My good friend Karon gave me a punnet of Morello cherries recently. I ate one just as her husband came into the room and as I stood up to say hello, my mouth puckered up like a cat's bottom and my eyes went all squinty. Raw, they are shockingly sour. They need sugar to bring out their fabulous flavour.
Following Karon's example I preserved them in a spiced, sweet and sour pickle, based on a recipe from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling. They are a perfect accompaniment to duck but they'd also work well with most game and with gammon. They do take around 30 days to mature, though, so plan ahead. To be honest, I cracked after a fortnight and used some of them here and they were pretty good.
If you don't have a friend like Karon or can't be bothered with the whole pickling process I have given a quicker alternative below. We served it with potato and kohlrabi rosti (recipe also below), which have an earthy flavour that provides a perfect balance to the duck and cherries.
Duck with Sweet and Sour Cherries (serves 2)
2 duck breasts
Salt and pepper
For the pickled cherries (makes 1 medium jar):
About 350g fresh Morello cherries
240 ml cider vinegar
150-200g sugar, to taste
120 ml water
Seeds from 1 cardamom pod
Blade of mace
1 allspice berry
2 tspn kirsch (optional)
For the sauce:
A good scoop of pickled cherries with their preserving liquor
A glassful of port
Soft brown sugar to taste
1 or 2 tspn cornflour dissolved in a little water
The juices from the duck after resting
To make the pickled cherries from scratch, pit them (easiest with a cherry/olive stoner) and put them in a bowl. Cover with the vinegar and leave overnight.
Drain the vinegar into a saucepan and add the sugar, water and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Taste and check the sweetness - you might prefer to add more sugar.
Stir in the kirsch, if using, put the cherries into a sterilised preserving jar and pour over the liquid, filling the jar to the top. Seal and store in a cool, dark place for a month.
If you're using ready-bottled cherries, make the spiced vinegar, drain the cherries of their syrup and let them sit in the sweet and sour vinegar for at least half an hour, preferably overnight.
To cook the duck, score the skin on the duck breasts in a diamond pattern, making sure you don't cut into the meat underneath. Season all over with salt and pepper.
Put a non-stick pan on the hob on a medium heat. Without adding any oil, put the duck breasts in the pan, skin-side down, and cook for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Pour off the fat (save it for the rosti) and seal the other side for 30 seconds.
Place skin-side up in a roasting tray in the middle of the oven and cook for 10 minutes if you'd like it rare, 15 minutes for medium, 18 minutes (if you really must) for well done. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest somewhere warm for 10 minutes.
While the duck is cooking, make the sauce. Put a good spoonful of cherries per person and some of the spiced vinegar into a pan on a medium heat and pour in a large glass of port. Allow it to bubble up and mix in the cornflour/water, stirring until it has thickened enough to cling.
Pour in the juices that have run from the duck, season with salt and pepper and taste. If it's too sour, add a little soft brown sugar until you have the blend of sweet and sour you like. Cook gently until the flavours have melded.
Carve the duck into slices and spoon the sauce over.
Potato and Kohlrabi Rosti (makes 3-4 rosti)
250g raw potato, peeled and grated
100g kohlrabi, peeled and grated
Wrap the peeled and grated vegetables in a clean tea towel and squeeze as hard as you can to extract as much moisture as possible. This may require two people and lot of torque.
Place in a bowl, mix well and season with freshly-ground black pepper. Place four food rings into the pan with the hot duck fat and spoon the potato and kohlrabi mix into the rings, pressing down well.
Remove the rings and fry for five or six minutes, then flip the rosti over and cook the other side for a similar amount of time or until they're golden and cooked through. Season with salt and serve with the duck.