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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!

Headline image, inside North Star Deli at the JoinUs4Supper event

Northern Stars supper club. Pt.1: the meal

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For someone with an overly healthy interest in food, there could be few things more exciting than being set loose in a professional kitchen. Last Thursday saw my debut in the kitchen, at the latest JoinUs4Supper evening at North Star Deli. If, however, you’d seen me on Wednesday night, I’d probably have looked more than a tad pensive, mildly nervous, and concentrating deeply. A little part of me was starting to think I’d bitten off more than I could chew by accepting the challenge to collaborate with Deanna, Ben and the North Star Deli team. That and the fact I was helping stuff a pig’s intestine with blood, desperately trying to ensure it didn’t drop and burst in an ignominious end to our efforts to make fresh black pudding. All this from a throwaway comment about having a go on a TV food quiz to a couple of fellow foodies

Northern stars final 1

After weeks of thoughts, discussions and debate, we were clear in what we wanted to do. At the heart of the meal was the intention to place Porcus pork in the limelight, with local cheese and veg as superb supporting actors. We wanted to find a flavour and feel which properly encompassed the character of our TV team.

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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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Warming winter insulation

Squash and cauliflower soup

Ah, how I love the simple, comforting nature of a good home-made soup on a cold day. As the mercury’s plunged again this week after the unseasonal warmth over Christmas and New Year, I’ve been slipping back to the wintery cycle of roasting, making stock, and then cooking up quick and delightful vats of soup. As well as being a simple, wholesome task, it’s also a great way of using things up in the kitchen.

I rarely follow recipes for soups… you can’t go far wrong with most combinations as long as you use your taste and nose… although an exception to the rule was a fabulous Butternut Squash, Ginger and Apple soup. This was from my favourite Parlour Café Cookbook (which has just been awarded ‘Best First Cookbook in Scotland’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards… congratulations!) and was sweet, velvety and savoury all the way. Generally though, I make it up as I go along, but when the results are really good, I do note them down… so here are a couple I’d like to share.

One lazy Sunday lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, when it was freezing outside and the kitchen windows were all steamed up, I decided we needed some warming soup. We’d had a gloriously rich evening meal the night before, so something a little more simple was the perfect foil to this.

I’d bought one of those cute wee striped squashes around Halloween, and it had sat patiently on the sideboard, imploring me to use it in something. Squashes are great emergency food, lasting for ever. Today was its calling, so I cut it into eighths, and placed it and the florets of about half a cauliflower head on baking tray, drizzled some olive oil over the top, and placed it in a mid-temperature oven (the oven had already been on for a spot of baking a quick wheaten bread.)

Cauliflower and squash

Cauliflower’s been making a comeback in Mister North’s kitchen recently. When we were kids cauliflower only came in two ways: boiled (normally something we’d have at our granny’s) or as cauliflower cheese. I loved both, but it’s a veg which I realised I’d been sorely neglecting when the Hairy Bikers shone a spotlight on the humble cauli in the first series of the Great British Food Revival. I’d made a cauliflower purée the night before, so had a spare half a head to use.

As the veg was lightly roasting, I sweated down some shallots in butter, then added a couple of chopped potatoes to soften. Braving the rain, I nipped out and cut a good sprig of rosemary off the bush; washed it and threw the leaves into the pan. Everything sizzled and softened – the heady aroma of rosemary oil and shallots pervading all of downstairs – and once the spuds felt soft to touch, I threw in five home-made hare stock cubes. Some cooks think life’s too short to make stock ice cubes, but for me it’s a boon to be able to lay my hands on a selection of real stock in small, easy-to-measure quantities.

Taking stock

By then the veg in the oven was looking and smelling pretty fine too, with the cauli florets taking on just a hint of roasted colour, so they got tipped into the pan while I cut the skin off the squash and cubed it. Stir it up, simmer it down. A good shake of smoked paprika was next, the warming scent wafting up from the pan. Finally a decent splash of double cream, and a quick garnish, using up the last of the garlic chives which had grown lackadaisically on my windowsill since late spring, added a flash of colour. I paired it up with some freshly-baked wheaten bread, still warm from the oven: just perfect for wiping the bowl clean.

Winter soups 4

 

A couple of days later I bought a duck from Lidl – specifically so I’d have a decent stash of duck fat for roasting veg over Christmas – roasted it simply, made a load of stock from it (which set into the most wonderful lustrous thick jelly) and enjoyed the meat in sarnies. When that was suitably diminished I used up the rest in one of my standby big noodle soups: duck, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot and spring onion, shot through with star anise and chilli.

Duck noodle soup

And finally, here’s one of my favourites. When I posted this a few weeks ago on Twitter, the consensus was that it’s not worth making your own, as the tinned version is just perfect. Just add a swirl of cream or a knob of butter, and a generous helping of freshly ground black pepper. What is it? Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup… a true taste of childhood and still one of the best quick standby meals I can call upon…

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Guestrant at Electrik with Deanna Thomas*

I’ve read about Electrik Bar’s ‘Guestrant’ sessions since they started last year, but despite making mental notes to check them I’d never managed to organise it. Their most recent event, with guest chef Deanna Thomas of North Star Deli fame, tipped the balance for me. This was on Valentine’s Day, and the prospect of a night out, unencumbered by saccharine-sweet clichés, red roses and crappy piped (or worse still, dodgy live string) music provided a fine excuse for a good meal out with my partner.

For those who don’t know it, Electric Chair was one of the venerable institutions of the Manchester club scene from the 90s onwards (Mister North has fond memories of multiple occasions spent in darkened basements listening to Detroit deepness, dirty disco, Mancunian classics and rampant riddims thanks to these guys). These days the Electriks empire has perhaps mellowed and diversified with age, and they opened the unsurprisingly-named ‘Electrik’, a fine café/bar in south Manchester’s Chorlton, a couple of years ago.

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