Here in Ireland, we are such a bunch of hypocrites. We portray ourselves as being ruddy faced, outdoor types with knowledge that only someone born to wealthy working farmers could possess. We like people to believe we “know a fella” who can get us a poached salmon (uncooked poached that is) or a haunch of venison from “the Estate”, non, nod, wink, wink. When it comes to our feathered friends, a brace of pheasant or wild duck can always be had from “a lad I know”. This is mostly just tosh. Many of our better butchers now carry game in season and one only needs to pull on the wax jacket and green wellingtons to get from the car to the shopping centre.
Any butcher will tell you that our hypocrisy extends to the frequency of eating a bit of game. We may wax lyrical (pontificating while wearing a Barbour jacket) about partridge and a plum sauce or grouse roasted on a stick over an open fire. Very little of it sells well. I believe that is because few of us have half a clue as to how to cook wild game. Many are afraid of trying pheasant for fear of having something out of the ordinary. Wild duck is a complete stranger to the table. Maybe it’s the fear of biting into a bit of lead shot. They don’t know what they’re missing. Our game birds are a rare treat. However, they need to be cooked correctly. Wild duck can cook really dry. To avoid that, I stuffed these duck with a sausage meat stuffing. I also made a simple fruit sauce. The sauce is the real star here. It brings out the very best in the duck while providing a lovely contrast to the sausage meat stuffing.
- 2 wild mallard
- 500 gms good quality sausage meat
- 4 slices of Lardo or streaky bacon
- 1 large onion
- 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
- Black pepper to season
- 150 gms frozen strawberries
- 150 gms frozen raspberries
- 3 teaspoons of sugar
- Pinch of salt
- A glass of good red wine (a 2013 Fleurie in this case)
Side note on temperature: People more used to cooking wild duck may tut-tut at my approach to the temperature. Various guides suggest a safe internal temperature of around 73ºC/165ºF. Given that I was stuffing these with sausage meat, I calculated that by the time the centre of the sausage meat was cooked to a safe temperature of 63ºC/145ºF, all would be good with the duck as it is on the outside of the sausage meat. Anyway, I’m here to tell the tale so I reckon I got it right. Using a temperature probe helps. I removed the ducks from the oven when they were at 58ºC and let them rest. They went up to the required 63º while resting.
To make the stuffing, chop the onion into small pieces, mix together the onion, sausage meat, pepper and breadcrumbs.
Slice the Lardo (if using) and drape both the ducks with enough to help keep the breasts moist during cooking. A good Lardo will ad a nice bit to the flavour too.
Insert the temperature probe and let the ducks roast at 180ºC/350ºF until done. This will free you to get on with the sauce. It’s so easy and so tasty, you will thank me every time you prepare it. It really is the star of this dish.
Put the frozen fruits, sugar and wine into a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer while the alcohol evaporates and the fruit breaks down. Put the mixture through a sieve and into another saucepan. Reduce it to a nice thick consistency, tasting for balance between sweetness and the nice umami that the wine brings to the party.
Remove the ducks from the oven and let them rest for about fifteen minutes. Carve as best you can (they are small and difficult to do with any elegance). Serve them with oven roasted potatoes and some vegetables of your choice.
The combination of the rich duck, salty sausage stuffing and fruity sauce is a delight. It’s best appreciated with a glass of the wine used to make the sauce.
So, pull on your wax jacket and green wellingtons. Get into the 4X4 and go to your butcher. Buy the brace of duck (dressed and ready for the oven). Nip into the supermarket for the frozen fruits. Cook this dish and feel free to invite a country squire or even a suburbanite who will be impressed with your wild game prowess. Enjoy.