Duck a safer option than Basil's wild goose-chase on Mortensaften - The Post

Duck a safer option than Basil’s wild goose-chase on Mortensaften

Half the country will be tucking into fowl tonight to honour a French saint who hated squawking birds

“I sentence you in the name of God to an eternity of slaughter” (photo: Beatrice Murch)
November 10th, 2017 7:30 am| by Ben Hamilton

There’s a memorable episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ called ‘Gourmet Night’ in which Basil’s temperamental chef gets drunk because Manuel rejects his advances on the same night the hotel is entertaining the cream of Torquay society at a special dinner event.

Basil has to rewrite the menu, deleting the lobster and tournedos in favour of an all-duck line-up, much to the disappointment of his guests, to whom he says: “If you don’t like duck, uh, you’re rather stuck!”

Words you'll never hear on Mortensaften: "Duck's off, sorry"
Words you’ll never hear on Mortensaften: “Duck’s off, sorry”

Duck discounts galore
The same could be said of Mortensaften, the Danish tradition that households across the country will be celebrating tonight with a meal that looks uncannily similar to their preferred Christmas dinner: duck, red cabbage, brownish potatoes, gravy – err, that’s about it.

Technically though, the correct choice of meat is goose, although it’s pretty hard to see that through the mountains of duck on offer at the nation’s supermarkets right now – discounts that will continue through the weekend as they always seem to get too much in!

A man of saintly virtue …
It’s goose because the celebration marks the endeavours of Morten Bisp (or Martin of Tours), a 4th century soldier who went on to become St Martin, the patron saint of France, after an encounter with a beggar who turned out to be Jesus.

After leaving the army to found a monastery at Poitiers near Tours, the townspeople wanted to make him their bishop, but he hid in a gooseshed to escape their attention.

… who ordered a slaughter
Unfortunately their squawking gave him away, and in an exact of revenge the man of the cloth decreed that November 11 would forever more mark an official geese slaughter.

Danes, as they are prone to do (with Skt Hans Aften and Juleaften for example), celebrate the night before.

Given that Morten is also the patron saint of animals and beggars, it might be apt to spare a thought for the homeless and your hungry pets.

Recipe: Welsh Salted Duck (Hwyaden Hallt Gymreig)

There’s a surplus of ducks at many of the supermarkets and they are quite reasonably priced. With the onset of winter, the thought of roasted duck is an appealing idea.

My Welsh grandmother, or Nain as you say in her native tongue, used to roast a duck for Sunday lunch. It always looked fantastic with its golden colour, and it had a sweet and lively smell and taste.

She was and is an extremely patient woman, preparing the duck for two days before cooking it. But the juices and flavours retained in the salty coating and the tenderness of the flesh make it worth the work.

A sizeable duck
120 grams of sea salt
Laver (seaweed)
Orange sauce

Wipe the duck, then rub it, inside and out, with 60g of sea salt. Place it in a dish and leave it in the fridge. Repeat that a few hours later with another 60g of salt, turning the duck in any brine that has formed. Repeat the process the following day.

Before cooking the duck the next day, wash it thoroughly with cold water. Set the oven to 180 degrees C. Pat the duck dry with a paper towel and place it in a casserole dish half filled with water. Cover the dish and cook the duck for 90 minutes. Remove the duck from the casserole dish, drain it well and place it in a baking tin. Increase the oven temperature to 230 degrees and roast the duck for 20-30 minutes until the skin is crispy and golden.

This ‘gymreig’ is best served with ‘laver’ (seaweed) and orange sauce, with spinach and onion sauce as an alternative. A potato pie makes this a hearty meal, while roasted root vegetables.

Contributed by Sarah Nielsen in 2010