If you ever find yourself doing a Christmas dinner for just two people, you’ll find you could do a lot worse than to roast a duck. It must be the weather and the dark evenings, but I’ve got a lot of time for some of the more Christmas-tending ingredients at the moment, which is how I came to stuff this bird with prunes, pancetta and allspice, alongside some Savoy cabbage lightly sautéed in bacon fat with chestnuts fried to a crisp on the outside (very easy – use vacuum sealed chestnuts or roast your own, fry them in bacon fat until gold and starting to crisp on the outside, then throw in the cabbage, stirring for a few minutes until it’s all wilted and coated with fat), a great mound of mashed potatoes spiked with nutmeg, and a cherry and port gravy. Apologies for the picture quality. I’d been at the port.
If you are feasting, one medium-sized duck split between two people makes a spectacular and plump-making meal. The bird might look big when you buy it, but it’ll lose a lot of mass when you roast it and its layers of fat render off. A duck’s breasts are also much less muscular than a chicken’s, so there will be less meat than you might expect – but you will end up with a nice big jar of duck fat that you can put in the fridge when you’ve finished, so it’s not all bad.
I’ve stuffed the bird’s cavity with a sweet and spicy breadcrumb mixture. It looks a bit dry when you pack it into the duck, but the bird will baste the stuffing with fat and juices as it roasts, and you’ll find you have a savoury and tender stuffing at the end of the cooking time. We ate the lot in one go. This is a special meal for a special occasion – but I found that it’s also perfect for an ordinary winter’s Wednesday night when you’re feeling all loved-up.
To serve two, you’ll need:
Duck and stuffing
1 medium duck with giblets
100g soft white breadcrumbs
10 soft prunes
10 spring onions
150g pancetta cubes
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
A generous amount of salt
500ml water or good chicken stock
200ml cherry juice
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon soft butter
A grating of nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Remove the giblets from the inside of the duck along with any poultry fat in the cavity – you can just pull the fat away from the body using your fingers. Use it to make gratons for a cook’s treat if you fancy.
Saute the pancetta cubes (use lardons of bacon if you can’t find any pancetta) in a dry pan until they have given up their fat and are turning crispy. In a mixing bowl, stir the cooked pancetta, with any fat, into the dry breadcrumbs, and add the raw spring onions, chopped small, with the prunes, quartered, and the allspice. You won’t need any salt; there is plenty in the pancetta.
Stuff the mixture into the cavity of the duck, packing it in firmly, and seal the open end. Some sew their ducks up; I like to use a few toothpicks to keep the cavity closed, which is quicker and less messy.
Prick the duck’s skin all over with a fork, rub the whole bird with about a tablespoon of salt and put on a rack in a roasting tin. (The rack is there to stop the duck from sitting and cooking in its own fat. If your rack is a very shallow one, be prepared to drain the fat from the bird a couple of times as it cooks.) Put in the hot oven, turning the temperature down to 180°C after 20 minutes. Continue to roast for an additional 35 minutes per kilo (15 minutes per pound). Rest for 15 minutes in a warm place, uncovered, before carving.
While the duck roasts, prepare the gravy. Begin by making a giblet stock (I used a home-made chicken stock as the base for the giblet stock, which might be overkill, but it did taste fantastic) by simmering the giblets very gently in 500ml water or good chicken stock for 1 hour in an open, medium-sized saucepan, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. Strain the resulting stock – it should have reduced by about a quarter.
Add the cherry juice and port to the saucepan, and bring the heat up a bit – it should be chuckling rather than giggling. Reduce the mixture in the pan by about half. When the duck comes out of the oven to rest, mix the flour and butter together until you have a smooth paste, and whisk it into the gravy in the pan over a medium flame. Keep whisking until the gravy becomes thicker and glossy. Grate over some nutmeg and taste for salt and pepper.
The duck will have a crisp skin and a light, savoury spiced stuffing. Slosh the gravy all over your plate and get tucked in.