Mother’s Day carried particular significance this year, for obvious reasons. Although I have always known how special Marge is, and this knowledge and my admiration for her has deepened since her diagnosis, we all wanted to make that extra effort this Mothering Sunday to show Marge our gratitude for her past sacrifices, appreciation for her guidance and care and love for positive, warm disposition.
However, we were faced with a challenge. Mothering Sunday had fallen on the week following Marge’s chemo, and this time round recovery was definitely sluggishly dragging its feet. The nausea and fatigue were still obnoxiously making their presence felt so whilst many other Mums were being treated to champagne, afternoon tea, winter strolls and meals out, we could simply offer Marge an afternoon activity of cups of green tea in front of the tennis (thanks Andy Murray for giving us such entertaining viewing… much appreciated)!
Aside from the usual presents and cards, I knew that the best gift I could give Marge for Mother’s Day was a delicious meal that she could enjoy. Strangely (and thankfully), eating seems to dampen her nausea and so meals tend to be the highlight of her day, whatever she is eating. But today was a special day and called for a special recipe and the Guardian seemed to have the answer. Whilst chatting over newspapers and steaming fresh coffee on Saturday morning, we spotted what looked like the perfect recipe for a chilly Mothering Sunday – Thomasina Miers’ Slow-Braised Duck Legs with Seville Oranges, Star Anise and Savoy Cabbage.
Duck is not something we cook often in our family and that, combined with it’s rich, meaty flavour, make it seem like a rather grand and special treat, elevating the meal above the normal midweek meals. The combinations of flavours in this recipe – the rich fruitiness of the Madeira, dark, soft meat of the duck, sharpness of the orange and fiery heat of the ginger – work in complete harmony. This along with the occasional burst of subtle sweetness from the braised shallots, result in the most delightful, warming dish.
I served this, as Miers suggests, alongside a potato and celeriac mash. Deciding to combine the two vegetables into one side and one process did not go entirely to plan (in case you didn’t know celeriac will stubbornly refuse to make its way through a potato ricer) so if you were to do the same I would recommend using a masher to pummel the veg. You also need to add less milk/cream, as the celeriac carries more water than simply potato. But the final outcome was thoroughly enjoyable, as there is an added intrigue to a multi-textured mash, the chunks of celeriac offering a welcome break to the smooth, silky texture of the potato.
Unfortunately, our local supermarket did not stock Seville oranges, so I used the regular variety and completely cut out the sugar in the recipe – I don’t like my dishes too sweet and the oranges I used were already deliciously ripe and saccharine. However this is down to personal preference, although I (and Miers) recommend reducing the sugar if you aren’t able to get hold of the sharper Sevilles.
Duck, and waterfowl generally, are particularly good for fueling metabolic processes. They are rich in iron and B vitamins (duck can contain up to three times more iron than chicken). despite what many think, duck and goose have a similar fat profile to chicken and are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are also a good source of selenium, supporting a healthy immune system.
It is worth noting that, where possible, it is preferable to eat outdoor-bred, pasture-fed, organic meat as they contain lower levels of total fat and higher levels of healthy fats such as omega-3. They are also less prone to contamination with E.coli and other bacteria. This is particularly important for those going through chemotherapy, as the treatment weakens the immune system. Healthy animals = healthy meat.
Recipe: Slow-Braised Duck Legs with (Seville) Oranges, Star Anise and Savoy Cabbage
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 duck legs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 baby shallots, peeled
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 2 Seville oranges (or regular oranges), cut into slices, rind on
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 4 bay leaves
- 250ml dry oloroso sherry
- 2 star anise
- 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- ½ chicken stock cube dissolved in 300ml boiling water
- 1 savoy cabbage, cut in half, cored and cut into 12 wedges
- Heat the oven to 170˚C/gas 3/fan 160˚C. Heat the oil in a large casserole on a medium flame. Season the duck, lay it skin side down in the hot oil and brown well on both sides. Transfer the legs to a plate, then pour off most of the fat in the pan, leaving just a couple of tablespoons.
- Return the pot to the heat, add the shallots and garlic, and fry gently for five minutes, until golden.
- Lay the orange slices on top of the shallots, then throw in the herbs and sit the duck legs on top. Add the sherry, star anise, sugar and ginger, then enough stock to come two-thirds of the way up the meat. Season generously, bring up to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven for 45 minutes.
- Remove the lid, tuck the cabbage under the legs, so it’s submerged in stock with the duck sitting on top, then return, uncovered, to the oven for a further 45 minutes, until the duck is golden and falling off the bone and the cabbage is very tender.
- Lift out and discard the orange slices. Serve the legs astride a spoonful of mash (potato and/or celeriac) with a pile of cabbage and spoonfuls of the fragrant sauce.