This recipe requires a couple of wild ducks – any will do, Jane does not give specifics. There are only three kinds to choose from – mallard, widgeon and teal – this was not always the case, there used to be many legal game species of duck and waterfowl. The list includes shovelers, gadwalls, pintail ducks, shelducks, mergansers, swans, cygnets and moorhens. Some of those species are still shot for food in other European countries.
Iwent for widgeon, which is of a middling size with each feeding one to two people. I had never eaten widgeon before and was looking forward to it after the delicious mallard recipe I cooked last Christmas (#323 Salmi of Game). The widgeon is a relatively common duck, though being much less gregarious than the ubiquitous mallard they are easily overlooked as they hang around in the centre of the lake alone or in small flocks. If you are using the tiny teal, I would use three or maybe four for this recipe.
Inside the ducks there is a stuffing made with dried apricots from the Middle East. These are not the typical squidgy ones found alongside the currants and raisins in the grocers; they are tiny and whole and dried completely solid with their stones intact. They can be found in any good Asian grocer’s shop.
Once you have procured your ducks and apricots you can get going…
The night before you want to cook your duck, soak three ounces of dried apricots in water. To make the stuffing, remove the stones and roughly chop the flesh of the apricots before cracking the stones to get to the kernels*. Next finely chop enough celery stalks to yield two healthy tablespoons worth and fry it gently in two ounces of butter for about 10 minutes until almost tender. Mix the celery and butter into the apricots along with two ounces of breadcrumbs made from slightly stale bread. Season well with salt and pepper and loosely stuff two wild ducks with this mixture.
Next prepare the ducks’ cooking vessel for braising by placing half a sliced onion, half a teaspoon of thyme leaves and three stalks of celery in the bottom of a deep casserole dish. Jane is quite specific that the celery stalks must from the heart of the head of celery. Place the duck on top and pour in enough boiling water to come about half an inch up the side of the ducks. Pop the lid on and cook in a ‘slow oven’ (about 160⁰C, or 325⁰F) for about an hour. Check to see if you need to top up the water, then cook for a further 30 minutes.
When the duck is ready, remove it and place it on a warm serving plate. Strain the liquor into a saucepan and reduce it to produce a good, well-flavoured sauce. Season and thicken by mashing together a tablespoon of flour with an ounce of butter. Whisk in small knobs of this mixture until the sauce is of the desired thickness. If you like a tablespoon of bitter orange marmalade or redcurrant jelly can be dissolved in the sauce.
Pour some of the sauce over and around the ducks, serving the remainder of it in a jug or sauce boat.
#362 Braised Wild Duck with Apricot Stuffing. I enjoyed the duck and the sauce very much; the braising kept the duck tender and moist and produced a wonderfully flavoured stock. The apricot stuffing was ok, but a little insipid. I think I would have preferred make a forcemeat or sausage meat stuffing that could have been made into balls to surround the ducks. Still, very good, 7/10.