Black is the new red: Mark Hix gets creative with dark berries
Forget strawberries and raspberries – the darker berries are a far more sophisticated and versatile fruit to put on your menu.
Dark berries never seem to be quite as popular as bright red strawberries and raspberries. I admit they aren't naturally as sweet and juicy, but that does have its advantages and enables them to bring a bit more flexibility to your menu planning.
For example, you wouldn't use strawberries or raspberries with game or duck, but blueberries, blackcurrants and elderberries are delicious with these savoury dishes – and if you can get your hands on blaeberries or bilberries, even better.
Wild duck and blackcurrant salad
Blackcurrants aren't everyone's favourite berry as they are a bit of an acquired taste. Yet the richness of wild duck, or farmed duck, works a treat with blackcurrants – either hot in a sauce, or like this in a salad.
If you haven't got a local game dealer you can order your birds by post from blackface.co.uk. You may need one or two wild ducks, depending on whether you're eating this salad as a main course or starter.
2 oven-ready wild ducks
A couple of good knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100-150g small salad leaves and herbs, gently washed and dried
For the dressing
1tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar, such as cabernet sauvignon
4tbsp walnut or hazelnut oil
40-60g blackcurrants, cleaned
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Rub the ducks with a little butter and season. Roast for 25-30 minutes, keeping them nice and pink. Leave them to rest.
Remove the breasts from the ducks, then remove the legs and cut away all the meat and shred into largish pieces. Mix the vinegar and oil together, season and add the blackcurrants; you can crush a few of the blackcurrants into the dressing with a fork if you wish to intensify it.
To serve, slice the breast thinly, toss the leaves with the dressing and shredded leg, season and arrange on plates. Arrange the pieces of duck breast on top.
Hedgerow and apple salad
A fruit salad is always a great way to end a meal and much easier than dishing up your guests a fancy dessert that may not turn out quite as it looks in the recipe book. You can use a selection of whatever dark berries are available and even use some elderberries.
500-600g dark berries like blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, elderberries
200ml apple juice
2 crisp dessert apples
Put 50g of the berries in a saucepan with the sugar and the apple juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve, lightly pushing some of the berries through with the back of a spoon to give the sauce a bit of texture. Leave to cool. Stand the apple on its end and with a sharp knife, cut thin slices towards and around the core; then cut the slices into thin batons.
To serve, mix the berries together with the apple and arrange on individual plates or a single serving bowl and pour the sauce over.
Perry (fermented pear juice) seems to be taking off again and rightly deserves a place in a cocktail glass. A perfect partnership and a recent invention is this refreshing pre-dinner or pre-anything cocktail using these great blackcurrants in cassis, made by Hilditch in Herefordshire (britishcassis.co.uk).
It's a bit of a take on our house cocktail, the Hix Fix, which uses Julian Temperley's cherries in his apple eau de vie mixed with Nyetimber sparkling wine from Kent.
20 or so blackcurrants and 8 teaspoons of the cassis
500ml, or more if you wish, of chilled perry
Spoon the blackcurrants and liquid into 4 champagne coupes or similar and top up with the chilled perry.
Blueberry and borage jelly
Lots of gardens have borage growing and I think most people don't even use it. The pretty little blue flowers traditionally would have been used in Pimm's, but over the years all sorts of fruit and veg have found their way into the summer cocktail. And borage complements the blueberries in this jelly perfectly.
50g caster sugar
4 sheets leaf gelatine
350ml clear apple juice
30 or so borage flowers
Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for 3-4 minutes until soft; remove and squeeze out the water. Meanwhile, bring 100ml of water to the boil, add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then remove from the heat and stir in the gelatine leaves until fully dissolved.
Add the Pimm's and apple juice then half fill 4 individual jelly moulds, or one large one, with the jelly liquid and stir in half of the blueberries and borage flowers. Put in the fridge for an hour or so to set, then top up with the rest of the blueberries and borage flowers and unset jelly. This allows the berries to stay suspended and not float to the top. Return to the fridge for an hour or so. Turn out, and serve.
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