A selection of festive recipes from Janet Wynne Evans for those eschewing the Christmas standards aimed at those dining à deux.
Seared Scallops with Pancetta
Not everybody likes corals, but they add a lovely richness to this dish, which is enlivened by a kind of hot vinaigrette. If you can't find very thin pancetta, use Parma ham instead, but not streaky bacon. The aim is a very crisp, salty garnish to complement the creamy scallop meat.
4-6 fresh scallops, shelled, with corals
4 thin slices of pancetta
A handful of pretty salad leaves
A tablespoon of best-quality white wine or light Sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
A few sheets of kitchen paper
Rinse the scallops well and separate them from their orange corals. Remove and discard the membrane around each scallop and its little gristly "skirt" so that you are left with a pearly, succulent, clean morsel. Pat with kitchen paper and leave, with the corals, to dry thoroughly. Season well with salt and pepper.
Lay the slices of pancetta in a frying pan and let it heat up slowly. Fry gently until the pancetta has given up its fat and is crisp but not frazzled (turn it once), remove from the pan and drain on a sheet of kitchen paper. Prick the corals with a fork to stop them bursting, and add to the fat in the pan. Fry gently for about a minute on each side until lightly coloured, remove and keep warm.
Now add the scallops to the pan and fry for about 1-1 1/2 minutes, just enough for a golden crust to form around the circumference. Carefully turn over and continue cooking for another minute. Remove from the pan and arrange, with the corals, on heated plates. Add the vinegar to the pan and bubble hard until the juices look syrupy. Dress the rocket leaves with them, tumble onto the plates and criss-cross the pancetta slices on top.
Wine Matches: a concentrated, minerally albariño like Pazo Señorans or Fefiñanes. Camel Valley Atlantic Dry has the right Atlantic zestiness too.
Smoked Eel Salad
100g smoked eel fillets
75ml crème fraîche
Half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, or to taste
A tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
A teaspoon of creamed horseradish, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
A few flat-leaf parsley leaves
Cut the eel fillets into slim slices and arrange on two plates. Combine the cream with the mustard, lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and add the horseradish as little at a time, tasting as you go. A teaspoonful works for me. Add a little more mustard too if it needs it, but note that the heat will intensify as the flavours infuse, so if making this in advance, don't overdo it or most wine will curl up.
Scoop a little of the horseradish cream onto each plate and decorate with whole parsley leaves which add a lovely herbal hit of their own. Serve with tasty brown bread and unsalted butter.
Wine Matches: fly the flag with Three Choirs Stone Brook or a spicy Alsace white such as Pinot Gris from Hugel.
Duck Breast with Cranberries, Cabbage and Roasted Potato Thins
I have tiffled with this recipe for many years. A version of it was first published in The SocietyNews in November 2001, another in Wine Without Fuss this Easter and I still think it a fine example of the best kind of fast food. The duck-cooking technique was inspired by a Gordon Ramsay recipe in The Times Magazine. The "frutti di bosco" garnish was pinched from an Italian restaurant countless summers ago: the piquancy and colour of cranberries make them the ideal seasonal substitute. Dark and slightly gamey in taste, a Barbary duck breast is very generous and serves two people. Allow one breast per person if using smaller ducks but the recipe works best with the larger ones.
1 large duck breast, thoroughly thawed if frozen
A pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Salt and pepper
100g cranberries, rinsed and dried
Half a bunch of Italian black cabbage (cavolo nero)
For the potato thins, see the recipe below.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
Pat the duck breast dry and score the skin in a criss-cross pattern with the tip of a sharp knife. Rub with salt, pepper and five-spice. Strip the leafy cabbage from the hard stems, shred roughly and blanch for a minute or so. Drain and squeeze as much water out as possible. Slice, wash and dry the potatoes according to the recipe below and put on their baking tray to await the duck fat and flavourings.
Get a non-stick pan fairly hot and put in the duck skin-side down. Let it sizzle for a moment or so, and as the subcutaneous fat begins to render, turn the heat to medium, and cook for about 15 minutes. The skin should be golden brown and crisp.
Remove the duck while you carefully pour most of the fat into a small bowl. Proceed with the potato recipe and put the potatoes into the oven.
Return the duck to the pan, flesh-side down and cook for 3 minutes for a small breast, 5-7 for a big one for a blushing pink result. Rest the duck breasts on warm plates or a hot tray until needed. Meanwhile, throw the cranberries into the pan, cover it, lower the heat again and let them collapse in the meat juices for 15 minutes or so to form a sauce.
When the potatoes are done, toss the greens in sizzling butter and keep warm. Arrange some potato slices on each plate and top with a cushion of cabbage. Carve the duck breast widthways into thick slices and arrange on top, with the sauce spooned over.
Wine matches: the combination of red and black fruit, spice and rich meat points squarely at a top-notch zinfandel. For every day, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel is a good bet.
Roasted Potato Thins
You can use any potatoes for this, but waxy ones seem to work best. If using the floury variety, give them a good soak to drain off as much starch as possible and guarantee a good, crisp result. This is a good use of the fat rendered by frying the Barbary duck breast, or some fat from a tin of confit duck.
2 medium to large potatoes, about 200g altogether
2 tablespoons duck fat
A clove of garlic, peeled, sliced and finely chopped
A generous sprig of thyme
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 190C/ 375F/ Gas 5
Peel the potatoes and slice quite thinly. They should not be translucent. Use the thickest setting on a mandolin or food processor. Rinse in cold water, and soak for half an hour, if particularly starchy (see above). Drain well and dry in a clean tea-towel. Strip the thyme of its leaves and chop finely if necessary. Combine the potatoes with the fat, garlic, and thyme on a large baking tray, a job best done with the hands unless the fat has come straight out of a hot pan, in which case use a spoon. Season with salt and pepper and arrange on the tray in one layer of slightly overlapping slices.
Bake for about 40 minutes, checking now and then to ensure they don't burn. You may have a few casualties (crisps!) around the edges and some will curl up delightfully as they brown, others will stick lovingly together which adds to the charm. They can be kept warm in their tray until needed but don't cover them or the residual steam will make them soggy. When ready to serve, prise the potatoes off the tray with a fish-slice and arrange in a little circle on heated plates as a base for grilled meat or fish.
Roast Mallard with a Red Wine Jus
Mallard, or wild duck, is easier than ever to find in good supermarkets and farmers' markets. One bird feeds two generously, with plenty of scraps and a flavour-rich carcass for stock-making. The red wine jus is easily made in advance, and all that is needed by way of accompaniment is some wild rice and a beautifully-dressed salad. I use a mixture of wild and basmati rice, which cooks to perfection in a microwave in a matter of twenty minutes from prep to ping to prêt.
1 oven-ready mallard or wild duck
200g banana shallots, halved
2 tbs oil
150ml dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the red wine jus:
1 bottle red wine
500ml stock (ideally game, or strong home-made chicken)
1 bay leaf
a star anise
1 tsp juniper berries
a sprig of thyme
Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5
In a large pan, boil down the bottle of wine to half its volume. Add the stock, along with the other jus ingredients and reduce to around 300ml of aromatic liquor. Keep warm, or make in advance and heat when ready.
Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a roasting pan on the hob and throw in the shallots to brown on all sides. Once they have coloured, push them together into the middle of the tin to form a natural trivet.
Wipe the duck inside and out, season with sea salt and black pepper. Put a small bunch of thyme in the cavity and drizzle with the rest of the oil and place the bird on its bed of shallots.
Pour the white wine into the tin and roast for 35-40 minutes until the juices run clear. Remove the bird and the vegetables from the tin and rest in a warm place for at least ten minutes.
Pour off most of the fat from the tin and deglaze with the boiling jus, strained through a sieve to remove the flavourings. Bubble until reduced and syrupy. Check seasoning and strain into a gravy boat.
Serve each person with slices of breast and a whole leg. Accompany with a mixture of wild and brown rice and a green salad.
*This excellent sauce for any dark game can be made in advance but ensure it is hot when needed.
Wine matches: virtually any red will work with this. Uncork your favourite claret, burgundy or Rhône, but the dark spices in the sauce are especially lovely with The Society's Exhibition Victoria Shiraz
Out-Of-Season Fruit Salad
This is an old favourite of mine and as fine a non-Christmas-pudding as I know. I have a weakness for muscatel raisins and since their pips are antisocially crunchy, I find stoning them the perfect excuse for a couple of hours in front of the television. If this sounds like hell, the pudding works perfectly well with the seedless kind.
500g dried fruit (apples, prunes, figs, raisins, apricots) soaked in water overnight
1 tea-bag containing a flavoured China tea like Jasmine or Lapsang Souchong
120g Demerara or golden caster sugar
A thumb of dried ginger root, finely grated
A spiral of lemon or orange peel
2 cinnamon sticks
A couple of whole cloves
A star anise
100ml rum, brandy or combination of both
50g nuts to garnish (blanched almonds, shelled pistachios, macadamias)
In a measuring jug, add 500ml boiling water to the tea-bag, brew lightly, and strain into a pan. Add the sugar, spices and lemon peel and boil until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has reduced by about a third. Add the fruit and simmer gently until it takes on a pleasing plumpness and the liquid is syrupy. Stir in the hard liquor and leave to cool. Remove the whole spices by all means, but they look very pretty. Lightly toast the nuts and add. Chill well. Serve with cream, vanilla ice-cream or Greek yoghurt. Do not operate machinery.
Wine Match: Madeira or dessert Sherry