This year I didn't bother with filling out the butcher's order form. As I found out last year, the form is so that they can make sure to have the right number of turkeys/geese for Christmas Day. But since we generally do our Christmas Dinner a week early, there's no risk of not being able to get hold of what we need.
With recent cooking success in mind, I wandered into the High Street and the butcher's and politely asked if they could secure me a mallard. I was well surprised when the chap serving me said they had one in the freezer and warned me that it would be a small one. I thought, it's just for me and Lundulph, it'd do, but when I saw it, I thought that's a pigeon and said, that perhaps I'd need a second one as well. So out came a second frozen thing. I paid and went home.
This was on Tuesday, so into the freezer they went. I put them in the fridge on Thursday evening so that they could defrost slowly. I showed them proudly to Lundulph. He was also surprised that they were so small and wondered why there were no labels on them. This should have been my first alarm bell and it should have rung in the shop already.
Anyway, Saturday morning came and I got started on my preparations. On the whole I was doing some carbs, some proteins, some fungi and some greens, all fairly easy, but also all to be done more or less last minute before serving.
Again I'd done some research on duck and mallard recipes and was very annoyed that most of them seemed to involve fruits. Now after our initial disappointment with goose and prunes all those years ago, both Lundulph and I are highly suspicious of this - after all we're making a main course here, not a fruit salad. So I settled on a small paragraph in Larousse Gastronomique (2001) - season and roast.
When I opened the packages, both birds released quite a lot of blood, so I rinsed them under the tap and managed to get a heart and a throat out from one of them. The other one had had both wings and legs brutally torn off. And it was at this point I noticed that one of the birds had quite a pungent smell about it. Now, the book said, of all the wild ducks, mallard is the best and it should be cooked and eaten fresh, unlike a lot of other birds, which need to be hung for a while.
Here, I should have taken the executive decision to just throw away the smelly bird, but unfortunately I didn't. Instead I pre-heated the oven to 220 °C, placed a wire rack in a pan with a lip, seasoned the two birds as best I could and placed them on the rack and into the oven. Now even if wild ducks aren't as fatty as farmed tame ducks, they still have quite a lot of fat on them, so using a roasting pan which will be able to contain the fat as it melts and drips down is crucial. And of course the wire rack inset, to keep the birds away from the fat. Of course cooking the smelly bird resulted in an even more pronounced unpleasant smell.
The Larousse Gastronomique talked about a mallard of about 1.25 kg weight and stated that roasting for 35 minutes would do. I'd weighed both my birds and they were just over 600 g each. At this point Lundulph expressed some doubts as to whether we'd really got mallards or something else. I decided that I'd roast the birds for 15 minutes on their backs and a further 15 minutes on their fronts. Of course by this point it was quite obvious that they'd dried out substantially, but I just plodded on with other things and left the birds at the bottom of the oven, covered with aluminium foil to keep them warm - this probably made them even drier.
The next thing I made was Duchess Potatoes - it was right before the article on duck in Larousse Gastronomique, and I've made several attempts in the past at working out the secret behind these, without success. This time, it worked and I took the liberty of "improving" the recipe.
Duchess Potatoes Ingredients
500 g peeled potatoes
50 g butter
salt and pepper
a little grated nutmeg
1 egg + 2 yolks
2 tbsp finely cut chives
- Cut the potatoes in thick slices and boil in salty water.
- Drain well, then put the saucepan back on the hob on low heat and mash up the potatoes finely or push through a potato press, then stir to dry out for a couple of minutes.
- Stir in the butter, the spices and the eggs and keep stirring for a few more minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a star tip. Lightly grease a baking tray, then pipe rosettes of the mixture. It's easier to pipe while it's hot.
- Bake under the grill until the surface of the rosettes had dried out and turned golden in colour.
Next I found some inspiration from Anne's Food blog for Cognac-creamed funnel chanterelles (yellow foot) mushrooms. I have small portions of these mushrooms, parboiled and in the freezer. Oddly enough, I was only able to find one of these packets and I didn't fancy emptying the freezer to search for more, so I bought a large punnet of chestnut mushrooms, which I peeled and parboiled. This way I ended up with a lot more than the 250 g Anne mentions and used about 50 g butter and 1 dl French brandy for the frying, then 1.5 dl of whipping cream. They tasted quite nice and Lundulph declared that this is the only way he wants his funnel chanterelles cooked in the future.
Finally for greens, I picked out a card from Ye Olde Recipe Collection, "Heston's Warm lettuce, peas & beans salad", which is from June 2012 and no longer listed among Waitrose's recipe collection. I did intend to follow the recipe since it required making an emulsion from beurre noisette, but I just wanted to get things ready for our Christmas Dinner and made it up as I went along. It turned out quite all right anyway.
100 g beurre noisette
500 ml chicken stock (not concentrate)
300 g frozen broad beans
200 g frozen garden peas
2 Romaine lettuces
salt and pepper
60 g pickled onions
- Place the beurre noisette in a large saucepan on low heat to melt.
- In another large saucepan, bring the chicken stock to the boil, then add the frozen broad beans and garden peas and let simmer for a few minutes.
- Cut off the stalk of the Romaine lettuces, then take off the larger leaves, wash and shake off excess water.
- Add the lettuce leaves to the boiling chicken stock for a minute or so, then using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove along with the beans and peas and place in the saucepan with the beurre noisette and stir everything around to get it well coated with the butter.
- Serve immediately.
This salad turned out to be very tasty. Lundulph guessed that the leaves were pak choi and in hindsight, this would have worked better. Lettuce is too delicate to heat up and a few of the leaves went brownish while I was making the salad and the ones that didn't went brown when I re-heated them a couple of days later. The original recipe states that 200 g of beurre noisette should be melted together with 80 ml of chicken stock. Then once the butter has melted, it should be blitzed with a hand-held blender to form an emulsion into which the vegetables should be stirred in. It seemed insane to use this much butter, even it it is lightened up by turning it into "mayonnaise", but I might give it a try as an alternative salad dressing or a dip perhaps.
So, we were finally ready for our Christmas Dinner. At this point I couldn't stand the stench of the rancid bird and threw it in the food bin. One bird would have to do us. But it was so dry, it was hard to carve.
Lundulph also started theorising that this might have been a pheasant and not a mallard. I wasn't able to find out anything useful on the internet either. So we ate some bird-based meat and the bird of 2013 is a
On the whole the meal was good, if only I'd managed to get better birds and not roasted them into oblivion...
And finally, once again all the lead shots ended up with Lundulph. We found 6 - 7 of them.
Lundulph has started campaigning to stick to goose from next year onwards, since we get at least one turkey around the festive time, depending on where we celebrate Christmas - see in the UK most people have turkey for Christmas, but in my Bulgarian family, turkey is eaten at New Year. So a goose is a good and sustainable choice. I personally would be happy to roast a chicken one year, simply because we never do this anyway, but it's not festive enough for Lundulph. We'll see next year, when the time comes.