A friend of mine once asked me what ingredient I cook with the most (staples like salt and oil aside). I answered limes, but on reflection it could equally be raspberries. Having said that, I don’t tend to ‘cook with’ raspberries much: I prefer to eat them unadulterated, scattered over porridge or granola or with cubes of golden papaya or juicy ripe mango for dessert when I can’t quite justify eating loads of chocolate or crumble. I occasionally bake them into cakes: I love the way baking intensifies their sharp, almost grassy flavour, and the way they stew their rosy juice through the buttery crumb, perfuming it with that heady scent of summer. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the savoury uses of raspberries.
Raspberry vinegar is something I discovered a few years ago, and I have three separate bottles of it in the cupboard, one of which I made myself. Given that it combines my love of this fragile, voluptuous berry with my love of all things sour (see this post on said love), it’s something I douse fairly liberally over my cooking, and because its dark, blood-red colour adds instant drama. The sharper summer and autumn berries are often used in tandem with rich meat, fish or cheese, pairing particularly well with smoky or gamey flavours: blackberries and venison, goat’s cheese and redcurrants; gooseberries and smoked mackerel. It seemed only sensible to see what the beautiful raspberry had to offer within the savoury arena.
I wrote recently about home-smoked duck breasts with a maple and whisky glaze. It turns out that these freeze beautifully, retaining all of their moisture and delicious pinkness, and they became the inspiration for this dinner recently. Sliced into fat, smoky strips, they are the centrepiece of this vibrant, quirky salad that could also be called ‘all my favourite ingredients in one bowl’: peppery leaves, ripe avocado, crumbled tangy goat’s cheese, basil leaves, toasted pecans and raspberries. The raspberries add the necessary sharpness to cut through all that rich, decadent goodness, particularly the sweet, smoky duck and the clouds of lemony goat’s cheese.
To top it all off, I drizzled the salad with a dark, syrupy, chocolate-infused balsamic vinaigrette. This might sound odd, but chocolate actually works beautifully with all the ingredients in the bowl. Raspberries and pecans, of course, but I was also converted to the incredible pairing of duck and chocolate by a Sicilian recipe in the wonderful Bocca cookbook, and to chocolate and avocado by an intensely calorific drink that is popular in Indonesia, essentially a smoothie combining the creamiest avocados and the darkest chocolate that is designed to be drunk from huge glasses under the 40 degree tropical sun. Goat’s cheese and chocolate also work surprisingly well, the smoothness of the chocolate playing down the grassy, gamey tang of the cheese.
A slightly mad culinary adventure, but an absolute pleasure to eat: I love the interplay of colours, textures and flavours on the plate, and the decadence of throwing together all of these luxurious ingredients. The smoky intensity of the duck ties everything together, keeping it filling and satisfying while still being light, fresh and flavoursome. If you don’t have chocolate balsamic or can’t find it, use normal balsamic or switch for raspberry vinegar in the dressing. You could also vary the berries – I think blackberries, redcurrants or blueberries would be excellent – and omit the avocado and swap for green beans or mange tout. You can, of course, use normal cooked duck breast or buy smoked duck rather than smoking it yourself.
Smoked duck salad with raspberries, goat’s cheese, toasted pecans and chocolate balsamic vinaigrette (serves 2):
- 2 smoked duck breasts, thickly sliced
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 80g soft rindless goat’s cheese
- 100g raspberries
- 2 large handfuls of spinach, watercress or rocket (or a mixture)
- 50g pecan nuts, toasted
- A few sprigs of basil, leaves picked
- 4 tbsp hazelnut or olive oil
- 1 tbsp chocolate balsamic vinegar (or normal balsamic/raspberry vinegar) – I use this one
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper
- A squeeze of lemon juice
First, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the oil, balsamic, mustard, seasoning and lemon juice.
Divide the salad leaves, avocado and raspberries between two plates. Crumble over the goat’s cheese. Top with the sliced duck, then scatter over the basil leaves and pecan nuts. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, then serve immediately.