Mallard Breast With Red Cabbage, Ginger & Marmalade

There are not many savoury recipes for marmalade. This is a pity because unlike honey, which is often used as a meat glaze, marmalade has the advantage of bringing bitter tones as well as sweetness. With use of a flavoursome meat and a little careful balancing you can add some sourness as well and end up with a dish that delivers all five basic tastes to the palate. And apart from its technical excellence... it's yummy!

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

2 mallard duck breasts
1 medium red cabbage
50 gm butter
50 gm root ginger
250 gm marmalade
20 gm duck or goose fat (or vegetable oil)
10 ml balsamic vinegar
1/4 bottle red wine
2 tsps Dijon mustard
black pepper


For this recipe we are using breast of mallard duck, but it would work equally well with any game bird. The flesh on these breasts is rather on the light side, indicating that I didn't use the best quality meat, but it tasted great anyway!

These cuts include the fillets, which cut away from the rest of the breast easily to make pockets that we will stuff with the cabbage later on.
These are the stuffing ingredients - red cabbage, root ginger and the key ingredient, marmalade.

My attempt at arty-farty photography makes the ginger look alarmingly large. Don't use more than 3 or 4 nodules of a standard sized piece of ginger.

I'm sure wasabi would work well in this recipe instead of ginger.
The first task is to trim the meat. You should leave the main area of fat intact, but remove sinews and odd areas of fat from the other side with the aid of a sharp knife.
Then shred the ginger. If you are less comfortable with ginger, grate it finely, otherwise use a shredder or coarse grater to give some texture to the ingredient.
Similarly, chop the red cabbage according to taste. If you prefer a smoother result then chop finely, otherwise chop more roughly and the cooked cabbage will retain some crispness to its texture, even after cooking for an hour.
With the fat side uppermost, score the fat with a sharp knife, taking care not to cut into the meat. Cut every 1/2 inch or so in both directions or diagonally if you prefer.

Season the duck well with salt and black pepper, rubbing salt into the fat scores to help it crispen when cooked. Sea salt crushed between your fingers is the best.

Now for the fun part. With clean hands, take 2/3 of the marmalade and rub into the scored fat. Then turn the breasts over and rub some into the meat. While doing this, extract the peel from the marmalade to use later.

Leave for as long as possible to marinate.
Sweating off the cabbage properly is a critical part of the process. Melt the butter in a pan and add the cabbage, ginger and mustard, seasoning with salt and pepper.

The idea is to sweat this down until the cabbage and ginger soften, but without letting the mixture burn. This is a stage when you need to be present, stirring every minute or so. The degree of softening you should aim for is a matter of taste.
Once softened, turn the stuffing into a pan and the remainder of the marmalade, the peel (rescued from the marinade and chopped), a good measure of red wine and the balsamic vinegar.

Simmer the mixture for 45-60 mins, topping it up (with wine at first and boiling water later) and then reducing it down. The cabbage will not soften much now, so if you underdid the frying your result may be too crunchy.
Towards the end of cooking down the cabbage stuffing, sear the duck breasts. Set aside most of the marmalade marinade to avoid burning and place the breasts fat side down in a pan with hot oil. Use duck or goose fat if possible.

Once the fat sides are browned (about 3 mins), turn each breast over and sear the meat side for a little less time. Caramelising some of the marmalade is fine, but be careful not to burn it!
At this stage, turn on your oven and set it to gas mark 9 (240 oC). Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes, retaining any juices that leak out but wiping away any blood. Open each breast along the line of the fillet and use a sharp knife to open up a larger pocket as shown in the photo.

For this recipe I chose sweet potato as an accompaniment because I'm especially fond of it, but you could equally well choose your own vegetables.

Make sure you season well to bring out the flavours or your vegetables will probably be overpowered by the richness of the stuffed meat.
Apply the stuffing generously and cover the breasts with any that you can't fit into the pockets.

Note that the meat at this stage is very pink - virtually uncooked. By the time the dish is finished the meat should be cooked, but still slightly pink. With practice you'll get the balance just right.

Rub an oven dish with fat and place the breasts in it fat side upwards. Put into the hot oven.
About 7-8 minutes should suffice to cook the meat to the colour shown in this photo of the plated serving. Don't overcook it as it will quickly dry out and toughen.

Serve on pre-heated plates with the sweet potato and a large glass of full-bodied red wine!