Sometimes inspiration strikes in seconds. An idea arrives fully formed in our minds. Duck a l’Orange with sea buckthorn sauce instead of orange was one of those. It’s usually a good omen when we can’t even decide between several excellently catchy names to use for the dish. Duck a la Sea Buckthorn. Duck a l’Argousier (french for sea buckthorn). Buck a la Sea… Duck… thorn. Maybe not that last one. On with the show.
Sea buckthorn is insane. Like, it has too much of flavour. There’s so much sour orangey citric acid flavour in these tiny little berries that eating one is like sucking down a whole tube of soluble berocca tablets without water. If you pick the berries with a cut on your hand, it stings like hell. They say that pineapple-pickers have no fingerprints, because prolonged exposure to pineapple juice dissolves them. If that’s true, then pickers of sea buckthorn will be totally unidentifiable: the C-Buck juice dissolves fingerprints, and toe prints, and your car numberplate, and the photo ID driving license you left at home, twenty miles away, in your other trousers. It’s pretty acidic, ok? (If you value your unique identifying features, the best way to harvest the berries is to cut a whole laden branch, freeze it and shake the berries off. It stops them bursting burning juice all over you.)
You’d think that the high acidity might make it unpleasant to eat. Far from it – such condensed flavour is often an advantage. For our Sea Duckthorn dish, we’ll be making a sauce with lots of added sugar, so sourness isn’t really a concern: once we remove the sharpness, what remains is an unbelievable intensity of orangey flavour.
And this is perfect for our pet obsession with British flavour. It’s often assumed that exotic or intense flavours have to come from exotic, faraway countries. In British January, the sweet and complicated tang in our duck dish must be from imported African oranges, right? No. We got it from Sea Buckthorn, foraged from a disused towpath by the Thames barrier…
So here it is, an entirely British take on a classic of French cuisine. It was a surprise favourite on our Christmas menu, and is set to make repeat appearances in years to come.