A roast duck stuffed with chestnuts and apples is my “must-cook” for the holidays: this dish simply is Christmas to me. It was the Christmas feast of my childhood, and still I find there´s something so very festive about a whole bird enthroned in the center of the table. In Germany, roast duck usually comes with a bowl of red cabbage on the side. In my family, it´s also garnished with a little anecdote that befell on Christmas eve many years ago.
As every year, the family had gathered together at our great aunt´s house. A glorious stuffed duck was already sitting in the oven, perfuming the kitchen with beguiling Christmas flavors. When it was ready to be carved, my aunt prepared herself to serve the duck at the dinner table. But on her way, with the tray in her hands, she tripped over the edge of a rug, causing the bird to take off, low fly through the kitchen, and ungently land somewhere behind the heating stove. There was a heart-stopping moment before suppressed giggling cut the silence, much to my poor aunt´s mortification. Quickly though she regained her composure and joined the laughter, while it must have been my mum who rearranged the duck on another platter, serving it as if nothing had happened. The episode has been told and retold at family gatherings ever since – but for as long as she lived, it was better to wait until my great aunt was out of ear shot.
Over time, a few Christmases came and went without a duck being served. In recent years, I decided to revive the tradition and make roast duck with chestnuts and apples at least once during the holidays. My preferred version now substitutes red cabbage with pomegranates for a little tang and gem-like sparkle, while a Calvados gravy takes advantage of all the good juices released during the roasting process. Of course, I always mention the mischief with the flying duck, hoping my great aunt wouldn´t mind me still making jokes at her expense. But some recipes, and some stories, too, are just too good to be forgotten.
Roast duck with chestnuts, apples and Calvados gravy (serves 4):
1 Barbarie duck 1,700g
250 g cooked and peeled chestnuts (about 25)
1-2 apple (s), peeled, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2-3 tbsp calvados (or port)
salt and pepper
olive oil, butter
juices from the pan
50 ml Calvados
50 ml apple juice
100 ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
a dash of dried thyme
1-2 pomegranates to serve
Take duck out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking it.
Prepare the stuffing: Using a sharp knife, incise chestnut skin halfway around the circumference. Place in boiling, lightly salted water and cook for about 30 minutes or until tender and the skins can be easily removed. Drain, leave to cool for a few minutes, then peel off outer and inner chestnut skin. Set aside. Omit this step if using vacuumized chestnuts.
Peel and chop/dice onion, garlic and apple(s).
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large frying pan. Cook onion until softened, but not browned, add apples, chestnuts, and thyme, and cook for another 3 minutes. Add cloves, bay leaf and calvados. Stir to scrape off any residues from the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
Preheat the oven 180°C/350°F.
Rinse duck under cold water and pat dry in- and outside with kitchen paper. Rub skin and cavity with about 1-11/2 tsp salt.
Stuff duck with the chestnut mixture.
Rub with 2-3 tbsp olive oil all over, place in the roasting dish breast side up.
Roast for approx. 1 h 30 minutes, depending on exact size sand desired cuisson. During that time, pour released juices all over the bird every 30 minutes or so.
When cooked through, take duck out of the oven and let rest on a platter for 10 minutes.
Now it´s time to make the gravy: In a small saucepan, bring fat/juices from the roasting pan (discarding excess fat if needed), apple juice & brandy (Calvados), thyme and stock to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until somewhat thickened and reduced. Season with salt/pepper if necessary.
Place duck on a serving platter. Add juices to the gravy. Arrange molasses from 1-2 pomegranates all around the bird. Serve with the Calvados gravy.