As the head chef at Fowles Wine in the Strathbogie Ranges, Adele Aitken has become well acquainted with game food but she also applies her training and experience in traditional European cuisine for this hearty winter dish.
The dining area at Fowles Wine is rarely empty and head chef Adele Aitken and her team spend their days producing quality meals that draw the link between the food and Matt Fowles game-inspired wines. It is one of the most recommended foodie stops on the Hume Hwy.
For the ultimate food and wine tasting combination you can’t go past the Gamekeepers selection of four game-inspired dishes with matched wines:
smoked eel with horseradish cream & 2015 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch riesling; pork and rabbit rillette & 2013 Are You Game? chardonnay; duck breast with citrus and radicchio salad & 2015 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch pinot noir; and kangaroo steak with beetroot chutney & 2013 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch shiraz.
“I was introduced to game food by working here with Matt Fowles,” Adele said.
“I dabbled a bit with game during my training but not to the extent that I do here because of Matt’s deep commitment to game food and matched fine wines.
“My background is more pastry, so it is a huge change to be dealing with game meats and I’m really enjoying it and experimenting with it.”
Game is on the menu because it goes hand in hand with the wines and the Fowles philosophy of sustainable food whether it is wild, home grown or locally sourced.
“For me it is a lot of exploring and experimenting but absolutely the passion has rubbed off,” Adele said.
“I guess I do come at it a bit differently. My background is pretty classic, so I think I master all those classical things really well and I don’t try to do too much with a particular product.
“I like to keep it basic and simple so you are tasting the flavour of the protein rather than breaking it down too much or overworking it.”
Of course, one of the benefits of cooking for Field & Game is the opportunity to work with wild duck.
“Most people are used to farmed duck and wild duck is just so different,” she said.
“The flavour is more intense without a doubt but you do have to cook it differently, longer and slower, but flavour-wise, there is much more depth to it.”
Adele wanted to create a dish created entirely from local produce that was both seasonal and regional.
“I was thinking about duck season and the weather and this is a good regional dish for where we are. The chestnuts are sourced from Eurobin in north-east Victoria; a good local product and something interesting to use that people wouldn’t normally think of.
“They see a chestnut at the supermarket and wonder what to do with it and they probably wouldn’t think of making a soup out of it. The chestnut soup is made using a base duck stock and then using the breast to slice as a garnish, which also gives that needed texture.”
Adele is a fan of chestnuts as well as duck.
“They have a very distinct flavour, very nutty and creamy but floury at the same time,” she said.
“They are subtle but distinct flavours; you have the quite velvety texture of the apple chestnut and the duck works with it, it has a distinct flavour but is also quite soft.”
The dish seems complex but is quite simple and makes the most of the wild duck once the breast is removed.
“I use the carcass and the legs just to get some flavour into the stock and use that as my base stock for the chestnut soup,” Adele said.
With the soup ready, the breast is carefully pan seared.
“With duck you want to render the fat down on the skin, that has flavour but it needs to be gently reduced so you keep the breast meat nice and tender,” she advised.
“Not too much heat, you don’t want to cook the breast all the way though, you need that nice touch of pink still.”
“For me it is a lot of exploring and experimenting but absolutely the passion has rubbed off.”
Seared wild duck breast with chestnut soup
Adele Aitken’s recipe for a hearty seasonal dish.
- 2 wild ducks
- 1 stick celery
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1.5 lt water
Remove duck breasts from bird leaving skin on and set aside.
Add roughly chopped vegetables and remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1.5 hours. Strain and reserve liquid.
- 500 g chestnuts
- 2 potatoes, diced
- 1 stick celery, diced
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 50 g butter
- 1 lt duck stock
- 70 ml cream
In a saucepan, melt butter and cook off vegetables and garlic gently for five minutes with no colour. Add chestnuts and your duck stock then simmer covered for about 25–30 mins, until potatoes and chestnuts are tender. Purée soup until smooth and return back to pot. Add cream and simmer until soup reduces slightly. Season to taste.
Seared Duck Breast
Heat fry pan with a small amount of oil. Season duck breast and place in hot pan skin side down and cook for two minutes.
To serve. Place soup in warm bowls. Slice duck breast thinly and place on top of soup. Drizzle with parsley oil. Enjoy!
Matt Fowles wine match
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch or Are Your Game pinot noir
Pinot and duck is, quite possibly, the most highly revered food and wine match there is.
There is something about the nature of wild duck meat — that complex mix of flavours you can’t quite put your finger on — that is mirrored in the pinot noir. In that sense, they complement each other.
But pinot noir is also known for its red fruit characters (think cherries/redcurrants/strawberries), which contrasts with duck so well. It helps cut through the intensity of the meat and, in this case, the creaminess of the chestnut soup, and gets you ready for the next mouthful.
Could this be the perfect autumn meal?