DEB has long been convinced that the first meal anyone should learn to cook is roast chicken. It's simple, it's delicious, and she is yet to encounter a meat-eater who objects to the moist and succulent flesh and crispy golden skin of a roasted chicken.
However, if duck were more affordable, she would doubtless revise this statement to 'everyone should learn to roast a duck.' Duck is, in her opinion, even more delicious and likely even harder to get wrong than roast chicken. Sadly, duck is about twice the price of chicken and therefore reserved for special occasions.
Midwinter seemed to count for a special occasion enough for the London Booze Monkeys to have a duck, and being midwinter it seemed rude to shun the traditional partner for duck: orange. Oranges are, after all, in season at midwinter. Those who were not of the duck-eating persuasion were treated to a seasonal nut roast: almond, orange, and apricot. The nut roast was prepared in advance, meaning that the entire process was remarkably relaxed, even accounting for people turning up late. No one complained, but then it is possible that this was due to us all being drunk as skunks.
Ingrediments for four meat-eaters and four vegetarians
- The duck
- 1 duck, free-range and organic for preference, weighing about 2.5kg (5lb)
- 1 orange, halved
- 1 medium-sized onion, quartered
- salt and pepper
- The gravy
- 2 oranges, peeled and cut into pith-free segments
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- 500ml (1 pint) vegetable stock (if you don't have any vegetarians at the table, by all means use meat stock, preferably stock made from the giblets that came with the duck)
- salt and pepper
- The duck
- We began by calling our duck Jemima.
- Preheat the oven to 220° Celsius.
- If your duck is trussed, untruss it and clean out the cavity, removing any gobbets of fat (these can be rendered down for roasting potatoes another day) and cutting off the parson's nose. Dry off the duck using kitchen paper and then prick the skin all over with a skewer or the point of a knife. Try not to pierce the flesh, just the skin, as these holes will help to release the fat lying beneath the skin as the bird cooks.
- Season the bird inside and out, and stuff the cavity with the onion and orange.
- Place the bird on a roasting rack if you have one — it's no matter if you don't, but it will make your life easier — in a roasting pan and place in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, remove the duck and baste with the fat that would have collected in the bottom of the pan. (If you want to roast some of the potatoes in the duck fat, either add your parboiled potatoes to the pan now, or pour off the fat into another pan to roast them.) Return it to the oven and lower the temperature to 180° Celsius. Cook the duck at this lower temperature for about one hour and ten minutes, or until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced.
- Remove the duck from the oven and allow it to rest, tented with foil, for 20 minutes. (You can then turn up the temperature in the oven to give your roast potatoes the requisite crispy finish, and don't forget to reheat the nut roast, either.) Then, and only then, can you carve it.
- The nut roast
- If you can, make it in advance, it'll make your life so much easier. Begin by soaking the apricots in the alcohol or orange juice, leaving them for as long as possible to absorb the liquid.
- Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius.
- Fry the onion in the butter over a medium heat for five minutes, or until glassy. Then add the celery and carrot and cook, uncovered, for ten minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the almonds, eggs, apricots, orange zest, seasoning, and the cooked vegetables. Last of all, add the cheese. Fear not should the mixture appear a sloppy goo: that's what you want.
- Pour the mixture into a greased 500gram (1lb) loaf tin. Bake until golden brown and firm in the centre, which will take between 40 minutes and an hour. Do keep watch on it, though: dried out nut roast is what gives nut roasts a bad name. (If you do cook it in advance, it can be reheated for ten minutes in a hot oven.)
- The gravy
- Just after you've put the duck in the oven, you can make the gravy. Place the orange segments, sugar, vinegar, and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and allow to cook to over a gentle flame until they become a thick syrup. Then add the stock, season to taste, and allow it to bubble gently until you have a thick and luscious gravy. If you need to thicken it towards the end of cooking, so be it, but it probably won't be necessary.
So that's how to roast a duck, and feed people who don't eat meat. You might want to serve it with some vegetables, too. We had roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, butternut squash and carrot puree, and peas. And a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, obviously.