It’s been a while since my friend Chef Mark Vogel contributed a post but this one is very timely since we are now in pomegranate season. In his post you’ll learn a little history of this noble fruit and then learn how to prepare duck breasts with a pomegranate glaze. Ymmm!
All About Pomegranates
King Henry VIII (1491-1547), is undeniably one of England’s most well known and colorful monarchs. He is renowned for his break with the Papacy and the establishment of the Church of England. But what seems to beguile people most about Henry is his six wives, especially the beheading of two of them.
Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, repeatedly failed to produce a male heir. Of course in those days it was the woman’s fault. She was beheaded based on trumped up charges of incest, treason and adultery. You’d think Catherine Howard, the 5th wife, would have known better but she actually did commit adultery. Henry was a vindictive cuckold and thus Catherine got the axe as well.
But aside from all this drama, there is one little other historical tidbit that Henry is credited for: He allegedly planted the first pomegranate tree in England.
Pomegranates are native to Iran and the Himalayan region. They were one of the earliest fruits cultivated by man, possibly as far back as 3500 BC. From their Persian home they spread to ancient Egypt and even to China in the pre-Christian era. The Egyptians revered the pomegranate not only for food and to make red dye, but as a symbol of life after death. Representations of pomegranates can be found in Egyptian tombs.
Pomegranates were known to the ancient Greeks who thought they represented the indissociable nature of marriage. They were introduced to the Romans by Carthage, their southern rival who they eventually conquered. Roman women used pomegranates to signify their marital status. The Persians associated them with fertility and eternal life.
In Buddhism they are considered blessed. For Hindus the pomegranate represents prosperity and fertility. Christian art depicted them as a symbol of plentitude, hope, spiritual fecundity and the Virgin Mother’s chastity. Western culture imbibed the fruit with various medicinal qualities as well.
The Romans introduced them to Europe and the Spaniards to the New World, beginning in Mexico and eventually California. Today they are grown throughout Asia, the Mediterranean, and America.
Pomegranates are the size of a large orange and have a thin, leathery, reddish-pink skin. They contain hundreds of edible seeds. Surrounding the seeds is the pulp, prized for its bracing, sweet/tart taste. They are available in the United States from September through December.
Choose specimens that are heavy for their size, are brightly colored and devoid of any blemishes or soft spots. Supposedly they can be stored in the fridge for up to two months but clearly they will not taste as good as fresher ones. Pomegranates are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, anti-oxidants, and also contain some iron and vitamin K.
Pomegranates have a variety of uses in both savory and sweet dishes. My favorite way to enjoy them is simply to drink their juice. Or, try an orange/pomegranate juice combo or spike your lemonade with pomegranate juice.
The seeds, as stated, are edible and can be sprinkled on dishes as a garnish or added to salads, rice, or applesauce. To fabricate them, simply cut them open, spoon out the seeds, (saving any loosened pulp), and then squeeze out their juice by hand or employ a large juicer.
Pomegranate juice can also be made into a delightful syrup or glaze as in the recipe below. Basically, simmer pomegranate juice and sugar until a viscous syrup is produced. Add the syrup to drinks or pour it on meats as a glaze.
Grenadine is a pomegranate flavored syrup used in drinks and desserts. But check the label. There are many inferior versions out there which forgo the use of actual pomegranates. Pomegranate molasses, a favorite in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, is a thick pomegranate syrup that adds a titillating counterpoint to grilled meats.
Duck Breasts with Pomegranate Glaze
For the Glaze
- 2 cups pomegranate juice about 8-10 pomegranates
- ¼ cup sugar
For the Duck
- 2 duck breasts boneless & skin-on
- salt and pepper to taste
- Mandarin orange segments as needed, for garnish
For the Pomegranate Glaze
- Juice the pomegranates and strain to remove the seeds and/or any errant pieces of pulp. (You can save the seeds to sprinkle on the finished duck breasts as a garnish if you like).
- Combine the juice and the sugar in a small sauce pan and simmer until reduced to a half cup, about 20 minutes or so.
- Reserve to pour over the cooked duck breasts, heating it up briefly if necessary.
For the Duck
- With a sharp knife, score the skin side of the duck breasts in a crosshatch pattern. Do not cut into the meat. This enables the fat to render when cooked.
- Heat up a skillet without any oil, (the duck skin will provide its own cooking fat).
- Season the duck with salt and pepper.
- Place the breasts skin side down in the skillet. Cook on medium heat until the skin is crisp but not burnt, about 7 minutes. Check it a little before then to be sure.
- Flip the breasts and cook the other side, about another 3-4 minutes for medium-rare, or until the center of the breast reaches a temperature of 135 degrees F. on a meat thermometer.
- Plate the breasts, add the orange segments, and then pour the glaze, (and the reserved seeds if desired) over them and serve.