Duck Breast with fesenjan sauce

Serves 6

Sweet and sour, fesenjan is a classic Persian sauce. Traditionally, it is a dish served to mark a celebration, most often the arrival of important friends or family. It works particularly well with game birds such as quail, duck or pheasant, but the flavours work equally well with firm-fleshed white fish or chicken.

200g/7oz duck breast per person
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp honey
Generous splash of boiling water
tsp pomegranate molasses
tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
Seeds of 1 pomegranate, to garnish

For the sauce

200g/7oz shelled walnuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
tsp ground turmeric
tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
150ml/5fl oz pomegranate juice (freshly squeezed if available)
55g/2fl oz sugar
1 bay leaf
400ml/14fl oz good-quality chicken stock
1 tsp salt
Juice of lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. First, make the sauce. Roast the walnuts on a baking tray for 5-10 minutes until a deep golden-brown. Tip the nuts into a tea towel and rub well to remove as much skin as possible, then set aside to cool. Pulse the cooled nuts in a food processor until they are coarsely ground – you want to maintain some texture and a few chunky bits, so be careful not to overdo it.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry gently until soft and translucent. Stir in the spices and tomato paste and fry for another couple of minutes. Add the walnuts to the pan with the pomegranate molasses and juice, the sugar, bay leaf and stock. Bring to a boil, then add the salt, lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring regularly, until rich, thick and a little oily.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the ducks in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife and season generously with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, warm the honey over a gentle heat with the water and the pomegranate molasses, then stir in the pepper and cardamom seeds to make a glaze.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based roasting pan over a medium-high heat until hot. Add the duck breasts, skin-side down, then lower the heat and cook for about 5 minutes until the skin turns golden-brown and the fat starts to render. Turn the breasts over and cook for a further 4 minutes. Tip the rendered fat from the pan and brush the skin from the glaze. Turn the breasts skin-side down again, and cook over a low-medium heat for a final 4 minutes; at this stage it's really important not to have the heat too high or the glaze will burn. Remove from the heat and rest in a warm place for several minutes – when carved, the duck breasts should be medium-rare.

When ready to serve, add the lemon juice to the sauce, then taste and adjust the seasoning to achieve a good sweet-sour-earthy balance. Spoon a generous amount of sauce on to each plate. Slice each duck breast into chunks and stack on top. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and serve straight away.

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