I expected a lot of things when I came to live in England.
I expected the weather to be depressing – tick. I expected to be a little homesick – tick. I expected to see lots of shows and concerts – tick. I expected to develop unnatural cravings for biltong, Peppermint Crisp and NikNaks – tick. But what I never expected was to be able to forage for wild food. Have a look at the picture below – anybody want to venture a guess what these items have in common?
They were all picked over the weekend within a 5 minute walk from my front door :) They are all delicious and not one of them cost me a penny! For those of you who are thinking of doing a little foraging yourselves and are wondering what to look for, the wild cherries look exactly like cultivated cherries, only smaller; the wild plums are red and about the size of olives (although they taste just like sweet cultivated plums) and the mirabelles are about the size of apricots, but with a smooth skin and the flavour of a plum. Simples! And make sure you wear long sleeves and gloves when you pick the blackberries as the bramble bushes are unfriendly, thorny things.
Once we had got our haul home and tasted a sufficent number of the fruit for quality assurance purposes (ahem!), the next question was what to do with them. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already know that some of the wild cherries were turned into a chocolate and cherry clafoutis (more on that later), and some we just ate as dessert, popping the deeply flavoured berries into our mouths and savouring the full, almost spicy cherry flavour. With the remainder, I decided to make a savoury dish – and what better pairing for cherries than duck?
The only problem with wild as opposed to cultivated cherries is that their ratio of flesh to stone is about 50/50. This makes stoning them an almost impossible task. All that happens is that you shred the flesh and stain everything within a kilometre radius bright purple with escaping cherry juice, so I had to think of a way to avoid that. By cooking them, you make it far easier to separate the stone from the flesh, and although it's a bit of a faff, it's a lot less work than stoning the raw fruit.
To add a bit of spice, I sprinkled the duck breasts with Chinese 5-spice mix and also added some to the mashed potato – definitely recommended! The cherry reduction was nothing short of divine with an astonishing depth of flavour and it worked beautifully with the duck. With a side dish of savoy cabbage steamed and sauteéd with garlic, it made for an affordable luxury and proved once and for all that stolen (or, in this case foraged) fruit tastes the sweetest!
CRISPY DUCK BREASTS WITH A CHERRY BALSAMIC REDUCTION (serves 2)
2 duck breasts, skin on
Chinese 5 spice
1 cup cherries (pitted if you are using cultivated cherries)
25ml Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
Rinse and pit the cherries (or just rinse if using wild cherries). Place in a small saucepan together with the balsamic vinegar, water and sugar and bring to a gentle boil for about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
In the meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C and rinse and dry the duck breasts. Either score the fat in a diamond pattern or prick the skin all over with a fork, then rub salt and Chinese 5-spice mix all over the skin. Dry fry the breasts skin side down in a pan over moderate heat for about 6 minutes until skin is crispy. Transfer to an ovenproof dish (skin side up) and roast uncovered for about 20-25 minutes.
In the meanwhile, use two forks to shred the cherries and remove the stones (if necessary). Add a little more water if the mixture is too chunky, then return to a very low heat until it starts to become thick and almost syrupy.
When the breasts are done (they should still be a little pink on the inside), let them rest for 5-10 minutes, then slice and serve on a bed of creamy mashed potato, topped with the cherry reduction.
And in other news… nominations are now open for the 2010 South African Blog Awards. I would REALLY appreciate it if you would take a few moments to click on the link below and nominate me in the categories Best Food & Wine blog and Best Overseas Blog. Only the blogs with the most nominations go through to be finalists, so every nomination counts!! Pretty please with a wild cherry balsamic reduction? When you click the link below, CookSister has already been selected as nominee in the abovementioned categories, so all you have to do is enter the security code displayed and a VALID e-mail address, then click on the link in the confirmation e-mail they send you. NB – you have to click the link in the e-mail that you will be sent, otherwise your nomination will not count! Thanks ever so much :)