The Grampians National Park – Gariwerd
The Grampians are a monolithic-like geological feature in western Victoria: they just emerge out of the surrounding fertile farming land. They have always been popular with campers and bush walkers.
While we had completed a number of walks through the ranges over the years, we hadn’t been there for some time. However, just before Christmas, we had the opportunity to return as two Danish friends had flown into Adelaide and were gradually making their way to Melbourne. We met up with them for two days at the Grampians to enjoy some walks, nature and local wildlife, especially around our accommodation in Halls Gap.
The next photo is from our recent trip. The two after that are from old colour slides of previous journeys.
Danish Christmas Dinner
We ate at a local restaurant on our first night. However, on the second night we tried to prepare a typical Danish Christmas meal of duck and red cabbage for our friends. We had taken some duck breasts with us from Melbourne, along with other ingredients. We knew our accommodation had a barbecue.
The red cabbage would be easy – see our method below. The tricky bit would be to barbecue the duck breasts.
Chicken works with all sorts of marinades, but duck breast seems best when treated as simply as possible. Our basic barbecue method is described below along with a seed crusted version. Pan-fried is perhaps the most common method of cooking. A friend lightly salts the scored breasts 30 minutes before cooking and does not wipe the salt off, then allows a total of 12 minutes cooking in the frying pan: seven minutes skin side down, and five minutes skin side up, followed by 10 to 15 minutes resting. We tend to salt ours for longer, using more salt.
Whichever method you use, test the texture of the breasts a couple of times during cooking: if you prod them and they give too much, they are under-cooked; if they give just a little then they are ready for the resting stage. Try not to overcook them as they become rather chewy. If you do find the breasts are under-cooked when you go to eat them, slice them and quickly flash fry each side in a pan.
It is worth mastering the cooking of duck breasts as they are a step or two above chicken and other meats. And they are not exceedingly difficult. There are all sorts of sauces (cherries, berries, currants, …) and garnishes you can use – just check your recipe sources. At the Grampians we didn’t need a sauce because of the braised red cabbage.
Barbecued duck breast
Several hours before cooking, score the skin in a criss-cross fashion – this stops the skin from distorting the shape of the breast and also allows some of the fat to seep out during cooking. Rub about a teaspoon of salt (we tend to use ordinary cooking salt) into each side of each breast and place uncovered in the fridge; the salting process results in an improved texture and taste. Several minutes before cooking, dry the breasts with paper towel and rub off what salt you can see (keep in mind that the cooked duck may not need extra salt). Depending on the thickness, barbecue the duck for 4 to 6 minutes on low, skin side down. Turn and cook for another 4 to 6 minutes. Preferably do this with a lid down on the barbecue. Turn off the heat with the cover down or cover with foil or something else suitable and leave to stand for 10 to 15 minutes; or place in a low temperature oven. Serve the breasts whole or sliced with your chosen accompaniments.
Seed crusted duck breast
Some recipes call for coating the breasts in ground roasted spices (such as coriander and caraway seeds) before cooking (but be careful with this method on a barbecue as the spices can burn). Others call for sprinkling or ‘basting’ the breasts with ground roasted seeds just before they have finished cooking.
We have found this second method works extremely well.
For two people:
- Two duck breasts (about 150g each), edges trimmed of excess fat and any silver sinew
- Three tsps of suitable seeds or equivalent: coriander and/or fennel, dill, bush pepper, lemon myrtle or wattle seed
- Salt and pepper
- Score the skin of the duck in a criss-cross fashion, but not cutting into the meat.
- Salt each breast on both sides with about one tsp salt (normal cooking or eating salt, or flakes), patting in with your hands. Place in refrigerator for an hour or more.
- Dry roast your chosen seeds in a dry frying pan without burning. Cool, then crush in a mortar and pestle. Add a dash of cracked pepper.
- Remove the duck breasts from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature (at least half an hour). Pat them dry with paper towelling, rubbing off excess salt.
- When ready to cook the duck, heat a skillet, frying pan or barbecue. Cook skin side down for 4 or 5 minutes. Turn over, then immediately spread the seed mixture over the duck breast and pat or press into the surface. Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until you think the breasts are beyond rare, but not medium. Do not turn over, as the seed mixture might fall off.
- Remove to a warm plate, cover and allow to rest in a warm but not hot spot for 5 to 15 minutes.
- To serve, slice each breast thinly, plate and place accompaniments around it.
Difficulty: Moderately difficult (3/5) as it is tricky to judge the cooking time. Ten minutes preparation; 10-12 minutes cooking, plus 15 minutes resting time.
Update, July 2017: As a sauce with the duck breasts, try warm Chimichurri. Make the sauce in the normal manner by preparing the herbs, etc, and adding the vinegar and oil, then just before serving stir in the hot water. Serve the warm sauce over the sliced duck, on in a jug. See: Chimichurri.
Update, June 2018: Try this sauce with pan fried duck breasts. Either lightly salt the scored breasts 30 minutes before cooking and do not wipe the salt off. Or salt more heavily over a longer period and wipe off the salt. Cook each breast skin down for several minutes; turn for another few minutes. Allow to rest in a warm place until needed. Pour most of the fat out of the pan. For two breasts, add one medium clove garlic, chopped, and 2 cm fresh ginger, chopped, or in thin sticks, and if you wish, some finely diced celery, shallot, red capsicum … or whatever you think would work. Cook slowly to soften but not burn. If you have a berry based liqueur, such as blueberry, use it to deglaze the pan. Otherwise, add a punnet of blueberries (or other suitable berries) to the pan and sauté to soften. Deglaze the pan with two to three tablespoons liqueur or alcohol (brandy, sherry, port, …). Allow to reduce; lightly crush the berries if you wish. Remove pan from the heat and add 75 or more grams of butter in pieces, trying to make sure the butter softens and melds with the other ingredients. (Try to avoid having the butter separate to give an oily surface; if necessary reduce the heat by placing the frying pan on a cold surface; if it gets too cold reheat very gently.) Spoon the sauce over the sliced duck breast and any chosen vegetables.
Red Cabbage With Apple
This braise of red cabbage can be made several hours ahead, even the day before, and reheated gently. It is a method we typed up many years ago and have used ever since, adjusting ingredients from time to time.
Ingredients (for four people)
- half a red cabbage (approx ½ kg)
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsps butter
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 1 ½ tsps sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsps caraway seeds
- 2 cloves
- ½ cup peeled and finely chopped apple
- 2 tbsps red currant jelly
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper
Cut the half cabbage into quarters, core it and shred reasonably finely crosswise. In a stainless steel or enamel saucepan, cook the onion in the butter over moderate heat, stirring until softened (5 minutes). Add the red wine vinegar and red wine, sugar, salt, caraway seeds and cloves and bring liquid to the boil. Add the cabbage, tossing to coat it with the liquid, then add the apple and simmer, covered for 1 hour. Stir in the red currant jelly, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and simmer, covered for a further 15 minutes. Plate the cabbage as required or transfer to a heated serving dish.
Equipment: Large saucepan.
Difficulty: Not difficult (2/5), ten to fifteen minutes preparation.
Serve: Serves four as a vegetable accompaniment.