For practical reasons we use only the duck breasts for this dish. These are readily available but if you are only able to buy a whole bird then keep the legs for a casserole or confit at a later date.
What you are looking for is a nice plump free-range bird. This will reward with a good layer of fat that keeps the meat moist and enhances the delicious crispy skin which we all desire when eating duck.
The breeds to look out for at your local farmers market, farm shop or butcher are Goosnargh, Aylesbury and Gressingham. The blackberries are an excellent counter-part to the fattiness of duck.
6 duck breasts (each weighing approximately 6oz or 180g)
Small quantity of butter
Few sprigs of thyme
30 ml / 1 fluid oz. sherry vinegar
60g / 2 fluid oz. honey
6 large ladles full of good quality chicken stock or even better homemade duck stock made using the carcasses and wing bones from your duck. (It is worth noting that any good butcher will be able to supply you with bones for stocks and will almost certainly cut them up for you to a more manageable size).
1 litre of white wine vinegar
250 ml water
500g caster sugar
5 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons of white peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
Put everything into a large pan bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then cover and leave to cool completely. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. My tip would be to make a lot as it will keep for ages.
When required, strain the pickling solution into clean glass jars and add the blackberries. Cover and refrigerate for at least a week before serving. Pickled blackberries can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.
I love pickling and we always have a pickling solution in the fridge at the Jack in the Green. It works wonders with baby Thai shallots, shitake mushrooms and cucumbers to name but a few. Replace the white wine vinegar with balsamic and it is great with onions too.
1). Pre heat the oven to 160/180°C.
2). Trim any excess fat and sinews from the underside of the duck breast and carefully remove the fillet. I find this only gets is in your way or falls off during cooking. (A good home for this is your stockpot – although not the fat).
3). Using a sharp knife score the skin in a criss cross fashion being careful not to cut into the meat. This not only looks attractive but helps to render the fat more thoroughly and ultimately give you that crispy skin.
4). Heat 1 large or 2 small heavy based frying pans over a moderate to high heat. (An overcrowded pan will lead to uneven heat distribution).
5). Season the duck well with plenty of salt and freshly milled pepper.
6). Place your duck in the pan skin side down and leave to colour nicely for about 2-3 minutes. When golden turn briefly and seal the other side for a minute.
7). Place skin side down and roast for 7-8 minutes for nice pink flesh, longer if your prefer.
8). Transfer to a warm plate and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
9). Put your pan over a high heat, add the wine and stir well to de-glaze. When the wine has become thick and syrupy add the stock, honey and sherry vinegar, bring to the boil and skim.
10). Reduce rapidly by approximately ½ (or until the desired sauce consistency is reached) to concentrate the flavours.
11). Carve the duck breasts into thick slices, skin side uppermost and place alongside some of the pickled blackberries. Spoon around your sauce and serve with some seasonal vegetables like Romanesque, wonderful buttery spinach and fondant potatoes.
Tip: As an alternative, try serving with oven roasted new potatoes like Anya or the Pink Fir variety; they have a wonderful nutty flavour and excellent texture just right for a dish such as this.