Divine duck: Mark Hix cooks with the most succulent of birds

It's the perfect ingredient with which to create these warming winter dishes.

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Now that the feathered game season is behind us, it's time to make good use of other tasty birds that we have access to all the year round. The standard of British duck farming has improved immensely over the years and gone are the days when ducks were only available as fatty, skinny specimens.

There are an awful lot of dishes you can create with a duck, and the carcass also makes a great hearty broth. You don't need to buy a whole duck as most good butchers and supermarkets sell legs, breasts and livers separately.

Honey-roast duck with flowering chives and black fungus

Serves 4

4 duck breasts
2tbsp clear honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40-50g Chinese black fungus, soaked in cold water for 2 hours
40-50g Chinese flowering chives, cut into 5-6cm lengths or 4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the angle
tbsp corn oil

For the dressing

1 shallot, peeled, halved, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled, finely chopped
A small piece of root ginger (30g), scraped and finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, peeled, crushed
4-5cm piece of celery, finely chopped
a red chilli, seeded, finely chopped
tbsp finely chopped ends of flowering Chinese chives (optional)
2tbsp tomato ketchup
tbsp Kecap Manis soy sauce
1tsp balsamic vinegar
50-60ml vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
tbsp chopped coriander

At least 4-5 hours before, whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing, season lightly and leave to infuse in a covered bowl. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the black fungus into 2-3cm chunks, place in a pan of lightly salted water and simmer for 20 minutes, then drain.

Season the duck, heat an ovenproof frying pan on the stove and cook with the breast down for 3-4 minutes on a medium to high heat until the fat begins to come out of the skin. Turn the duck over to seal the flesh side for a minute then turn over again, spoon the honey over and cook in the oven for 5 minutes, keeping the breasts pink. Leave to rest on a plate for a few minutes. To serve, heat the corn oil in a pan, toss the flowering chives and black fungus for a minute to warm through and wilt the chives; season. Slice each duck breast into 8 slices. Spoon the dressing on to the centre of warmed serving plates, lay the duck on top, skin side up; scatter the chives and fungus over.

Duck bitoks

Serves 4

Bitoks are a kind of Russian patty-cum-meatball and are served with sour cream. The minced meat from a duck leg is perfect for this; ask your butcher to do this or mince it yourself.

2 large or 4 small duck legs, boned, skin reserved and the flesh coarsely minced
4 shallots, peeled, halved, and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A handful of small salad leaves and herbs
Sour cream to serve (optional)

For the dressing

tbsp white wine vinegar
tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp olive oil

Mix the duck meat with the shallots and season to taste. Mould into 8 flat patties (a pastry cutter is useful for this). Refrigerate until required. Cut the skin into half a cm wide strips, place in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 5 minutes and drain. Dry well on some kitchen paper then heat a cm or so of oil in a saucepan and fry the skins until crisp, moving them around in the pan so they crisp evenly. Be careful as they do have the tendency to splatter a bit. Remove from the oil, drain on some kitchen paper and season with salt.

To serve, heat a heavy frying pan or ribbed griddle pan and lightly oil it and cook the bitoks for a couple of minutes on each side. Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar, mustard and olive oil together and toss in with the salad leaves and crispy skin. Arrange the salad on serving plates with the bitoks and serve the sour cream on the side.

Slow-roast duck leg with bashed neeps and haggis

Serves 4

I know Burns Night has passed but there is still plenty of haggis in the shops so there is no harm in a little late nod to Robbie Burns. We use haggis from Weatherall Foods (blackface.co.uk) which is as good as you can get; otherwise, McSweens is a commonly sold one that works equally as well.

4 duck legs
1 small peeled swede, cut into 3cm chunks
A couple of good knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g haggis, cut into rough 1-2cm chunks

For the whisky sauce

2-3 large shallots, peeled, finely chopped
A good knob of butter
1tsp flour
100ml whisky
500ml beef stock
1tsp cornflour mixed with water if needed

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. With the point of a sharp knife, remove the thigh bone from the duck, keeping the flesh intact, and chop the bone just below the drumstick joint. Chop off the knuckle then pack the legs into a fairly tight-fitting ovenproof pan, tucking the thigh meat neatly underneath. Season the legs and cook for one and a half hours in the oven then drain off any fat and save it for roast potatoes. Turn the oven up to 220C/gas mark 7 and crisp the legs up for about 15 minutes.

While the duck is cooking make the sauce and neeps. Cook the shallots in the butter on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour then gradually stir or whisk in the whisky and the beef stock and simmer until the sauce has reduced by about half and thickened. Continue simmering until the sauce has a good flavour; stir in enough of the cornflour mix if required. Meanwhile, cook the swede in lightly salted water until tender; drain. Mash coarsely, mix in the butter and haggis; season and keep warm. Spoon the neeps and haggis into the centre of warmed serving plates, drain the duck on kitchen paper, place on top; spoon the sauce around.

Creamed polenta with duck livers and vincotto

Serves 4 as a starter

Soft polenta is perfect with meaty dishes with a sauce. Vincotto is a condiment you can find in good Italian delis and is produced in the Apulia region in southern Italy, made by simmering local wine until it's thick and syrupy. You could use wine or port instead.

250-300g duck livers, cleaned
A tablespoon of olive oil for frying
A good knob of butter
1tsp flour
2 large shallots, peeled, finely chopped
120ml chicken stock
60ml vincotto

For the polenta

750ml milk
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
75g quick-cooking polenta
100ml double cream
75g freshly grated Parmesan

Make the polenta. Bring the milk to the boil in a pan, then add the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Simmer for 5 minutes; whisk in the polenta. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the pan. Add the cream and Parmesan; cook for a further 5 minutes; cover and keep warm.

While the polenta is cooking, season the livers, heat a frying pan with the olive oil and fry them for a couple of minutes on each side, keeping them pink. Put to one side. Melt a third of the butter in the pan, add the shallots and cook for a minute on a low heat. Add the flour, gradually stir in the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a clean saucepan, add the vincotto and simmer for a couple more minutes; stir in the livers and any juices. To serve, spoon the polenta on to serving plates and place the livers and sauce on top.