Quince is one of my favourite fruits, which is fortunate as we’ve had a bumper harvest this year and I literally can’t give them away. Seriously, I’ve been putting out tweets begging people to take some. This is probably infuriating to read if you live in London or somewhere else where quince are only available at vast expense from upscale food markets. What can I say? Move to Suffolk and you can have some of mine next year. Of course next year I’ll probably only get three wizened fruits, which will serve me right.
Quince partners duck very well, its perfumed sharpness cutting through the rich fattiness of the bird. I’ve used it three ways in this recipe: poached and served in slices, poached and sieved and the purée then stirred into a sauce with quince paste, or membrillo. That’s less fiddly than it sounds. I made this in a leisurely way over an afternoon but you could have the whole thing done and dusted in about an hour.
If you can’t lay your hands on any fresh quince but you do have membrillo, you might like to try the sauce in this recipe instead, substituting chicken stock if necessary, and perhaps sharpening with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Duck with Quince
I like the quince slices still to have a slight sourness compared to the sweeter sauce. If you don’t, simply add another tablespoon of honey to the cooking water.
2 duck breasts
2 large quince
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp runny honey
About 50g membrillo/quince paste
Squeeze the lemon juice into a saucepan big enough to hold the sliced quince and add enough water to cover them once they’re prepped. Stir in the honey. Wash the fluff off the quince, peel and core them and cut into quarters, and drop straight into the acidulated water so they don’t go brown.
Put on a medium heat, bring to a simmer, then cook gently until the quince has softened but is still holding together. The timings depend on the size and ripeness of your quince but do watch them closely – they can go from hard to fluffy and collapsed in moments.
Set half aside in their liquid and push the other half through a sieve. Place the purée in a pan and add the quince paste, cut into small chunks. Heat gently until the membrillo has melted into the purée, mashing it into the sauce. If necessary, thin with a little of the quince cooking water. You’re aiming for something with a thick pouring consistency, stiff enough to hold a shape when spooned onto a plate.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/435F/Gas Mark 7.
Pat the duck dry with kitchen paper and score a criss-cross pattern into the fat, taking care not to cut into the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Place a cold non-stick pan on a medium heat and put in the duck breasts, skin-side down. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown, pouring off the fat from time to time.
Quickly sear the other side and put the duck skin-side up on a rack in a roasting tin. Cook in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes if you like it rare, 12 for medium, 18 minutes for well-done.
Rest the duck for 10 minutes somewhere warm. Meanwhile gently re-heat the quince pieces in their liquid and (separately) the quince sauce. Cut the duck breast into slices. Put a swirl of sauce on pre-warmed plates, fan the duck on top and serve the quince slices alongside. Hopefully you will do this more artistically than I did.
We ate this with fondant potatoes and a watercress, rocket and spinach salad.