Earlier this year, M and I had the opportunity to travel to Australia for a few days. We hopped on one of those incredible Qantas A380s (which really seemed far too big to fly…) and found ourselves on the other side of the world 14 hours later. This still boggles my mind… it’s nearly 8,000 miles from LA to Melbourne.
One of the highlights of the adventure was our tour in Sydney, which I’ve been meaning to write about for months and months. I’ve also been meaning to make this salad, inspired by a recipe in one of the cookbooks I hauled back from Australia. So let’s combine the effort, shall we?
On a whim (the way I usually function), I booked a private tour for M and I with an outfit called “My Sydney Detour.” Operator Richard Graham promised we would experience Sydney as locals – city, beach and bush – during our three-hour adventure in his antique Holden. Sounded promising. For those of you wondering what exactly a Holden is, this is the photo Richard features on his website:
How fun is that? Richard pulled up in front of our hotel in a version without the surfboard… or accompanying surfers, but his mood could have been right out of the beach party. Honestly, I can’t believe I didn’t get an exterior picture of it, so the dashboard will have to do.
My only excuse for not getting a better photo of Richard’s car is that It was raining, and I am a bit of a weather wimp. I need to get over that. Seriously!
It took about 5 minutes with Richard to determine we were in for a treat. Immensely engaging and brimming with energy, the conversation leapt from history and philosophy to politics and food. He had fascinating anecdotes about everything… honestly, we could have talked to him all weekend.
First, we set off to explore the neighborhood where Richard lives – Redfern – orginally an Aboriginal enclave. We stopped for a coffee and cake at a tiny shop on the High Street, where Richard was great friends with the owners. In fact, he seemed to know last person on the block…
We admired the mural on the side of Richard’s house… another car in his collection…
And the Aboriginal murals in the park.
Next we headed across town, Richard chatting non-stop about Sydney as a city of villages… until we came to the stunning Bronte beach, where he parked the car next to Waverly Cemetery – filled with Victorian and Edwardian monuments to early residents of the town. Here Richard pulled out a series of old maps from the trunk to help us understand how Australia came to be settled and how diverse the Aboriginal peoples once were…
Oh, and of course he filled us in on the history of the cemetery (really, extraordinary real estate):
We continued on – taking in the views of the churning surf from various angles along the way.
It wasn’t exactly a nice day for a picnic on the beach… but dramatically beautiful. Oh how I wished I would have had time to take the hike along the trail from Bronte Beach to Bondi Beach…
The last leg of the journey was past Bondi Beach and through neighborhoods of lovely homes to a park in a far corner (actually peninsula) of Sydney where it seemed we had left civilization and were in the bush. Sadly, it was getting dark at this point in the journey, so really, none of my pictures do it justice, but we were able to see the Harbor Bridge from our vantage point:
Only after I returned back home from this very amazing day did I realize that The Blue Ducks cookbook (subtitled Delicious Food, The Importance of Community and The Joy of Surfing) I had picked up in Canberra was written by a crew who run a restaurant in the very Bronte Beach area where we had just driven through. You don’t see guys like this cooking in my neighborhood…
And the book has the added bonus of illustrating that Sydney is more often sun-drenched than drenched by rain…
There is so much I have wanted to try in this brilliantly photographed book (Mushrooms and Pearl Barley with Macadamia Bread Sauce, Sweet Corn Soup with Toasted Coconut and Chili, and Salted Caramel Banana Muffins jump to mind), but this particular salad caught my fancy. I added a bit of orange-roasted duck to the original recipe, and used a bottled dressing I came upon the other day from Balsamo’s Family Kitchen.
Richard, thanks for the magnificent tour. If we come back, we’ll book an entire day with you…
And if you ever find yourself in DC, be sure to let us know, and we’ll treat you to our version of living like a local in DC. Perhaps we’ll even make this salad for you… It was divine.
Arugula Salad with Warm Duck, Figs, Haricot Vert, Goat Cheese and Walnuts
Salad recipe inspired by a recipe in the Blue Ducks Cookbook
- 1 duck breast
- 1 teaspoon chinese five spice powder
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 orange, thinly sliced.
Score fat on duck breast in criss-cross pattern.
Mix the five-spice powder, honey, olive oil, sherry vinegar and orange juice together in a dish, brush the mixture over both sides of the duck breast and place the breasts in a dish. Cover and marinate at least an hour at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
Heat large, heavy skillet, preferably nonstick, to very hot. Remove duck breasts from marinade. Place duck breasts in the skillet skin side down and sear for about two minutes, just until the skin is well browned. Remove the duck breasts from the skillet. Pour all the fat out of the skillet (reserve the fat for the sauce or other cooking, if you wish). Return the duck breasts to the skillet skin side up and cook for about a minute, just until the meat is seared.
Transfer the duck breasts skin side up to a baking dish that will hold them in a single layer. Place in the oven for about an hour. By this time the duck breasts will be uniformly pink throughout.
Trim any remaining fat off the top of the breast, and slice very thinly…
To prepare the haricots vert:
Place the haricots vert on a cookie sheet line with parchment paper. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them in the oven while the duck breast is cooking – about 20 – 25 minutes.
To assemble the salad:
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup oven roasted haricots verts
- The warm duck breast, sliced thin
- 16 figs, halved
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 1 cup goat cheese
- 1/2 cup – 1 cup balsamic dressing (I used bottled, but added the link to a super-simple Epicurious version, if you prefer…)
In a large salad bowl, layer the spinach, warm haricots verts, warm sliced duck, the figs and sprinkle the walnuts and goat cheese over the top of it. Toss with balsamic dressing and serve immediately.