When you go on a holiday, what are your absolute essentials that you must pack? Sunscreen, hat, party shoes; essential but realistically unless I am in the middle of the jungle or a desert I can usually obtain these items relatively easily. Not so my kitchen knives.
I looked at the enormous bag of snail shells and wondered how quickly our dinner guests would tire of garlic snails. ‘No, you aren’t buying those,’ my patient husband said as I paused in front of the market stall. Andy was right of course. I am not an ex-smoker but I understand the hunger and need as I followed the scents and aromas around the market. I drive my husband crazy when on holiday as I cannot resist wandering through the food markets where I smell yet another goat cheese, inhale the aroma of fresh bread, salivate vigorously over the variety of patés and ponder how I can include snail shells into our evening meal. However, he doesn’t complain later that evening when I try out a new dish on him. In fact he will even demonstrate his enthusiasm by prepping, particularly when accompanied by a glass or two of the local wine.
Australian duck breasts just cannot compare against the French duck particularly when served with the gloriously sour seville oranges rarely seen in Brisbane or green olives, tomato and a touch of orange. Duck breast also requires minimal space to prepare.
This is my holiday duck recipe for duck with green olives when I don’t have homemade stock.
2 duck breasts, skin removed – set skin aside to render down and cook the potatoes in it
1 glass of white wine
1 tomato, skinned and chopped finely
1/2 cup green pitted olives, sliced
the zest of an orange
salt and pepper
fresh herbs if available such as parsley or rosemary
Remove the skin from the duck breasts and set aside in case you wish to render it down and cook diced potatoes in it.
Rub the salt and pepper and the orange zest onto the duck breasts and set these aside while you prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil gently in a small frying pan, add the breasts, placing the side that had the skin on it onto the hot pan surface. Sauté for a couple of minutes then turn and sauté the other side for a few minutes. Remove the breasts from the hot pan, they will be still be soft when indented with a finger and place the breasts in an ovenproof dish, cover with foil or kitchen paper and place in a pre-warmed oven, temperature approximately 180°C. Cook in the oven for about 5 minutes then turn the heat off and remove from the oven and rest for another 3 minutes with a cover over the meat. Timing depends upon the thickness of the breasts, and whether you like them rare or more cooked.
In the hot sauté pan, pour the glass of wine, deglaze the pan then add the chopped tomatoes, the olives, and fresh herbs. Cook gently to reduce and taste for seasoning. Add additional orange juice if needed to acquire the flavour of sunshine. Serve with fresh bread to enjoy the sauces.
If you are really tempted, before you cook the duck breast you can chop the duck skin into small pieces and heat it gently to melt the fat and then sauté small diced pieces of potato to accompany the duck.
The real kitchen challenge is not the food but often the equipment or the lack of in some of the accommodation we have rented. I remember staying in a beautifully decorated cottage in the grounds of a chateau and asking the owner, herself a fabulous cook, for a breadboard, frying pan and saucepan. Her look of surprise and her comment ‘But all our guests eat out. They don’t cook when on holiday’ still makes me laugh.
We have lots of good dining memories from our holidays both in local brasseries and in more upmarket restaurants. We value the recommendations that many of our hosts have provided and always go to a couple but we also really enjoy buying local produce and cooking it at home.
Being a couple we often rent small cottages and are used to the miniscule kitchens with minimal bench space. You get very good at preparing simple meals that don’t require too much preparation or equipment. As long as there is room for a wine glass and a plate I can provide. I am not cooking for a crowd so I can manage on one breadboard. It is however, the knives that seem to be the one implement that gite owners are less likely to provide in their rental homes.
I am sure we have all been confronted with the long blade that has been made from such mild steel that it is thin and flippy. When pressure is applied it has a disconcerting tendency to bend sideways then flip the point towards the finger. Unless I want to spend the afternoon sitting in a local hospital waiting to be sewn up I avoid using these knives and book a table at the local café. At least prosecution comes thinly sliced.
Then there is the challenge of size. In one kitchen all I had to prepare a meal was a small 4-inch paring knife that made food preparation almost impossible. Anything other than pencil thin asparagus defeats me. Sometimes I wonder whether the gite owners and the local dining facilities are in cahoots to persuade tourists to eat out.
So knives are considered one of my ‘must pack’ items. This is particularly easy when driving to the location, more challenging when flying. I have wrapped and labelled them and just in case they are confiscated, I don’t take my very best knives with me but on the odd occasion I have done this they have always arrived in the luggage. This certainly doesn’t stop me from window-shopping in the gorgeous kitchen shops and knife shops that are scattered throughout most of the European towns. After all, there is always room in my luggage for one more knife.