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Whilst temperatures dropped, a light scattering of snow fell over the East Coast during the early hours of Saturday morning. This sudden change in temperature may be an early sign that this winter could be harsh. With this in mind, I thought of a seasonal tipple and a hardy meal to add comfort to those suffering from the cold crisp wind that blew in from the North East.

Wild Mallard with Damson and Sloe Gin Sauce.

Wild Mallard with Damson and Sloe Gin Sauce.

At the Barnes farmers market on Saturday the first stocks of game started to appear, venison, partridge, pheasant and mallard. Having cooked partridge the weekend before I opted for mallard this time round. This small wild duck which is seen in numbers on our local pond makes a good meal occasion.

There are many recipes for duck. One of mine includes damsons, Juniper berries, marjoram, baked apples and sloe gin.

You need to find a duck that has good plump breasts, so when chosing one make sure you look carefully as these birds can be pretty lean. Clean the bird down and pick off any remaining feathers. Rub some butter over the skin and season with sea salt, pepper, marjoram and 2-3 crushed juniper berries.

Peel and slice a Bramley apple and place this in the breast cavity. Place the mallard on a roasting tray and roast in the oven at 200c for 15mins then turn down to 180c for a further 30-40 mins. You’ll need longer of using a Gressingham duck if you can’t get hold of a mallard.

Whilst cooking the mallard you can prepare the damson purée. Wash and clean the damsons, place in a small pan with a small amount of water add some sugar, cook the damsons until the skins split and the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 20 mins. Add a good 35ml-50ml measure of home-made Sloe Gin.

If you haven’t made any Sloe Gin yet there is still time to get a bottle ready for Christmas or if you can’t wait that long buy a bottle of Sipsmith Sloe Gin Vintage 2010 made by our local distiller in Hammersmith which is available from most branches of Waitrose or try Captain Harriman’s accelerated sloe gin as featured in Shooting Times. See http://www.sipsmith.com

Sloe Gin Recipe: Pick your sloes, this year is a good year for them and I’ve seen these fruit of the blackthorn bush like clusters of musket balls.

You need about 450-500g/1lb of sloes, then prick each one with a needle or a cocktail stick will do. Once the fruit is prepared tip them into a sterilised bottle, allowing the fruit to fill a third of the way up. Add at least 250g/8oz of caster or granulated sugar then fill the bottle up with a good own label London Dry Gin as most of these are made by one of the top three UK Gin producers, being either G & J Greenall, Haymans or Thames Distillers. You’ll need about 1 litre. Seal the bottle tightly and give it a good shake.

Place your bottles on a cool dark cupboard and shake every other day for the first week, then shake one a week for at least 2 months. Finally after 8-10 weeks strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised decanter or bottle.

Once the duck is cooked take it out of the oven and let it stand. At this point sieve the damsons and discard the pips. Place the remaining damson purée into a small ramekin to serve with the duck.

Mallard and Claret, cooked by Gary Hazel (talesbytheriverbank).

Mallard and Claret, cooked by Gary Hazel (talesbytheriverbank).

You can serve the duck with either roast parsnips and potatoes, use some of the duck fat for roasting or serve on a bed of celeriac mash. Remember to place the potatoes in to roast with about 45 mins to go before the duck is ready.

Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac 1995

Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac 1995

Serve with a good bottle of Claret, a fine red from the Bordeaux region of France. Berry Bros & Rudd do a 2009, Good Ordinary Claret,13.5% alc, priced at £8.75. It is Medium-Full Bodied, Dry, Cab.Sauvigon Blend and is drinking well now. See http://www.bbr.com/shopping/berrys-pwn-selection-bordeaux other good wines depending on your budget would be Graves, Pauillac, Pomerol, St Julien or St-Emilion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_Grand-Puy-Ducasse

Mallard and Claret

Mallard and Claret

Whilst waiting for your duck to cook it gives you a chance to sit down with small glass of sloe gin and tie a Mallard and Claret, this popular trout fly imitates a wide range of trout food.

Hook: size 8-14. Thread: black tying thread. Tail:6-8 fibers of golden pheasant tippet. Rib: silver or gold wire. Body: dubbed claret seal’s fur. False hackle: black Hen hackle. Wing: rolled wing from mallard bronze sholder feather. Head: finish off with black tying thread and coat with varnish.

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