The challenge this weekend was to cook a Saturday evening meal for sister and self, followed by three course Sunday lunch with one of my best friends who has just announced she's departing these shores.
After perusing Nigella, Nigel, Gordon and Delia for some inspiration, I decided that duck was the order of the day for the Saturday evening meal. I've never cooked duck before so was looking for something fairly simple and hard to mess up - no time constraints, as I had all afternoon to get sorted out. I decided on roast duck with cherry sauce, accompanied by braised red cabbage and a simple side dish of kale. It was nicer than I could ever have hoped for. To make this, you'll need:
1 duck, free range (roughly four lbs)
1 jar cherry conserve
1/2 bottle red wine
1 red cabbage
1 large baking apple
1 large or two small onions
1 clove garlic
Red wine vinegar
Duck fat (either from the bird or from a jar)
Packet of kale
Salt and pepper
This will serve 4 people (add more ducks if you need to - the sides and sauce make plenty).
Start by getting the braised cabbage started. Set the oven to GM2. Shred the cabbage, throwing away the tough central stalk. Peel and core the apple, chopping finely. Chop the onion(s) finely. Mix together in a large casserole dish; grate over 1/2 a nutmeg, about 1tsp of cinnamon and a few whole cloves; mince the garlic very finely and mix thoroughly. Add about one large glass of red wine, a slug of red wine vinegar and some fat (butter would be okay, but I had some duck fat in a jar so added that). Also add a good handful of brown sugar (probably about 3tbsps). Sit in the oven for an hour.
At the hour point, you need to prep your duck. Remove the giblets (reserve for stock if you want). Then break the backbone by putting it breast side down on a chopping board and pushing till you hear it crack (this will help the duck cook evenly). Turn right side up, prick the skin carefully - the aim is to let the fat run away but not to pierce the meat. Season liberally with sea salt and black pepper. Set in a roasting rack in a tin (I didn't have one so scrunched up some tin foil and placed the bird on that - an excellent Delia tip). Take the cabbage out of the oven, shift it up to GM8 and stick the duck on the middle shelf for about 20 - 30 minutes until the fat starts to melt. At this point, take the duck out and spoon out the fat from the tray into a jug (keep to one side for later). Turn down to GM4, put the cabbage back on the bottom shelf and the duck on the middle shelf. Check the duck every 20 - 30 mins (1 hr 50 mins in the oven from start to finish) spooning out the fat and basting. Also use the interruptions to stir the braised cabbage (I added some of the hot duck fat to this too). When the duck is cooked (usual skewer to check the juices are running clear) take it out of the oven to rest under a tea towel for 20 mins or so. Now put half a jar of cherry conserve in a pan, and add a large glass of red wine. Simmer for ten mins. Wilst stirring, boil the kale for 6-8 mins or till cooked.
Plate up slices of duck breast with the cherry sauce, a generous portion of the red cabbage and lightly cooked kale. This was absolutely gorgeous! For pudding, I settled for ripe strawberries with whipped cream and a very little bit of dark chocolate in shards over the top.
Even better, tonight's dinner formed the basis for some of tomorrow's lunch. After I'd washed up and said goodbye to Hani, I shredded the rest of the duck from the carcass (1 very large soup bowl's worth) and boiled the de-skinned bones with water, garlic, ginger, a chilli (deseeded) lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, nam pla, rice vinegar, soy sauce and a generous handful of coriander. I'm leaving it to simmer on the stove for an hour tonight before straining. Tomorrow, I'll add the duck meat to the clear soup and season - a nice Thai-inspired starter.
To follow, it's a roast topside of beef with the red cabbage (this is always better the second day and freezes amazingly well if there's any leftovers) and roasties with some more green veg (probably sugar snap peas and the rest of the kale).
Roast potatoes are always a top topic and bone of contention in the office. My method is to peel, parboil til soft (about 15 mins); strain, put back in the hot and empty pan and shake around to fluff up the edges. Put in a roasting tin and cover with duck fat (handily conserved from yesterday) and cook at a medium heat for at least an hour and a half until crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I also season with a lot of sea salt to really crisp up the outsides.
So most of tomorrow's work is done - it's just the potatoes and searing the topside joint before putting it into the oven. Not bad for an afternoon's work. All I really have to worry about is what to make for pudding!