WITH Christmas fast approaching it's time to consider the options available for the classic yuletide roast. Turkey, as always will be a popular choice along with goose and pheasant, but this year I've opted for duck. Some people are not too sure when it comes to roasting ducks so I'll outline a few basic rules to achieve the perfect roast duck. Firstly, it's important to remember that all types of duck are fatty, and to get as much of this fat out as possible, you need to prick the breast and thighs with a small skewer. Now season the duck well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and place it on a roasting rack, this allows air to circulate right round the duck as it cooks. Place the duck in a pre-heated oven (230C) for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow the duck to rest for 20 minutes or so before carving. Basting a roasting bird is essential as these pan juices will add moisture and flavour but they also help to colour and crisp up the skin so beautifully. Wild ducks have been eaten in all parts of the world for thousands of years by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans although the Chinese claim to be the first to domesticate them and the duck in China came to symbolise fidelity. There are over 80 varieties of duck around the world, the most widely available here being the Aylesbury duckling, the Barbary duck and my particular favourite, the Gressingham.

(serves 4)

- 4 duck breasts. 20 green olives (stoned)
- 2tspn. Sherry vinegar
- 50ml brandy
- 100ml orange juice.grated zest of 1/2 orange
- 100ml chicken stock
- 1tbsp. Chopped parsley
- seasoning. For the rosti potatoes: l 450g potatoes, such as Golden Wonder, Maris Piper, Cyprus
- 4tspn. olive oil
- 50g Clarified butter

A sprig of fresh thyme (finely chopped) l Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate them into a bowl. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Heat half the oil and half the butter in one 20cm (8 inch) heavy based frying pan or 4 individual blini pans. Add the potato mix and press it down evenly with the back of a spatula.

Fry over a low–medium heat for about 15 minutes until you can see traces of colour at the edges - but take care not to cook it over too high a heat or it will over-brown before the potato on the inside has had a chance to cook. Cover the pan with an inverted plate, hold the two together and turn over so that the rosti is transferred to the plate. Heat the remaining oil and butter in the pan. Slide the rosti back in on its uncooked side and cook for another 10 minutes until golden.

Now you can either keep the rosti warm, or leave it to cool and reheat later in the oven at 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4 for 5 minutes. l For the duck: l Heat a small frying pan and season the duck breasts. Place them skin side down and fry gently until crisp and golden. Turn the duck breasts over and place them on a baking tray. roast them in a hot oven (200c/gas6) for about 4-5 minutes until just cooked and pink in the middle. Remove from the oven and rest in a warm place for 2-3 minutes.

Pour the brandy (stand back while the alcohol burns off) into the same frying pan and add the orange juice, zest, sherry vinegar and chicken stock. Reduce to a thick syrup, then add the green olives and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper and spoon over the duck breasts. Serve immediately with hot rosti potatoes and buttered spinach.

(serves 4)

- 4 duck breasts
- Red onion marmalade. 3 red onions (finely sliced)
- 2tbsp. Brown sugar
- 1tbsp. Sherry vinegar
- 150ml ruby port
- 2tsps olive oil
- Sprig of fresh thyme
- Seasoning. Mustard seed crushed potatoes:
- 600g potatoes
- 1tspn. Mustard seeds
- 100ml verjus
- 2tbsps chopped parsley

Red onion marmalade: l Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the finely sliced onions, sweat gently over a gentle flame until they start to soften. Add the brown sugar and stir well. Add the vinegar, port, fresh thyme and season. Cover with a lid and cook gently for 20-30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated. l Mustard seed crushed potatoes: l Bring the verjus to boil and pour the hot juice over the mustard seeds. Leave them to soak for 1 hour. Boil the potatoes in their skins for 15-20 minutes, until just cooked. Drain well and leave them to cool until just hot enough to handle. Carefully peel the potatoes and place them in a bowl. Add the soaked mustard seeds, olive oil and chopped parsley. Mix gently with a fork, taking care not to break–up the potatoes too much. Season to taste.

Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and place them skin side down in the hot pan. Fry gently until crisp. Turn the breasts over and cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove the breasts and place them on a baking tray. Roast in a hot oven for 3-4 minutes until pink. Rest the breasts in a warm place for 5-6 minutes. l To serve: l Place a couple of spoonfuls of crushed potatoes in the middle of 4 warmed plates. Sit the duck breasts on top and place a spoonful of red onion chutney on one side. Serve immediately.