Friday, 27 May 2011

M is for... Mandarin-stuffed mallards with a Madeira, maple, mandarin and marjoram reduction, served with mange-tout and mash

After M night's detour to that most British of British dishes: mutton stew (though I did stick a bouquet garni in it, does that count?), I wanted to return to the loosely Frenchified theme of the night with magret de mallard - in English: mallard breasts. I ordered them from The Wild Meat Company and I was excited! I waited in for them to be delivered for a whole day. And then I waited the next day. Then I waited some more. And after waiting a little longer still, I stopped waiting and started to panic. I rang The Wild Meat Company who apologised, but said there was very little they could do about it now that my meat was in the hands of the delivery company. They gave me a tracking code that didn't work and it became abundantly apparent that there was very little I could do about it either. Except that I could hope for the best and... wait. Great.

Well bugger that, I thought, I can't get on with anything until I've at least got a plan B in place and anyway, I thought, if the meat arrives now, it will probably have gone off, having been left out of the fridge for a considerable length of time. I rang the usual suspects, Moens and Chadwicks, but they couldn't get any mallard in for me that day. I rang Allens of Mayfair, who had run out. I rang the meat departments of all the overpriced poshy toshy stores - Fortnum and Mason, Harrods and Harvey Nic's. Nothing. Sacrebleu!

I wasn't very happy with The Wild Meat Company at this point and told Richard in no uncertain terms that they were clearly a bunch of idiot holes for using such an unreliable delivery service. Richard, as is Richard's wont, tried to see it from a different, more reasonable perspective - "we have an annoying and archaic vehicle gate system...." and  "maybe the van came, but couldn't get in". Blah blah blah. I wasn't having any of it.  I'm not proud, but I think I even stamped my foot.  I'd already tried to buy moose meat and failed. It's impossible to get hold of in this country apart from in ready made meatballs in IKEA and I even read somewhere (though alas, I have since lost the link) that moose meat is only legal to consume if you have actually hunted and killed it yourself. I really hope that's true. Either way, a quick trip to Finland or Alaska seemed a little de trop. And who knows what kind of troubles I'd have had with customs even if I had gone to that kind of effort.

There was nothing else for it but to go to Borough Market and if I still had no luck (which I didn't expect to at this time of day), perhaps it really was time to admit defeat. I just had to quickly pop into Waitrose on the way first, to pick a couple of bits up...

... And there they were! Looking magnificent, drawing me towards them with what seemed like a magnetic ray of transcendental light: mallards! Loads of the buggers! And on offer too! Oh, Waitrose, I really do love you. I don't care if people think you're too middle class for your own good. I don't care if people say Sainsbury's is cheaper (I have looked into this and have found little evidence to support it). I love you! I love your well oiled trolleys, your wide aisles and helpful staff. I love your ethical sensibilities and your calming spring green colour scheme. I think you're top and I thank you, deeply and sincerely from the bottom of my heart, for stocking mallards. You saved M day! 

Obviously I'd have preferred it, Waitrose, if you had stocked magret de mallard instead of just the whole birds, but I also understand that, in this life, we can't expect to have everything. Can we.

But it all worked out rather well, instead of just making a mandarin, marjoram and Madeira sauce, I stuffed the birds with the fruits too and then added a little maple syrup to the sauce, just for an extra touch of earthy sweetness.

A couple of weeks later, a package arrived from The Wild Meat Company. It was the mallard breasts I'd ordered and it was decidedly whiffy. The instructions for delivery and the nature of the contents could not have been more explicit. It really wasn't The Wild Meat Co.'s fault at all but still they gave me an immediate refund. Good. I have used them since and their meat was delicious and it seems they have now changed to a more reliable delivery service. Excellent. 

Madeira, maple, mandarin and marjoram sauce

1 onion, chopped
1 pint duck/chicken stock
1 pint Madeira
The zest and juice of 2 mandarins
A generous bunch of marjoram
Salt and pepper
A splash of maple syrup
The juices from the roast mallards

Place the onion and stock in a saucepan over a medium heat and leave to simmer until reduced by half. Top up with the Madeira, mandarin zest and juice and marjoram and leave to simmer again until reduced by half again. Tip in the juices from your roasted mallards (below), a splash of maple syrup and season to taste. Reduce again by half and strain the sauce through a sieve into a warm jug or gravy boat.

Mandarin-stuffed mallards

Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C Fan)

4 mallards
8 mandarins
Salt and pepper

Generously season the cavity of the birds, pop a knob of butter into each and stuff them tightly with mandarins. Rub more butter over the skin and season again. Place the mallards on a baking tray and stick them in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Take the birds out of the oven and leave to rest and catch the juices to add to the sauce.


It feels somewhat ridiculous to write down a recipe for mashed potatoes, but having watched several thousand episodes of Come Dine With Me where I've witnessed people do all manner of strange things to make mash, I thought I'd put my tuppence worth in on the matter. My only real point of note is to use a masher. That's what they're for. Don't stick cooked potatoes in a Magimix and don't use an electric stick blender. OK, you'll definitely get the lumps out, but you'll also be left with a gloopy, gluey and sorry excuse for mashed potatoes and not the soft, buttery and fluffy plate of heaven you should expect. As for the milk or cream debate - I tend to use milk for an everyday meal but cream when a bit of extra indulgence feels necessary. White pepper or black? I really couldn't care less, but if you don't want to spoil its pure creamy colour with speckles of ground black pepper, I suggest you go white. Other than that, you can do what you like with it - add a dollop of mustard, horseradish or even stir in some cheese, but I mostly prefer my mash simple and unadulterated.

1 kg of potatoes (King Edwards or Maris Pipers are always a good bet)
A generous knob of butter
A generous glug of double cream
Salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Place them in a big saucepan of salted boiling water and cook until soft. Drain the spuds place them back in empty pan, add the butter and cream and mash until smooth. Season to taste and serve.


No tips here, just steam and salt then top with a knob of butter if you like.

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