We were invited to dinner yesterday, (the 22nd of March to be exact), to our friend’s house, and I told my friend Celine that of course we would come, but that I had to bring a duck. “But I have a chicken”, she said. I told her that this duck had to be cooked because I had promised a friend that I would cook it as a token to him to honor the 30th anniversary of his mother’s death.
A surprise of sweet crocuses amidst the rubble of winter
I feel the passage of time acutely when there is an anniversary of a significant event. The ritual of remembrance of that exact day and time of an event, brings the thing that happened back in a way that makes you feel close to that day all over again. It is on this date that we acknowledge that person or occasion anew, and usually try to do something to honor the day and make it special. It can be happy or sad, or a mixture of both depending on the importance of the milestone and how long ago it happened.
The river Barrow flowing through Milford, County Carlow (where I’m from)
I was reminded that the 22nd of March was special to, and by, a very old and dear friend. Some of us would not talk about our very first “real boyfriend” like this, but I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t cringe with regret and mortification when I think back to my first real attempt at a relationship. Suffice is to say that decades later, (I gulp when I think how many) I am the better for still knowing him. Perhaps living on two different continents doesn’t hurt either (that was a joke!)
Roast Duck with Sage and Bread Stuffing
He told me in an email ten days earlier that the 22nd was the 30th anniversary of his mother Margo’s death. I could tell it was a date he had on his mind and he told me that he and his siblings were going to do something special together in her memory. This is such a lovely and wonderful thing that we humans do for our dead. We remember them. When my kids tell me (and it sounds morbid when I say this out loud, but really it doesn’t feel like that) that they will miss me when I am gone, I always say, “I will miss you too” I really mean it, and perhaps when I am dead, and my children get together to think about me specifically for a few hours, it will feel like happiness is in the air for all of us.
First foal of the year in Mount Juliet’s Ballylinch Stud. (photo by Dave, who loves horses and the Horse Races!)
So yesterday, when Dave and his family were together to remember “Mum” I was trying to tie myself to the moment in a very small way by cooking something that Dave said he would like me to cook if he ever popped over for dinner. Okay – I roasted a duck and I was nervous about the whole thing because I really wanted it to turn out delicious. It is easy to mess up roasted fowl, as people tend to dry it out by being nervous about undercooked meat. So, I went extremely traditional and by the book. It worked.
Winter Woods in Thomastown, the place Dave lives (photo by Dave )
I thought about the fact that Dave’s mother may have cooked duck and thought about how she might have gone about it. Thinking about that made me remember that one night I had cooked something quite “game-y’ in her kitchen, a hare, that was a complete disaster. I remember being freaked out about the wildness of it all, and the strong smell in the kitchen. I was more used to the ordinary “farmer” diet of beef and pork. Dave’s house had the air of the “gentleman farmer” about it, mainly because his brother went out regularly to shoot things like pheasant and other birds that were not chickens! I also remember opening the fridge one time and seeing a giant cow tongue sitting on a dinner plate. Yes, I was full sure that duck may well have been an ordinary dish in Mrs. Donohue’s house.
A peek at the gardens of Mount Juliet (where those lucky horses live!)
I figured that stuffing it with a simple sage and bread stuffing and then roasting it would be the most appropriate. In trying to stay traditional, I took the neck, giblets, kidneys and heart and made a stock from which I made the gravy. After it came out of the oven and rested, it was the moment of truth. I tasted the meat with a little stuffing and a little swipe of gravy, and, it was amazing; tender, juicy and not a bit of the wildness that may have made me winch and remember that God-awful hare I cooked decades earlier. I brought it over to our friend’s house and as we ate and I thought about the significance of the day, I hoped that there was an extra bit of happiness in the air, just for sweet Margo.
You will need:
for the bird and stock:
1 5 lb duck (save innards for stock)
1 medium carrot – diced
1 medium onion – quartered
1 small celery rib – sliced
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 or 5 black pepper corns
3 tbs unsalted butter
1 sm onion – finely diced
1 tbs fresh sage leaves – finely chopped
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tbs freshly ground black pepper
2 cups breadcrumbs
for the gravy:
3 tbs unsalted butter
3 tbs all-purpose flour
21/2 cups duck stock (or canned chicken stock if you are not making the stock form the duck giblets).
salt and black pepper to taste
*If you are going to make stock from the innards for your gravy, you need to do this step 3 hours earlier (maybe in the morning, or the night before, or just put it on 4 hours before you plan to serve)*
1 – Put the innards from the duck, onion, carrot, celery rib and peppercorns into a saucepan and cover with water (about 3 cups). Bring to a slow boil and cover with lid. Turn heat down to a simmer for about 3 hours.
Make stock for gravy
2 – Strain stock through a fine sieve and reserve the stock for making gravy.
stain solids from liquid
Preheat the oven to 350* (180 celsius).
1 – Put butter in saute pan on medium heat and add onions. Cook for about 7 minutes.
cook onions in butter
2 – Add sage and cook for another minute before adding the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Stir everything together and transfer to a bowl and place in fridge to get cold.
sage and bread stuffing
3 – When stuffing is cold, wash and dry the duck and place in snug roasting pan. Stuff the bird with the sage and bread stuffing and tie the legs together loosely with kitchen string.
stuff and truss duck
4 – Place in oven for 1 hour and 50 minutes. Halfway through cooking baste the bird with the collected juices and fat and continue to cook for the remainder of the time. Remove from the oven and rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Rest cooked duck for 20 minutes before carving
Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary..
1 – Put a saute pan on medium heat and melt the butter. Add the flour and mix to a paste. Cook for about 30 seconds before adding the stock 1 cup at a time. Stir and cook until the gravy thickens. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. *When I tasted my stock, I thought it tasted a bit bland so I added about 1/2 a good quality bouillon cube to my gravy, which added the layer of flavor I was looking for. Just letting you know so you can “doctor” your gravy up until you get it right.
Serve the duck, stuffing and gravy with whatever you want: mashed potatoes and a green vegetable like peas or green beans, or serve with another starch like pasta and some sautéed greens such as spinach or kale.
The river Nore, Thomastown (photo by Dave)