The casserole is a very easy recipe, which can be adapted to chicken, guinea fowl or pheasant. Rabbit, too, is delicious with damsons; farmed rabbit will cook in the same time as the duck, wild rabbit will take about twice as long. If you cannot get damsons, use mirabelles, greengages or small plums, all on the under-ripe side.
You can, of course, make the casserole with duck portions, but if you buy the whole birds, this is what to do with them.
Remove the wishbone from each duckling, then with a sharp knife, remove each breast. These are for another meal, for four, and can be marinated and refrigerated. Cut off the wings and the legs. Divide the leg joints into thigh and drumstick, and cut the wings into the three obvious joints. The smallest wing joints and the carcasses chopped up go into a large pan of water with a piece of celery stalk, a slice of ginger, if you have it, and a bay leaf, to make stock. But first, remove as much of the skin and fat as possible from carcasses and leg joints. Put this in a casserole or ovenproof dish, cover and place in the bottom of the oven to melt. This will take at least as long as the casserole takes to cook.
When all the fat has been rendered, strain into a container, and refrigerate when cool. This is excellent in bread-making and for frying potatoes.
The remaining bits of skin and meat in the pan can be chopped, transferred to a frying pan and crisped up to serve as lardons with a warm salad. Thus, nothing is wasted. If you have got giblets with the ducklings, put the necks in the stockpot, and the hearts, gizzards and livers with the casserole.
To make this, fry the onions in a spoonful of duck fat, and then brown the meat. Add the cinnamon, herbs and wine. Bring to simmering point, add the celeriac and damsons, cover and cook in the middle of a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 until the meat is tender, about 45 to 60 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the damsons, and any loose stones, from the casserole, and rub the damson flesh through a sieve. Stir as much of the purée as you want back into the casserole, together with the sloe or damson gin. Bring back to the boil and serve. This is very good with mashed potatoes, or potatoes sliced and baked in the oven in a layer, well seasoned and flavoured with stock or cream. The casserole is also very good with diced small turnips instead of, or as well as, celeriac.
© 2000 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.