Everything but the quack!

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Pappardelle with duck ragu

SOMETIMES you wonder about supermarkets. Waitrose are currently selling two duck breasts for £9 but whole roast in the bag 1.25kg ducks at £8.35. So that means any sharp-eyed cook with a sharp knife can get the breasts, plus two legs and the carcase for free and still finish 65p up on the deal.

Or even more. “I’ve got a £1.50 voucher for any duck product,” said my wife as she disappeared down the aisle. I did the maths. That meant I – or she – was only going to pay £6.85 for that quacker.

Which made up, in part, for the laughably high prices she insists on paying when she could go to more inexpensive supermarkets.

I’ve done it before (without the voucher) and the legs normally finish up as a confit. Sadly, this is where things go wrong – I sometimes roast them too dry or to a crisp when I dredge them out of their fat some months later. There had to be another use apart from a stir-fry.

There is: duck ragu.

What follows is an amalgam of several Venetian recipes, which concentrate on flavourings such as bay, thyme and sage and, in one case, cinnamon. So I used all four and added rosemary for luck.

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My cut price duck, ready for butchering

All the recipes I consulted stipulated using one leg per person or a whole duck (in which case you roast it) but I found two legs gave quite enough ragu for four. And I prefer cooking on the stove top rather than in the oven because it is less wasteful of energy. And cheaper.

You need:

2 duck legs, oiled and seasoned

1 small onion, 1 stick of celery, 1 large carrot, all chopped small for a soffrito

125ml red wine

125ml chicken stock

1 tin chopped tomato

tomato puree

herbs as above

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp plain flour

1 dessert spoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

Butchering was relatively easy. Dislocate the leg and wing joints first before cutting and work your knife carefully along the breastbone.

Brown the duck legs in a heavy casserole for about 10 minutes. I added the tops of the wings – not much meat but they will add flavour.

Remove the meat with tongs and pour off all but 1 tbsp of duck fat. I poured the excess into my duck fat jar.

Gently cook the vegetables, herbs and garlic gently for as long as you can be bothered (but at least 10 mins) then add the cinnamon and flour and stir in for a minute or two.

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All chopped and ready to go

Now add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and puree and return the meat to the pan. It should be just submerged. Bring to boil then turn down to a simmer and leave, stirring occasionally to stop things sticking. You want the meat to be really tender.

Then remove it to a plate and allow to cool. Then, with two forks, carefully remove the skin (don’t both if you miss bits, it will be very soft) shred the meat from the bones and return to the pan.

A cook’s treat is to suck, guzzle and gnaw the bones clean before discarding.

It tasted wonderful although I might go a bit easier on the cinnamon next time. It’s going in the freezer until I need it (as a sauce with pasta) because we are having those duck breasts, pan-fried, first.

I also boiled up the carcase as a stock, also destined for the freezer, and while all this was going on I gently fried little two inch squares of snipped skin from the carcase in a heavy-based frying pan. Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they made another little treat.

And, of course, they yielded even more fat for the jar. And I even finished up with a little duck ‘dripping’ which went well with my breakfast toast.

I’m feeling pretty pleased with it all. That duck gave us eight main meals in total: breasts, four plates of ragu and two bowls of soup, plus all those little extras. We ate everything but the quack.

When you’re married to a Waitrose Wife you have to stretch those pennies, don’t you?

Making a stir of tradition

Sue and Rayana stir the Christmas pud

Sue and Rayana stir the Christmas pud

It’s Stir Up Sunday on November 25 which should result in a flaming Christmas Pudding on December 25th. And if you make it yourself it will be far superior to shop-bought versions.

It does require a bit of pre-planning so check below and make sure you have all the ingredients. Bear in mind the mix needs to be left overnight then you have to be on hand to steam it the following day. Here’s how we got on a couple of years ago . . .

For the past few years my wife and I have been celebrating Stir Up Sunday with gusto. You get all the ingredients together and mix them up in a bowl, left overnight for the flavours to develop and infuse before steaming. It can take a good eight hours.

Then it goes into a tin and is stored under the bed (or in the cellar) until Christmas Day and several more hours steaming on the hob.

I’d like to say we were simply following in our own parents’ tradition but we’re not. They just bought one from the grocer. We are following the sainted Delia (Delia Smith, Britain’s answer to America’s Martha Stewart, for overseas readers) as it’s her recipe which we use. It is home made for a reason.

Make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly

Make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly

My wife loves Christmas Pudding but I hated the commercial sickliness of each pudding we bought so we decided to make our own. And you know what? It works. It tastes good and I can eat more than the token spoonful.

We’re also helping to revive an old tradition. All this stirring is a family occasion, held on the last Sunday before Advent, so dates change from year to year. Next year it will be on November 20. We are not sticklers for the exact date. As the spoon is passed from person to person they make a wish. In the bad old days before health and safety Mum surreptitiously slipped in a silver sixpence which finished up in one of the portions.

I’ve read that the pudding is stirred from east to west in honour of the Three Wise Men but we’d have to find a compass first. It is also claimed Prince Albert brought the tradition with him but, in fact, George I brought it over from Germany at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century.

You can find the recipe on page 37 of her book, Delia Smith’s Christmas, which is the one we use, which serves 8-10 people. A smaller pudding with just slightly less of the same ingredients, which serves six, is listed below.

You will need a 11/2 pint pudding basin, lightly greased.
3oz (75g) shredded suet
11/2oz (40g) self-raising flour
3oz (75g) fresh white breadcrumbs
3/4 level teaspoon mixed spice
good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
6oz (175g) soft dark brown sugar
3oz (75g) sultanas
3oz (75g) raisins
7oz (200g) currants
3/4oz (20g) mixed chopped peel
3/4oz (20g) blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 small Bramley cooking apple (5oz/150g)
grated zest of 1/2 medium orange
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
11/2 tablespoons rum or brandy
2fl oz (55ml) barley wine*
2fl oz (55ml) stout
2 medium eggs

*This is not that easy to find these days so just add a little bit more booze of your choice. I did find it at Waitrose, four cans of Banks’s Barley Gold for £5.25. They don’t sell single cans. Which is rather a lot to pay if you’re not planning to get blotto with this high strength beer. “Everybody just wants one,” said an assistant. Can’t be any demand for it then, can there?

*This year we have bought a bottle of Guinness West Indies Porter. We’ll let you know how well it worked next year!

For full details on what to do next visit http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/radio2/life2live/dontcancelchristmas/classic_pud.pdf