A butcher friend of mine – let’s call him Bob, for that is his name – has been raving about the virtues of Gressingham ducks.
‘The best ducks in the land,’ he insisted.
Now the word of Bob the butcher, whose shop is near Primrose Hill, North London, is not to be taken lightly. He has been carving, slicing and boning-out for 50 years.
When he says he loves a duck, he really does. So last Friday afternoon, off I popped to the butchers shop to find out what all the fuss was about.
According to Bob, the Gressingham is a bird that is simplicity itself to cook. Just put it on a roasting tray in a hot oven and leave it for an hour or so for crispy skin and juicy, pink flesh (longer if you prefer your meat more well done).
But I wanted to see if I could take it to an even higher level.
Cue this recipe from Tom Kerridge’s magnificent ‘Proper Pub Food’ cookbook, kindly supplied by my wife for Christmas: Slow-roasted duck with braised cabbage and potato pancakes (although Tom uses lettuces instead of cabbage, and thyme in the braising liquid, not rosemary. Hey-ho! Each to their own).
The results were amazing: thick chunks of juicy meat covered with crispy, aromatic skin. As big Tom says: “An English version of a Chinese takeaway classic.”
We had it as a Sunday roast and will be having it again and again.
1 Gressingham duck, weighing about 2.5kg
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, ground
200ml stock, made with the duck giblets
100g butter, cubed
5 sprigs rosemary
Peel of 1 lemon
½ white cabbage, separated into leaves, thick stems removed
100g runny honey
50ml soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the potato pancakes
250g cold, dry mashed potato
75g plain white flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Pierce the duck skin all over with a sharp knife. Season the duck with the Szechuan pepper and salt, then place it on a wire rack in a roasting tray. Place the tray in the oven and roast the duck for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and pour off the fat (you can keep it in a jar in the fridge and use it to roast potatoes. It lasts for months). Reduce the oven temperature to 110C/Gas ¼. When it reaches that temperature, return the roasting tray to oven and continue roasting the duck for a further 1 ¼ hours, basting with its own fat every 20 minutes.
3. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and pour off most of the fat from the tray. Increase the oven temperature to 180C/Gas 4. Pour the runny honey over the top of the duck, then return the tray to the oven and continue roasting the duck for a further 15-20 minutes, basting every 5 minutes with the pan juices. Keep a careful watch to ensure the honey doesn’t burn.
4. On the last baste, add the soy sauce to glaze the duck, Remove the duck from the tray and leave to rest, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
5. While the duck is resting, make the potato pancakes. Mix the mashed potato , flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Whisk together the milk and eggs, then stir the liquid ingredients into the potato mix to form a batter.
6. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium het. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer them to the turned off oven to keep hot. You should have about a dozen pancakes – or make as many as you need, and keep the leftover batter in the fridge to make potato pancakes for breakfast the next day.
7. Meanwhile, mix the stock, butter, rosemary and lemon peel together in a large saucepan over a high heat and bring to the boil, stirring to melt the butter. Place the cabbage leaves in the stock and simmer for 5 minutes, until the leaves wilt. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
8. When ready to serve, carve the duck and serve with the cabbage and lettuce.