more a deep-seated love of pickled walnuts, which, I may add, are a traditional 18th Century English preparation. Whatever the story, this made a fine, boozy weekday lunch; a lot may have changed in the past seven years but we still love a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon.
Duck and Endive Salad with Pickled Walnut Dressing Recipe
2 duck breasts (weighing around 230g each), skin scored lightly in a criss-cross pattern
250g stale sourdough bread, torn roughly into crouton-sized chunks
The cloves from a half a bulb of garlic, separated but unpeeled
2 pickled walnuts
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 shallot, cut into fine rings
2 red chicory, leaves separated
4 large handfuls watercress
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the sourdough chunks into a roasting tray and add the garlic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for around 25 minutes, turning once, or until golden and crisp.
Place the shallot rings into a bowl of iced water.
Make the dressing by smooshing 3 cloves of the now-roasted garlic with a pinch of salt, the pickled walnuts, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar. Shake in a jar to emulsify (or use your preferred method).
Season the skin of the duck breasts and place them in a cold cast iron skillet or other heavy based pan. Turn the heat on low-medium and let them slowly heat up for 5 minutes or so. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for another 5 minutes then turn over and cook for a few minutes more. Cooking time will depend on the exact size and heat but this should give you crisp golden skin and pink flesh. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Mix the salad leaves with some of the dressing and the croutons and arrange on two plates. Arrange the duck slices and some of the shallot rings on top, then drizzle with a little more dressing and sprinkle with crunchy salt. You may feel like adding a further dribble of olive oil – I did.