Borough Market Blog December
All good food starts with good ingredients. In this blog series I am setting out to illustrate this by letting the Borough Market traders and their seasonal produce guide me in creating some beautiful seasonal dishes.
It’s time for our wintery heroes to take centre stage on the kitchen table. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, chicory, kale, leeks, parsnips, swedes and turnips. Even these humblest of vegetables can be cooked in infinite ways to create the most delightful meals. The seasonal cook must celebrate what’s available, and get creative.
Wrapped up in my anorak and scarf I wandered down Bedale Street and onto the middle road that runs through the centre of Borough Market’s main atrium. As I entered the market Turnips the greengrocer was on my right, literally tumbling with fresh fruit and vegetables; on my left was Furness Fish and Game, with the most elaborate fish display I’ve ever seen. Equal to the best market towns in Europe I’d say. As I peered at the gaping fish, I noticed
that on the other side they have a less-obvious but as-impressive game and seasonal butchery counter. The counter is decorated with whole roe deer, partridge and mallard ducks hanging from string, with most of the game coming from local estates close to their base in Flookburgh, Cumbria. I started chatting to one of the butchers Alan who very proudly showed me a mallard, the largest and most common wild duck (you’d recognise the breed as the males have a head covered in beautiful emerald green feathers). Alan immediately started detailing the seasonal availability of all his game and gave me instructions on how to cook the duck. He suggested removing the duck breasts to sear and serve rare but to slow cook the legs and carcass to assure a tender meat. Pretty good advice in my book! I took a brace (gamekeepers term for a pair) of ducks from him inspired by his recipe suggestion.
I decided to head to Ted’s to find some veggies to go with the duck. As I approached the stall I noticed a stack of Brussels sprouts, green and purple, still attached to their mighty stalk. They looked like cannon balls; they were so firm and fresh.
I’ve often found that like marmite people either love or hate Brussels sprouts. Recently I discovered that this might be down to genetics. Dr Lisa Methven of Reading University suggests that a genetic oversensitivity to bitter flavours can be the reason why some people hate Brussels sprouts. This oversensitivity is the result of having more taste buds than usual and receptors that make brassicas containing phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) taste 60 times more bitter. Although, apparently we can train ourselves to like anything, so no excuses! Anyhow I love sprouts, they taste sweet to me cooked simply; steamed and tossed in butter or extra virgin olive oil.
One of the stall holders named Bart – looking resplendent in a striped punting coat, thick rimmed glasses and a blanket for warmth – told me that he likes to roast the whole stalk with the Brussels still on it. That way the diners can pull them off at the table. Bart then pointed out the sprout tops. The tops of the sprout are a delicacy as they are only available for a short season. They look like a huge Brussels sprout and grow on top of the main stalk. At a certain point in the plant’s growth the sprout top is removed allowing the plant to put all it’s energy into growing the smaller Brussels. The top tastes similar to cabbage but is much sweeter; when cooking it can be treated in much the same way. I like to sauté it in coconut oil, slightly charring the leaves to give a bittersweet flavour. This dish is delicious finished with toasted seeds; it can be served as a side vegetable or as part of a stir fry.
I bought a couple of tops to serve alongside the duck, but still needed something to bring the dish together and make it into something special. It was then that I spied some fresh cranberries, the first I’ve seen this season. Another member of staff came up to me to offer a hand. He was an elderly chap with a strong Floridian accent, long grey beard and very joyful eyes. I took an instant liking to him and asked him if he had any tips for cooking the cranberries. He said that he makes his cranberry sauce with maple syrup instead of sugar which takes the condiment to another level. His simple recipe was to put them in a pan, boil-em-up till they explode and release their goo, then to sweeten them with maple syrup. I decided to follow his advice. Now I felt like my dinner was really coming together and had naturally taken on a rather festive twist.
On my way out of the market I came across a stall selling all sorts of spices and formulas from the Caribbean island of Grenada. The stall was run by a lady called Doreen. She told me that Grenada is famous for all their spices and showed me some nutmeg syrup. Apparently widely used in Caribbean cooking Doreen told me that the syrup was great to put in porridge, pancakes and smoothies but also used to add sweetness and mild spice to other dishes. I bought a bottle thinking it would go well in the cranberry sauce.
Wild duck rillettes and rare breast with cranberry sauce
This recipe is a great way to use every last morsel of delicious meat from the duck. Ask your butcher to remove the breasts so that you can sear them in a pan and serve them rare. The rillettes are prepared by cooking the carcass long and slow so that the meat becomes tender and falls off the bone. Wild duck is less fatty than farmed, has a greater depth of flavour and you can be certain it has enjoyed a good life. I’m topping the rillettes with a cranberry sauce made with Doreen’s delicious nutmeg syrup. This dish makes a great starter for Christmas day as you can prepare it up to a week in advance.
For the duck rillettes (makes enough to serve 4 as a starter)
1 wild duck, breasts removed, carcass cut in half, and cleaned of blood
1 sprig thyme, picked and chopped
500ml Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
10ml cider brandy or brandy (optional)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp orange zest
Light olive oil to sear the duck breasts
Toast to serve
For the cranberry sauce
200g fresh cranberries
100ml nutmeg syrup or maple syrup or honey
To make the rillettes
1) Keeping the duck breasts to one side season the duck carcass (with legs still attached) with thyme and salt. Transfer into a tight fitting, heavy based saucepan on a low-medium heat. Cover with olive oil, and add the garlic cloves. Confit slowly over a low-medium heat for one and a half hours. Remove the duck. Keep the fat in the fridge for up to a month for roasting potatoes and vegetables.
2) Pick all of the meat from the carcass, discarding any gristle and bones, and shred into small pieces. Season the shredded meat with the cider brandy or brandy (if using), salt, pepper and orange zest, adjusting the quantities to taste.
3) Pack the shredded duck tightly into a suitably sized ceramic dish or into individual ramekins. Melt a little of the reserved fat and pour a thin layer on top of the rillette to seal it from the air. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
To make the cranberry sauce
1) Place a small saucepan with a lid on a medium heat. Rinse the cranberries then put them into the pan with 25ml of water. Place a lid on top for two minutes, remove the lid and stir. As the cranberries start to pop and release their goo, reduce the heat and add a pinch of salt and the nutmeg syrup (or maple syrup or honey if using). Stir until the cranberries break down a little more but hold a little shape.
2) Pour into a sterilised jam jar, keep in the fridge and use within a month.
To cook the duck breast
1) Season then sear the duck breasts, skin side down in a hot pan with a little light olive oil. When the fat has a good dark colour, flip them over and sear for a further minute. Remove from the heat if you like your meat rare, otherwise put into a preheated oven at 200c for 2 minutes for medium and 5 minutes for medium well. However, you like your meat allow to rest for five minutes. Slice thinly to serve.
Serve sharing platters of sliced rare duck breast alongside the duck rillettes, a pot of warm cranberry sauce and some wholemeal toast.
THE NATURAL COOK
For more of my world inspired seasonal recipes buy my book here.
SUBSCRIBELocal, Seasonal, Organic...
Sign up now and recieve a free recipe from the book!