I've been 'testing' mince pies, Christmas puddings and cakes since February. I've become extremely popular in the office after box after box of samples have arrived for me to taste my way through prior to making my selections.
The gifts brochure has now been sent out to the public and I'll just have to wait to see whether or not I chose wisely...
One of the upshots of all this work is that my cupboards fill with delicious and often unusual chutneys, jams, relishes and sauces. Perfect hamper-fillers. The bramble jelly above is pretty divine on hot buttered toast or crumpets but I wanted to use if for something more interesting.
Duck is right in season currently and is one of my favourite birds. I love the combination of the rich, slightly gamey meat when paired with sweet autumnal fruit. Blackberries go particularly well and I added some fresh berries to prevent the sauce being too sweet - the acidic bite of the brambles cut through the rich meat perfectly.
I served the duck on a parsnip and potato rosti - very simple to make though I probably wouldn't want to make them for huge numbers. All that grating takes a bit of effort. Mind you, you could use a food processor.
To top this rather delicious (but extremely un-photogenic) dish off, I steamed some Savoy cabbage with some peas.
Pan-fried duck breasts with bramble sauce
2 duck breasts
1 glass Port
1 heaped tablespoon bramble jelly
handful of fresh blackberries
knob or two of butter
1. Peel the shallots and prize apart into two halves. Easiest way to do this fiddly task is to place them in a bowl, cover them with boiling water and leave for a minute or two. When you remove them, the skin should peel off far easier. Melt butter in a large frying pan and gently fry the shallots until they start to soften.
2. Meanwhile, score the fat on the duck breasts and season with salt and pepper.
3. Once the shallots have started to soften, push them to the sides of the pan. Increase the heat a little and add the duck breasts, skin side down. Fry for approx four minutes, turn and do the same on the other side. Timing is obviously variable depending on size of duck breast. I like my duck quite pink in the middle (though not super-rare as I do beef). Four minutes each side would have been about right for me (I slightly overdid mine). Once cooked to your liking, remove duck from pan, cover with foil and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
4. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, pour some of this off (great for roasting potatoes at a later date). With the heat still reasonably high, pour in the Port. It should sizzle and spit a little. With a wooden spoon, scrape up all the lovely shallotty, ducky goodness.
5. Add bramble jelly and half the blackberries. Squidge the blackberries into the sauce as they heat through. Bubble and reduce until on the brink of syrupy. Taste and season. At the last minute, throw in the remaining blackberries and warm through before serving with the duck breasts.
Parsnip and potato rosti
2. Mould into round patties (I used a large biscuit butter for shape as you can see in the above photo). Fry in melted butter for a few minutes on each side. Finish off on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes.
Wine match: I'd often choose pinot noir with duck, but here with the rich brambly sauce, Syrah/Shiraz would be my grape of choice whether it be from France, Australia or elsewhere.