Alternative Christmas dinner ideas

Simon Hopkinson plans to veer off the traditional path this Christmas and, with dishes as delicious as these, who could blame him?

Roast duck with liver stuffing and best gravy (serves 4)

1 x 2kg Aylesbury duck [preferably], with giblets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 glass white wine
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
Half a chicken stock cube
1dspn redcurrant jelly
3tbspn Port
1tspn potato flour, or arrowroot

For the stuffing
25g butter—or duck fat if you have some
120g diced pancetta
1 onion, finely chopped
200g poultry livers (including the
saved duck liver, see below), finely chopped
1tbspn finely chopped sage leaves
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and plenty of black pepper
1tbspn each of Cognac and
200g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
2tbspn chopped parsley

Remove the giblets from inside the duck and, apart from the liver (this will be used in the stuffing recipe), roughly chop all of them, put them into a large saucepan and set aside. Place the duck upon an inverted bowl, or similar, and, within the confines of the sink, fully drench it all over and on both sides with boiling water poured directly upon it from the kettle. Hang up to dry use a kitchen/butcher’s hook for at least an hour, to dry.

Pre-heat the oven to 230˚C/gas mark 8.

Rub salt all over the duck’s skin, then grind plenty of pepper inside the cavity. Now, put the duck on a wire rack placed inside a roomy roasting tin and slide into the oven. Roast for 30 minutes and then turn the temp-erature down to 180˚C/gas mark 4. Roast for a further hour or so. No basting is required, but, as the fat runs from the duck into the roasting tin, periodically pour it off into a metal bowl (keep this fat to roast potatoes).

Once the roasting time is complete, remove the duck from the oven and allow to cool until warm and able to handle. Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing. Fry the pancetta in the butter/duck fat until golden, add the onion and cook both, slowly, until the onions have also gilded. Tip in the livers and sage, then quickly stir them in over a high heat, for no more than a minute or two. Decant the mixture into a roomy bowl and add the remaining ingredients, stirring all together well.

Tip into a greased baking tin (non-stick is best) and put to one side, to cook later.

Now, completely remove each half of the duck from its carcase using a small, sharp knife, keeping it close to the carcase as you work. Put the two duck halves back into the roasting tin (emptied of all traces of fat) and put to one side.

Using a large, heavy knife, roughly chop and crush the carcase and add to the duck giblets, together with the wine, vege-tables and herbs. Pour in water to just cover, adding the half stock cube, redcurrant jelly and Port.

Bring up to a simmer, remove any scum from the surface and quietly cook for about an hour. Strain the resultant stock through a fine sieve into a clean pan (discard the solids) and reduce by at least half or, at least, until well-flavoured and very ducky.

Slake the potato flour with a little water (or Port) and slowly add to the stock until syrupy and of a gravy consistency. Turn up the oven to 200˚C/ gas mark 6.

Return the duck halves to the top of the oven, together with the tin of stuffing (see above) and reheat for about 20–25 minutes or until the duck skin has become nicely crisp; you may flash them under a moderate grill, if you like, to aid final crisping. Carve into joints and hand round the gravy and stuffing at table. Serve with your favourite apple-sauce recipe, peas (I love tinned ones here!) and roast potatoes cooked in that collected duck fat.


Pear cake (serves 4—with plenty of seconds)

You will need a rectangular cake tin (or square or round, if you like), 20cm by 15cm by 5cm deep, not loose-bottomed

For the pears
6–7 large under-ripe pears, peeled,
halved lengthways and cored
150g sugar
Juice of 2 small lemons
50ml white wine

For the caramel
200g granulated sugar
Enough cold water to just cover
the sugar
For the cake
65g skinned almonds
65g skinned hazelnuts
100g plain flour, sifted
200g very soft salted butter
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
Finely grated rind of 1 large orange

Pre-heat the oven to 170˚C/gas mark 3.

Place the pears in a baking dish in almost one layer. Add sugar, lemon juice and wine. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about two hours, or until a beautiful pink colour and very tender.

Cool, then strain off the cooking syrup and reserve, either to reduce and pour over the cake or to use for something else. Note: the pears must be very well drained, even dabbed with kitchen paper before using
in the cake. Leave the oven switched on.

For the caramel, stir the sugar and water together in a small, heavy-based pan. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring to a boil. Once the caramel has become a dark mahogany, immediately tip into the cake tin; it’s worryingly hot, but try to rotate the cake tin so that the base and sides are evenly coated. Work quickly, then leave to cool for a few minutes. Now, cover the base of the tin with the pear halves, rounded side down, fitting them very tightly tog-ether. Set aside while you make the cake.

For the cake, grind the nuts in a food processor until coarse, then add the flour and process further until very fine. Beat the butter with the sugar and the orange rind in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy (for at least five minutes). Slowly add the eggs until fully incorpor-ated, then fold in the flour-
and-nut mixture.

Spoon the cake mixture over the pears and smooth the surface. Place the cake in the oven and bake for about 1½ hours, or until a skewer comes out clean after insertion.

Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the tin and turn out onto a serving dish. Serve warm, with very lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Simon Hopkinson is the founding chef and co-propietor of Bibendum restaurant, London

* More delicious recipes from Simon Hopkinson