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Brazilian wild duck à l’orange

Wild duck with forced rhubarb, blood orange, carrots and mash

Actually, this is a slightly misleading title. The duck wasn’t from Brazil (it was however, pretty wild, coming as it did from near Preston*), and it’s not your classic duck à l’orange either. But hey,  it was absolutely delicious, and as smooth and fluff-free as any Brazilian you’re likely to find in this country. Let me explain…

The game season somewhat passed me by this year: I’ve placed a few bits and pieces in the freezer which will make an appearance for a special occasion, but have been lacking in feathered friends to feast upon. So when a friend contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in a wild duck, I jumped at the chance. I’d have been quackers not to…

He explained once of his colleagues is a wildfowler, so at this time of year he often comes into work with a bunch of mallards in the back of his car. This particular specimen was a very fine fellow… a good weight, beautiful plumage, cleanly shot. I was very grateful, but after taking receipt realised I’d have to pluck the bugger. I left it hanging for a couple of days in a cool place, and put the plucking to the back of my mind as a busy working week flew by.

Wild duck, hanging

I’d picked up a handful of wonderful blood oranges from Bill the greengrocer in Todmorden Market in late January, along with my perennial local favourite, Yorkshire forced rhubarb. These wonderfully seasonal delights sat for a few days at home, teasing me as I mulled over what they’d be best used with. I really fancied pairing the two of them for something lip-smackingly tart and sweet, inspired by Miss South’s award-winning Bloody Old Lady marmalade from last year (which, despite rationing, I sadly finished last month).

Beautiful blood oranges

So when the mallard popped up I thought a simple compote would provide the perfect foil its wild gamey flavour. All I did was to roughly chop the rhubarb stalks, halve the orange segments, add a tablespoon or two of Demerara sugar and a splash of cloudy apple juice, then heat for a couple of hours with a cinnamon stick and a couple of star anise. After some gentle cooking the fruit fell apart into pastel strands, its sharpness balanced by the spices and a touch of sweetness. That made for a lovely dessert with some natural yoghurt

Cue Saturday night, when I’d promised to cook for my better half, and I suddenly realised I needed a foolproof method to denude the bird. Not fancying a messy pluck in the darkness outside, I stumbled on a video of this unconventional technique from the ever-reliable Hank Shaw from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

Rather than describing the technique in great detail, I recommend watching the video. But in brief, once you’ve removed the main feathers from the duck, rather than getting caught up in a maelstrom of down, you dip the carcass in a cocktail of hot water  and melted paraffin wax.  I had to improvise a bit (using half a bar of my favourite Fjällräven Greenland wax… is this the first time it’s been used in the kitchen, or does that proud Swedish hunting tradition mean it’s a regular culinary assistant in the frozen north?) but the whole process was dead easy.

Once the down was coated in a thin film of wax I yanked it straight out and plonked it into a bucket of icy water. Like magic (in fact, like Ice Magic, if anyone remembers that) the whole thing sets into a hard shell around the carcass. Removing the final shell of wax and down was as easy as peeling an orange… and it left skin as clean and dimpled as one too. A DIY wildfowl Brazilian… plucking brilliant!

I only used the breasts, which I delicately removed and rubbed with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, before sealing and searing it in my newly seasoned Mermaid** skillet. I’d had wild duck breasts a couple of weeks before at El Gato Negro Tapas, where the head chef, Simon Shaw, had recommended they needed to be treated with a delicate touch so they wouldn’t overcook and lose their flavour and texture. As we like our meat rare, I flashed them for a couple of minutes in the pan, then rested them for at least twice as long.

There was just time to plate up the veg – a simple selection of creamy parsley mash and some Vichyssoise carrot batons – then I sliced the duck. The deep magenta meat quivered almost as much as I did as I spooned the spiced winter fruit over it… the aroma was stunning and it looked as pretty as a picture. Thankfully the taste was equally good… incredibly tender, rich duck was given a light kick from the sharp, spiced notes of the rhubarb and blood orange. Accompanied by a bottle of Spanish red (a delightful Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero from Hangingditch) this was the perfect dish for a freezing cold January night… seasonal, (mostly) local, and bursting with wonderfully rich, complimentary flavours. I can’t recommend it highly enough; indeed I might open a salon to wax the local wildfowl population on a more regular basis…

* Wild? I was absolutely livid
*
* Disclosure: I unexpectedly won this in a Christmas Blogger’s Challenge for my Tongue’n’Cheek pudding… hurray!

Blood orange marmalade

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade

Blood orange marmalade
When we were kids, we mainly took family holidays in Italy. In the sun and beautiful countryside of southern Tuscany, we ate wonderful food and relaxed away from day to day life. Our parents often combined the best of both worlds and relaxed as they cooked the evening meal with a long cool gin and tonic. Sometimes the gin was carried from home, but usually it was bought in the hypermarchés we stopped at across the Continent and were lesser known brands such as Bosford or Old Lady’s Gin. Even as a nipper, I was tickled by the name of the latter, especially one summer when the bottle bought came with a can of Orangina Rouge made with blood orange and the exortation that you mix the two to get the hilariously named Bloody Old Lady cocktail…

Despite only sampling the Orangina Rouge sans gin at the time, this drink further fuelled Miss Marple inspired dreams of being a wee old dear before my time. Pairs of slacks, snap clasped handbags and trips to the Post Office with my wheeled shopping trolley all help the illusion, but when I found myself in possession of a big bag of blood oranges and a bottle of Tanqueray Export a few weeks ago, I knew the time had come to be all Women’s Institute and make marmalade fit for a Bloody Old Lady.

Blood oranges, in the skin

Not being a big eater of marmalade, I obviously had very little idea of how to make the stuff. I was adamant that if I was to sample my own wares, it would need to be a thick cut marmalade as I like a bit texture in my preserves. Having made one decision, I failed to do anything else like decide on a recipe or a method of marmalade making and pretty much made it all up from there on in.

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade:

• 6 blood oranges
• 1 large pink grapefruit
• 2 kilos of sugar (I used half regular sugar and jam sugar)
• 2-4 tablespoons good quality gin

I used six blood oranges and one pink grapefruit, stripping the peel off the fruit with a knife. Being a lazy sort, I did not start removing all the pith from the peel and putting it in a muslin bag to go alongside the peel, but left it on the peel. I then juiced the fruit and squashed up the remaining segments to maximise the citrus hit. I had no pips, but if I’d had them I’d have kept them to put inside a muslin bag to help set the marmalade.

I then boiled the be-pithed peel in about 3 pints of water until the peel had started to soften and the water had started to turn the same colour. I then took the peel off the heat and keeping the citrussy water, divided it into two pans as I don’t have one big enough for both. Half the water went in both, along with juiced up fruit and a kilo of sugar in each. I mixed half a bag of each regular and jam sugar with extra pectin and bunged that in. I then boiled the mixture until it reached the magic alchemy point of 220℉ or 104℃ that turns a load of citrussy gloop into marmalade. This is easiest with a thermometer but having smashed mine to ribbons, I used the simple trick of finding the ‘wrinkle point’ on a cold saucer. Once a drop of the hot liquid sets and creases up when you run a finger over it, you have your set point and the marmalade needs to come off the heat immediately.

Allow the pan to sit for about five minutes, easing down from a scary pan of spitting sugar and potential burns, to a gentle pop and sigh of citrus deliciousness (do not forget yourself and put your finger in there). This gives you time to get your jars out of the oven where they have been sterilising, clear space for filling the jars and more importantly for the peel to settle so you don’t end up with it floating on top of your jars once they are filled. Once the marmalade is calm again, add 2 tablespoons of gin (I used Tanqueray Export. It needs to be robust for this) to each pan and stir through before filling the jars. If you add the gin too early, you’ll burn it off and lose the flavour, but don’t be tempted to pour lots in as the alcohol loosens the set of the marmalade and you’ll end up with something more like a lumpy cocktail. Seal the jars with wax circles and cellophane lids and leave to cool completely.

Sliced blood oranges, ready for marmalade

I recommend making a large loaf of bread while this is happening because the instant this marmalade is set and cooled, you are going to want to slather it generously on hot buttered toast with a good strong tea on the side. The blood oranges have a more rounded flavour than their non-red cousins and that slightly soft fruit taste comes through, given a tasty kick with the gin. The first jar I opened was all gone within 24 hours. The second didn’t last much longer. I ate marmalade for breakfast, lunch and dinner, only giving jars to those I love dearly. Giddy with my own preserve superpowers, I entered a jar in the novice category of the Marmalade Awards at Dalemain Mansion, hoping to get further tips on my scorecard. The good folk of Cumbria must have heard my shriek of ecstatic glee when a certificate arrived awarding me bronze! I celebrated by dispensing with the bread and eating more marmalade off the spoon while counting down the days til further blood orange crops. I’ll just make twice as many jars next year!

2012 Marmalade Awards, Fortnum and Mason, London

 

 

Inside the Diablo SupperClub

The devil’s in the detail… Diablo SupperClub

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Wednesday night saw us turn up to Chorlton’s inimitable North Star Deli, on Wilbraham Road, to enjoy a taste of the Diablo SupperClub. Not, as you might think at first, a meeting of gastro-occultists, but instead a chance to learn something about Casillero del Diablo wine while enjoying fabulous food.

Yes, those cunning vintners at Concha Y Toro have hit on the ideal way of giving people greater confidence pairing food with wine: bring a liquid roadshow direct to a selection of the country’s finest supper clubs. This was their first venture north of Brighton or London, so of course Mr North was more than happy to help raise a glass in support. My other half is half-Chilean, and we’re partial to a drop of South American reds at the best of times, so this was an invite I didn’t think twice about accepting. After all, what could be more fun than being educated in the dark arts of the grape, while enjoying top-notch food? They’ve got a great blog online, (incidentally this month’s guest blogger is our favourites, Niamh from Eat Like a Girl, who even mentions our take on her exceptional Spiced Beef recipe) and a bunch of user-submitted recipes, which should be good to provoke some fresh ideas in the kitchen.

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It’s incredible to think it’s been almost a year since we attended the first pop-up restaurant at North Star Deli, one of my favourite independent eateries in Manchester. Where did the last 12 months go? In the last year their Join Us 4 Supper nights have become a regular occurrence on the Manchester food scene, showcasing the best of local, seasonal food. Chef Deanna Thomas continues to set the menu and head up the kitchen for each event, whilst the deli has recently expanded to a second location, this time in the city centre. A great tip for a really good breakfast, lunch or fabulous coffee if you’re in the Piccadilly area!

January has a habit of being the grimmest, greyest month (personally I think that’s February… when you want winter to be drawing to a close and it’s tenaciously determined to stay put) and this was the first temptation to eat out since the New Year. Hospitality from the staff at North Star was as warm and welcoming as ever, and as good guests we allowed ourselves to be graciously plied with canapés and bubbly… the perfect start to any evening. First up, an intriguing savoury macaroon, which paired smoked salmon and a citrus-cream cheese inside light macaroons, dusted with poppy seeds. They looked delightful, and were soon followed by rabbit empanadas (following the South Amercian theme), which disappeared faster than a fluffy tail down a rabbit hole. Just right with a delicious dry, crisp glass of Brut Reserva Chardonnay.

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Our resident wine expert for the night, the spendidly-named Hans Joachin Wadsack (or Joe, as he answers to) won over the assorted dinner guests in no time with his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm. This laconic raconteur raptly held our attention with some background on the vineyards, terroir, and production methods of each of the wines we were due to sample that night. That, plus the wonderful smells wafting gently from the open kitchen, cranked the anticipation up to tangible levels in the room.

First course was a trio of plump, tender and perfectly seared King scallops. They sat daintily on a bed Puy lentils cooked in a creamy Chardonnay sauce, finished with tiny roasted tomatoes and (I think) a dash of basil oil. It takes a certain kind of determination to try and snare every last lentil on a plate (preferably doused in that wonderful buttery sauce) but I managed it, and looked up to find everyone else’s plates were empty too: a room full of happy diners.

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We each had a glass of Chardonnay, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the dish: for me the Chardonnay was more harmonious, complementing the subtle ocean flavour of the scallops and butteriness of the sauce alike. A good example of how cooking and drinking the same wine in a dish can really pay dividends. Sure, it felt slightly decadent to sit with two glasses of wine at each serving, but I kept telling myself it was purely for educational purposes!

The aroma of the main had been wafting out of the kitchen for as long as we’d been sat down: I ‘d (wrongly) guessed at beef, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that wonderfully meaty, heady aroma was venison. Mmm, venison. Proper winter fare… and it had been a couple of weeks since our venerable venison pie, so were suffering withdrawal symptoms. Joe introduced the reds which were to accompany the main –  a Shiraz, and a Carmenère – both paired to compliment the food. My predisposition was towards the Carmenère – I love its soft, spiced notes and it’s a bottle I already regularly buy – but the Shiraz was also balanced, fruity, and worked well with the dish.

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Deanna introduced this particular venison as being sourced from red deer – good to know as there’s no legal requirement to disclose what kind of deer your venison is from – and this haunch had been marinading comfortably in a delicious bath of Cabernet Sauvignon for the previous day, ready for cooking. And cooked it was, to perfection: pink flesh gave just enough under a richly caramelised dark exterior. Venison can be a bugger to cook, but this was spot-on: rested and rich without being overwhelming. Add that to an oh-so-rich red wine sauce, some savoy cabbage, and a wintery Hunter’s pie (think Shepherd’s Pie, but with an earthy celeriac mash topping and venison filling) and you have a stellar seasonal selection on a plate.

Finally, we got introduced to the dessert wine – the Casillero del Diablo Late Harvest – which is a newly introduced line in the UK (so new I couldn’t even link to it on their website). I don’t really do dessert wines, but every time I get persuaded to try a dessert wine with an appropriate sweet, I remind myself I appreciate the combination more than I think I do. This was no exception: the dessert was an Blood Orange tart, which quivered and shivered coyly on the plate. The mix of sweet and bitter riffed brilliantly with the concentrated, rich flavour of the wine, and added a welcome burst of late summer sunshine to the dark environs of south Manchester.

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Thanks to Briony and Joe from Casillero del Diablo for the wine and wisdom; Deanna, and Ben in the kitchen for the fantastic food; and smiling service from Adam, Jenny and the rest of the staff. A really great night, with plenty of sparkle, humour and gastronomic pleasures!

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I should also mention that Ben, the chef at North Star Deli, is one third of Team ‘Northern Stars’ on BBC2’s food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘, alongside myself and SJ from Porcus.  We got on so well together that North Star Deli and North/South Food will be teaming up for next month’s ‘JoinUs4Supper’ on February 23rd. We’re hugely excited about this, and will be announcing more details very soon!

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