British duck is back in favour, thanks in part to the thriving cottage industry in the Lancashire village of Goosnargh, where one producer has made the name famous for its lean, meaty ducklings. Allan Pickett at Plateau, in London's Canary Wharf, takes Michael Raffael through his recipe for duck breast with confit, foie gras and endive
Goosnargh duckling" isn't a breed; it's a process identified with one Lancashire farm, Johnson and Swarbrick, near Preston. Demand has grown from a few birds per week, produced for local chefs such as Paul Heathcote and Nigel Haworth, into a significant cottage industry. The hatchery delivers day-old ducklings. Eight weeks later they are ready for slaughter, hanging and delivery.
These aren't birds that dabble in duck-ponds; they are housed in barns. They receive a protein-rich diet designed to increase the yield of meat. Their rations may include either wheat or maize. Of the two, the corn-fed ducklings fetch a small premium.
Their lives are no shorter than those of the Aylesbury ducks, famous from the 18th until the mid-20th centuries. At two months old they start to moult. The process of growing new feathers affects the skins, making plucking much more difficult. This continues to about 14 weeks, by which time the birds will be too large for the market.
The Goosnargh is leaner and meatier than the traditional "fat duck" and better for it. It isn't free range, but neither were the original Aylesbury ducklings. These lived indoors with the farmers who reared them. Duckers, as they were known, kept them away from water and they were only given one swim just before going to be sold so as to improve their appearance.
When Escoffier worked in London in the early 1900s, a roast duck served two portions. It was a rule of thumb that didn't alter until the latter half of the century. Lean meat then averaged out at 20% of drawn carcass weight.
With the shift to plated service, British duck slipped off chefs' radar. Two by-products of the foie gras industry: magrets (breasts) and legs for confits took its place.
Goosnargh ducklings have provided a home-grown alternative. They have a higher meat-to-bone ratio and less fat than the commercial ducks (developed from the Pekin breed) that replaced the Aylesbury. At the same time they are easier to portion (about 220g breasts, 275g bone-in legs) than the mulards, large French birds. Arguably, they are more tender and less fibrous. Hanging post-slaughter at 5°C also improves the eating quality.
Dry-plucked and waxed, the skin has a crisp finish when roasted. Wet-plucking is a more serious problem for ducklings than for chickens. Even a confit finished in a hot oven will probably be tacky rather than brittle.
At D&D's Plateau on the fourth floor of 4 Canada Place, Canary Wharf, chef Allan Pickett serves the confit legs in the Grill and the breasts on his à la carte or tasting menus. The breast size, 220g makes an ideal portion by itself or two when combined with foie gras.
Supplier contact: Johnson and Swarbrick 01772 865251 email@example.com
â- 1 duckling (about 2.5kg oven-ready): £9.10.
â- The breasts feature in the restaurant (four portions). Partnered with a 50g escalope of foie gras they sell for £18.50 per portion.
â- The legs are confited and sell in the Grill £12.50 per portion.
â- Selling price per duckling: £99.
â- Gross profit: about 73% after other ingredients are included.
Cut off the winglets. Cut off the "parson's nose". Remove the wishbone as you would on a chicken. It has a bit more gristle where it attaches to the carcass.
Hold the leg away from the breast and cut through the skin. Bend back the leg against the joint to dislocate it.
Cut around the oyster of meat attached to the carcass and remove the leg. Repeat with the second leg.
Keeping the knife tight against the carcass remove first one and then the other breast with the flaps of skin from the neck attached.
Slice off any residual fat on the back of the carcass and keep it to be rendered. Take out any soft kidney fat left inside the carcass.
Cut off the wings without damaging the breasts. Trim the breasts, but leave a layer of skin over them. Reserve all the trimmings for rendering.
Lay the breasts skin-side down. Remove the fillets. Trim the gristle at the plump end of each fillet. Chill.
Trim the legs for confit.
For a 2.4kduckling â- Two breasts pre-trim 960g; two breasts post-trim 450g
â- Two legs bone-in for confit 550g (approx)
â- Duck skin and fat for rendering 590g (approx)
â- Carcass 490g (approx)
â- Other: 2 wings
GOOSNARGH DUCK BREAST, CARAMELISED ENDIVE, SEARED FOIE GRAS
1 x 220g duck breast
Salt and pepper
5ml neutral oil
2 x 50g escalopes of foie gras
6 nuggets confit (from the wings if you've used them)
2 pieces caramelised endive
6 slices pickled radish
30g onion purée
2tbs port reduction
Coriander cress and bronze fennel leaves
Score the skin with a series of shallow diagonal cuts. Season the breasts both sides.
Heat the oil in a pan. Sear the breast skin-side down. When the skin starts browning, turn over the breast and sear it for a for few seconds. Transfer to a medium oven (175Â°C) and roast for 7-8 minutes. Take out of the oven and rest for at least five minutes before plating. While the breast is resting, fry the foie gras on the griddle till both sides are caramelised (13) and season with rock salt.
To serve, split the breast along its length and put it on the plate. Put the caramelised endive and foie gras beside it. Finish with hot onion purée, slices of pickled mooli, port reduction and the coriander cress and bronze fennel.
2004 Macchiona, La Stoppa Rivegaro (Emilia Romagna) from wine maker Elena Panteleoni. 50/50 Barbera-Bonarda, Suolo e Salute unfiltered organic wine. Juicy, quite tannic, good acidity. Selling price: £8.50 per glass; £39 per bottle at Plateau from Les Caves de Pyrene firstname.lastname@example.org
Caramelised endive Halve endives and remove the thick core at the bottom. Vac-pack them with orange juice and brown chicken stock and poach in a water bath till tender. To caramelise, drain a piece and fry it in butter.
Brown onion purée Stew sliced onions with garlic cloves to taste till they are very soft and brown. Add a touch of double cream, season, blend, pass and store in a squeezy bottle.
Radish pickled in red wine Slice mooli rings wafer-thin on a Japanese mandolin and cook slowly in red wine with a little salt and sugar till they turn pink (30 minutes).
Port reduction Reduce 1.5 litres jellied brown chicken stock with 500ml port to about 250ml.
allan pickett's duck confit
Rendering duck fat Put 5kg trimmings in a pan with two litres of water and, optionally, a little garlic and thyme. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer very gently till the fat has rendered and is clear. Cool and strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
Seasoning salt Blend 200g rock salt with a head of garlic, three sprigs of thyme and rosemary until it's crumbly.
20 duckling legs
220g seasoning salt
4kg melted duck fat
500ml dry white wine
Pack the legs in layers skin-side down. Sprinkle the seasoning salt over the flesh. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Rinse the legs under running water. Drain for five minutes in a colander and pat dry.
Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan. Pour over duck fat and wine to cover the legs. Put a cartouche of greaseproof on top. Bake for two hours at 150Â°C until the meat is quite tender.
Storage: cool, shake off excess fat and lay on cling-filmed tray skin-side down. Remove the bones now before chilling if your customers prefer it. Reheat in a hot oven to crisp the skin.
Tips and Tricks
â- To test the plumpness of the meat, squeeze the breast behind the wing where it's thickest.
â- Cut out the wishbone - it's less flexible than a chicken's.
â- The silvery gristle on the breast needs paring. It reduces tenderness.
â- Score the skin on the breast with a series of parallel cuts. They stop it contracting.
â- For confit, pack legs skin-side down and sprinkle salt on the flesh so the seasoning penetrates it.
â- Make confit with the wings as you do with the legs.
For somebody so obviously media friendly, Allan Pickett is self-effacing. He's happier talking about his debt to Chris Galvin or his perceived failure at the Gavroche (he left after seven months when a junior commis) than about his obvious achievements. He took over the kitchens at Plateau in 2010 after two years as executive chef at the Aviator hotel Farnborough.
The move brought him back to D&D (formerly Conran Restaurants), for which he had worked at Bluebird, Aurora and twice at Orrery (it held a Michelin star when he was chef in 2007).
He left there to work for the brothers Galvin at their newly opened Bistrot de Luxe. It reinforced his rooted admiration for French bourgeois cuisine. He also learnt how to manage the pounds and pence in a modern restaurant kitchen: "Nobody has taught me how to make money as well as Chris did."
Now in his thirties he's flexing his muscles, confident that he's delivering for employers and heading into his prime as a creative force on the London scene.