Something about January marks the midset of winter. Cold. Wet. Miserable. Looking forward now to that wonderful March day when the light evenings return. But in the meantime, we close the shutters and head for the light box. This weather urges me to re-stock the larder. After a month of festive eating, I want to load up the kitchen with practical foods that will help us through these dreary months. Like Ratty's pantry in Wind in the Willows. Full of delightful treats that will emerge as the year progresses.
First things first: order a ham. (You'll need a big pan for this. Same for the marmalade.) I would recommend Dorset Farms hams. They cure them with out any chemicals. Throw in a few carrots, an onion studded with cloves, and some celery. Boil for 2-3 hours. If you like making stock then add a small ham hock to the pan. Afterwards, take it out and let it cool. Remove veg and freeze the stock in useful portions for soups and risottos. Remove the tough outer skin carefully from the ham, ensuring you keep the layer of gooey fat and then spike it with some cloves and little rosemary matchsticks.
Cover all that with a paste of honey, ground pink peppercorns, wasabi and dried english mustard. Bake for an hour. Remove cloves and rosemary. There is an immediate joy to serving slices of ham hot with mash and cavalo nero stir fried with sesame oil and seeds. We had ours followed by homemade banana and custard ice cream. The ham will last in the fridge for a couple of weeks and make great sandwiches. You'll be the envy of your workplace. Once finished, boil the ham hock again for an hour with green split peas and an onion. Ditch the bone after removing the remains of the ham on it. Whizz it up and then add chopped fresh mint and the ham bits.
At some mysterious moment in early January, the Seville oranges appear in wooden boxes outside my local grocer. Time for marmalade again. Be careful what you wish for though. Twelve oranges should make enough marmalade for two of you throughout the year, unless you have greedy guests. There are two ways of doing it. If you have an electric juicer, you can squeeze juice, pith and pips out. The correct thing to do is then to tie this 'pomace' into a muslin cloth and put it in the pan and boil lightly for a couple of hours. But I've used a plastic seive that sits just submerged at the top of the waterline. The idea is to get the natural pectin out, so whatever works. Alternatively you can boil the oranges whole until they are soft and once they are cool, scrape the pith off the skins. This way the water already has all the pectin in it when you add the orange and sugar. You might combine both approaches. Next slice the orange into whatever thickness you like. Thick is best. Then boil lightly in water for a couple of hours til the orange is soft. Remove the muslin and add the sugar. Dark muscovado gives it a really strong, grown up taste but you need to use some granulated to get the right syrupy consistency later.
In terms of measurements, which I'm never very good at, you'll need to start with more or less 5 litres of water for every 2 kilos of oranges (the water evaporates by a third during the simmering), and then double the amount of of sugar as oranges. Get this sugary, dark orange mixture bubbling like a witches cauldron. It takes around 25 minutes. You'll know when it's ready. Be very careful that the sugar doesn't 'catch' the pan and burn on the bottom. I did exactly this and ruined a whole batch with little bits of cremated sugar. But don't despair, I now have some big jars of marmalade sauce for roast duck in the spring. Check with some expert recipes if you are nervous. Jar it. The great thing is that it comes out a bit different every year. Mine is a little too robust - like membrillo, from leaving the pomace in too long. But it tastes mighty fine. Whatever you do, don't give it away. You'll regret it in October when you have to buy your first jar of the year.
I had my first Canard à l'Orange in Normandy during our one rather painful family holiday. I remember thinking how sophisticated I was, enjoying this delight. The sourness of these oranges makes the Duck skin pucker up when left to marinade and thus delightfully crispy when roasted. So pick up a farmed duck from your butcher. Aylsebury's are good. Take a knife down the back and carefully remove the breasts. Score the skin lightly. Slice two of the oranges and place them under the duck in a nice tight dish. In a pestle and mortar bring together about four large garlic cloves, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, marjoram and thyme. Remove half of this mixture and set aside. To the rest add the orange rind and juice. Smear this over the skin of the breasts, cover and leave in the fridge for a couple of days. Next remove the legs from the carcass, taking with it as much meat from around the thigh joint as possible. Rub the skin with rock salt and then smear the garlicky herb mixture all over them and leave in the fridge for 2 days.
Roast the carcass. You should find that enough fat comes off this to make your confit. Pour off and leave in the fridge until you need it. Throw the carcass into your big pan with some more veg and simmer for a couple of hours. More stock in the freezer.
After the two days are up, clean the paste off the legs and pour over the melted duck fat to cover them completely. Cook for 2 hours in a medium oven. When done, put the legs into a jar and cover in the fat. They'll keep for ever and some day when you need that cheering up, you have something special right there. Of course you havent eaten any of this duck yet so get your breasts, and roast them quickly in the marinade for about 15 minutes. Serve with something like a chicory and walnut salad.
So you should have confit, ham, marmalade, green split pea soup and more stock than you know what to do with. Feel better?
Follow Philip Dundas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@philip_dundas