Posted: 07/02/2019

With the cool, wintery weather and Valentine’s Day around the corner, we speak to Hand Picked Hotels Group Head Executive Chef, Matt Ashton, about the perfect dine-in dish and what makes a truly good meal at this time of year. We’ve also got an exclusive competition thanks to Hand Picked Hotels, giving you the chance to win a romantic getaway for two. Enter the competition here.

What flavours or ingredients should we look out for this season?

Winter brings with it a want for heartier meals with their abundance of deep flavours, rich colours and warming textures. This season is the prime time for really earthy and robust vegetables like rhubarb, beetroot, celeriac and parsnips. All of these vegetables can be cooked in many different ways drawing on their natural flavour which makes them hugely versatile.

What does a good meal mean to you?

One of the main things I enjoy most about creating food for others to enjoy is that some of the best ways to re-connect with the ones you love are over a delicious meal. Whether that’s enjoying a feast with friends, a Sunday roast with your family, or an intimate dinner with your partner on Valentine’s Day.

I also think it’s incredibly important to serve food at its best whilst celebrating the flavour, colour and texture as nature intended. Over the years ingredients have been messed around with, taken apart and put back together again, but if you are using ingredients at their very best, why change the way they look, feel and taste? I want guests to enjoy the very best of what’s in season so all of our Head Chefs aspire to source high quality ingredients for use in their menus.

What dish have you chosen and why?

I have chosen a dish using pan-fried Gressingham duck breasts with rhubarb and star anise. Many people think of rhubarb as fruit but it is in fact a vegetable, with a lovely sharpness that works well with the richness of duck. With fresh rhubarb and crispy skin from pan-frying the duck, this recipe is packed full of flavours and textures, making an elegant yet satisfying winter meal.

Pan-fried Gressingham Duck Breast with Rhubarb and Star Anise

Ingredients (serves 4):

4 Gressingham duck breasts
230g (8oz) rhubarb, cut into slender 2 in/5cm batons
140 ml (1/4pt) duck or chicken stock
Salt
Black pepper

For the marinade:

1 finely diced carrot
1 finely diced onion
1 finely diced celery stalk
1 star anise
1 tbsp clear honey
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1tsp fresh ginger crushed
2 cloves of garlic crushed
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
140 ml dry white wine

To finish:

28g butter

Method:

1. Score the skin with a sharp knife 5mm apart across the width of the breasts, making sure the flesh is not cut.
2. Place the breasts skin-down in a shallow dish.
3. Sauté the vegetables, ginger and garlic. Add the thyme, star anise, orange juice, zest and wine and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4. Pour this marinade over the duck breasts, cover with cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge (or a minimum of 2 hours if you can’t leave overnight).
5. Preheat your oven to 220c, Fan 200c, Gas Mark 7
6. Remove the meat from the marinade and dry thoroughly on kitchen paper towels
7. Season the duck breast with salt and pepper
8. Place skin side down in a cold non-stick pan on a medium heat without oil for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Pour off the fat regularly and seal the other side for 30 seconds.
9. Place the skin side up on a rack in a roasting tin in the middle of the oven
Rare - 10 minutes approx
Medium - 15 minutes approx
Well Done - 18 minutes approx
10. Take the duck breast out of the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for 8-10 minutes.
11. While the duck is cooking use the same pan, remove any excess fat.
12. On a medium heat, gently fry the rhubarb until just tender, but do not let it colour. Remove and keep it warm with the duck.
13. On a high heat, deglaze the pan with the marinade
14. Add the chicken stock
15. Reduce by at least half (dependent on personal taste)
16. Remove pan from the heat, beat in the butter
17. Season the sauce with salt and pepper
18. Strain the sauce and serve with the duck

This dish goes well with buttered mashed potatoes and spring cabbage.

We hope you enjoy this delicious recipe and don’t forget to enter our competition to win a romantic getaway for two.