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In the textbooks, this dish is generally known as Canard Montmorency, not in homage to the dog in Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat but in recognition of the excellent cherries from the town of that name. Montmorency has long been subsumed into the northern suburbs of Paris, and its cherries are a distant memory, but happily the variety has travelled well and is much grown in the US and Canada. Though a bright red, these cherries are surprisingly tart, and it is the sweet and sour element that gives them their special affinity with the richness of roast duck. Should this sort of cherry not be available, a cook with low cunning can compensate with a splash of vinegar.

Colour in cherries is highly deceptive. I was reminded of this when I bought these cherries at the weekend. I was driving down to visit my sister in Sussex when a sign alerted me to “CHERRIES FOR SALE, NEXT LAY-BY”. I pulled in and selected a couple of pounds – metrification did not appear to have arrived as yet at this little corner of the South Downs. The cherries were two varieties, one purporting to be Kentish and a bright red, the other a darker variety from Sussex. In this case, the brighter cherries were sweeter; I presented these to my sister and took the others back home, knowing their sharper tone would suit my darker purpose.

You don’t see a roast duck in restaurants these days, and supermarkets have followed suit, offering duck breasts and legs more often than a whole duck. This is partly due to the belief that a leg should be served very well done and the breast quite rare. That’s all very well but a good roast duck, cooked medium, the breast still slightly pink and the leg a similar hue, has an integrity and flavour the deconstructed bird lacks.

Roast duck with cherries

1large duck (2kg)
A few sprigsthyme
100gcherries, preferably a slightly sour variety
50g-80gsugar, depending on the sweetness of the cherries
250mlwhite wine
50mlred wine vinegar
1celery stick
100mlchicken stock (or a stock cube)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut off the wingtips of the duck and remove the wishbone. Stuff the interior with the peel from the lemon, the sprigs of thyme and a good teaspoon of salt. Prick the fatty parts of the duck below the breasts and put in a roasting tray. Place in the oven and leave to roast for 35 minutes.
  2. Stone the cherries, preferably with a cherry stoner (improvisation may be necessary: lacking my stoner, I used a two-pronged lobster pick quite efficaciously). Save the stones. Heat 30g-60g of sugar (the lesser amount if using sweet cherries) with 150ml of wine in a small pan to make a little syrup, and poach the stoned cherries very gently for 10 minutes or until they are soft. In a separate small pan, bash the cherry stones with a pestle or the end of a rolling pin to break a few of them, add 20g of sugar and place on the heat. Exercising great caution, heat the pan until the stones and sugar form a dark caramel before adding the vinegar. (This conjunction can be a little explosive, so extra care is advised.) Stir together until the sugar is dissolved, boil briefly and then add the syrup from the cherries. This “gastrique” forms the base of the sauce.
  3. Peel and chop the carrot, onion and celery into quite small pieces. Take the duck from the oven and pour off any rendered fat. Place the vegetables around the duck and return to the oven, reduced to 170C, for 25 minutes.
  4. Remove duck from oven, cover with foil, surround with the poached cherries and return to the switched-off oven on another tray with door slightly ajar. Place the roasting tray with vegetables on the stove. Pour in the remaining 100ml of wine and scrape up the caramelised juices. Add the stock (or the cube and a glassful of water), bring to a boil and reduce by half.
  5. Add the gastrique, stones and all, and simmer very gently. Taste for seasoning, adding a little salt and a squeeze of lemon juice or few drops of red wine vinegar if the sauce is at all cloying or sweet.
  6. Remove the duck from oven and joint into six pieces – legs, thighs and breasts – and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with the cherries and strain some of the sauce over. Serve the remainder of the strained sauce on the side. Serve with some cubed potatoes sautéed in the duck fat and a curly endive salad made with a sharp and mustardy vinaigrette.

Rowley’s drinking choice

Sugar and fruit can play havoc with wine. A good route would be to fight fire with fire and serve a feisty Australian Shiraz, which will stand up to the combination effortlessly.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais


Photograph: Andy Sewell

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