A: When it comes to spices, I am not a big fan of using ready-to-use spice mix powders. I usually grind the dry spices for my cooking just when I need them. This way I am able to capture the freshness of the spices in the food I cook. Having said that, the spices that form a mix are not always in hand and therefore I always keep some ready-to-use spice mixes in our spice cabinet. The Thai 7-spice mix, the Chinese 5-spice mix and the Caribbean 5-spice mixes are the most popular in the kitchen. They are also quite handy when I have to prepare a meal quickly, like on a Friday night. This quick and easy dish infused with oriental flavours has become quite popular at home.
When buying duck breasts, the logic bigger the better doesn’t hold good at all. Look for those small or medium sized ones which have a more tender meat. Also the meat is usually spoiled by overcooking. It is best to prepare these rare to medium rare. The centre of the meat should be dark pink/red when cut and not white when served.
There are three parts to the cooking, the noodles, the sauce and the duck breasts. The trick is to bring all the three parts together on time so that the food can be served warm without having to re-heat. The proportions here are for 2 people. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and another 15-20 minutes to cook and serve.
For the noodles:
2 egg-noodle nests from a packet
4 spring onions, chopped into diagonal slices
1 small carrot, sliced into thin slices using a vegetable peeler
1 tsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted on a dry frying pan just enough to release the aroma
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 lime to squeeze the juice out while serving
For the sauce:
2 tbsp clear honey
6 tbsp dark soy sauce
For the duck breasts:
2 small duck breasts
4 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper
The duck breast:
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Use a heavy-based oven-proof frying pan for cooking the meat. It reduces the hassle of transferring the meat to a separate container mid-way through the cooking.
First score the duck fat with a sharp knife into a cross-hatch pattern. Make sure the cuts are deep enough but doesn’t go too deep to cut the meat underneath. Sprinkle the five spice and rub it in nicely into the fat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Now heat the frying pan. Do not add any oil. Place the duck breasts skin side down on the pan. The pan should be hot enough at this point so that there is a sizzle when the meat is placed on it. Season the side of the meat on top with five-spice, salt and pepper while the fat is released from the skin touching the pan. It should take about 3 minutes for the whole fat to release. Turn the breasts to the other side and cook for another 1 minute.
To finish, place the frying pan in the pre-heated oven for 3-5 minutes.
Remove the frying pan from the oven and keep it in a warm place for the meat to rest. This is very important. The meat should rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Warm the honey and soy sauce together in a small pan. Bring it to the boil and let it bubble for 2 minutes to reduce. Set aside to cool a bit. The sauce should have a syrup like consistency.
Heat a medium pan of salted water, enough to cover the dry noodles. When the water is boiling, add the egg noodles and boil for 4 minutes.
Drain the noodles and place them in a mixing bowl. Add the toasted sesame seeds and drizzle the sesame oil. Add the carrots and spring onions and stir to mix. The carrots and spring onions will cook slightly from the heat of the noodles but should retain the crunchiness.
Divide the noodle into half and place on plates. Squeeze over a bit of lime juice. Slice the duck breasts into strips and place next to the noodles. Drizzle over the honey and soy sauce.
Wine: The most popular wine pairing with duck is pinot noir. I usually serve this dish with a Burgundy pinot noir, being a big fan of the old world wines from this region of France. However, I have tried it with Merlot from the Bordeaux region and the rich meat goes very well with this full-bodied wine too.