I start looking forward to Christmas around the end of the previous January. I love Christmas and, happily, the older I become, it is still my best time of the whole year, nothing diminishes in my anticipation.
Christmas is all sorts of different things to people. When our eldest daughter was a nurse in Edinburgh, she worked during Christmas on several years. We would make a pre-Christmas visit to her, stock up her fridge and depart feeling sad that we wouldn’t all be together at Christmas.
As years pass, of course, it is rare for large families to be able to celebrate together. And for some, Christmas is solitary, sometimes by choice.
But food can always be a major part of celebrating Christmas, and today I suggest an alternative main course and pud – the latter for those who don’t like raisins and currants, or who just can’t quite manage a bit of a traditional Christmas pud after eating roast turkey.
Talking of turkeys, which I wasn’t about to do but must, this year as for the past many years our turkey is ordered from the superb Barra Bronze turkey farm. And I am so proud to say that they were awarded the Poultry Farm of the Year Award a few weeks ago – rightly, their turkeys are delicious.
But on the two Christmasses when Godfrey and I were by ourselves we chose roast domestic duck, saving the turkey for a few days later when we were all able to celebrate together.
Roast duck is such a favourite that it, plus a stuffing and sauce, is my recipe today for a Christmas Day main course.
I am not talking about undercooked duck breasts, as seen on television chefs’ programmes, but a domestic, as opposed to wild, roast duck, cooked through and with crispy skin.
To me, far, far more delicious than any rare-cooked duck breast with its inevitable layer of white fat beneath its flabby skin ever is. And the stuffing can be prepared a day or two in advance. I use tough scissors, or game shears, to cut the duck into quarters when roasted, before serving – and leftover cold duck is as good as cold turkey, for the next day!
I like steamed Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes with my roast duck.
Roast duck with shallot and orange oatmeal stuffing, and mushroom and Madeira gravy
First of all, check inside the duck and remove the poly bag containing the gizzards. Put the contents of this bag into a saucepan and cover with cold water.
Add raw onion, celery and fennel and season with 1 tsp salt and about 15 grinds of black pepper. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, cover the pan with its lid, and simmer for an hour. Cool the contents of the pan, then strain the stock into a jug, to be made into gravy.
For the stuffing:
4 shallots, each skinned, halved and finely diced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
8 level tbsp pinhead oatmeal
1 level tsp salt, about 10 grinds of black pepper
Finely grated rind of 2 oranges
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Heat the oil in a wide based pan and, over moderate heat, gently fry the diced shallots, stirring from time to time, until the shallots are completely soft and transparent – about 8-10 minutes.
Add the pinhead oatmeal to the pan, and the salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring, for a further 10 minutes. Then take the pan off the heat, stir in the finely grated orange rinds, and the parsley, and tip the contents of the pan into an ovenproof dish, well rubbed out with butter. Smooth evenly in the dish.
Cover the surface of the oatmeal mixture with baking parchment and bake in a moderate heat, 180 Fan/200C /400F/Gas Mark 6 for 45 minutes.
You can bake this in advance by 2-3 hours. It will keep warm very well, providing that it remains covered.
For the mushroom and Madeira gravy:
- 220g mushrooms, sliced
- 2-3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
- 4 tbsp fat from the duck-roasting pan
- 1 small onion, skinned, halved and finely diced
- 1 rounded tbsp plain flour
- 750ml stock, either a chicken stock jelly or, better, the stock made from the duck
- 300ml Madeira
- A dash of Worcester sauce – about 1 tsp
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put the sliced mushrooms onto a roasting tray and mix 2-3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil through them. Spread evenly and roast in a hot oven, 180C
- Fan/200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 35 mins. Cool.
- Put the finely diced onion into the saucepan with the duck fat. Cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes, then stir in the flour.
- Mix well, and cook for a couple of minutes before slowly adding the stock, then the Madeira. Stir until the sauce/gravy reaches simmering point. Simmer for a minute, then take the pan off the heat, stir in the Worcester sauce, taste, add salt and pepper as you think it is needed, and stir in the roasted sliced mushrooms.
- This reheats well.
Dark chocolate meringue with vanilla whipped cream and marrons glaces
For pud, I suggest a chocolate meringue cake. The meringue halves can be made several days in advance, and stored, when completely cooled, in an airtight tin. The filling consists of whipped double cream with, optional, marrons glaces, candied sweet chestnuts, which have a great affinity with dark chocolate, and also with meringue and whipped cream!
If you don’t like marrons glaces, just use grated dark chocolate in the whipped cream and over the surface.
Be sure to assemble the meringue cake several hours before serving. The creamy filling softens the meringue and makes it easier to slice. And lastly, I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas!
- 3 large egg whites
- A pinch of salt – this gives increased volume to the whisked whites
- 75g caster sugar
- 75g sieved icing sugar
- 1 rounded tbsp sieved cocoa powder – not drinking chocolate, cocoa powder.
For the filling:
- 300ml double cream whipped with 1 tsp top quality vanilla extract – not
- Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.
- 8 marrons glaces, each halved and quartered
- Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mark around two side plates, to give two circles.
- Make the meringue by whisking up the whites with the pinch of salt until stiff.
- Then, whisking continuously, add the caster sugar, spoonful by spoonful, then the sieved icing sugar, whisking until you have a very stiff meringue. Sieve the cocoa powder over the meringue and, with a whisk, fold it quickly into the meringue. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit streaky.
- Divide this evenly between the marked circles on the parchment.
- Smooth evenly, and bake in a low temperature oven, 55C Fan/75C/120F/ Gas
- Mark 1/2, for 2-3 hours, until you can lift a meringue from the parchment.
- Take out of the oven and cool. Store, if made in advance, in an airtight container.
- Whip the cream with the vanilla.
- Put a dab of cream onto a serving plate, and put one meringue on to this – the whipped cream will anchor it. Spread two thirds of the whipped cream on the meringue, spread it evenly, put half the quartered marrons glaces over the whipped cream and cover with the remaining meringue.
- Dust the surface of the top with a teaspoonful of cocoa powder.
- With a star nozzle, put the remainder of the vanilla whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe fat rosettes of whipped cream around the edge of the top of the meringue cake.
- Put the rest of the quartered marrons glaces evenly on the cream rosettes.
Slice with serrated knife – easier than a straight blade.