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Mallard pancakes recipe – game cookery in the field

Leon Challis-Davies enjoys a day under some challenging mallard, which he then cooks in the field to be enjoyed by the syndicate members

Leon Challis-Davies shoots a testing mallard at his Bedfordshire syndicate

A bright October day dawned. The sun was low on the road as I drove to Bedfordshire, the russet and gold trees reflecting the sun’s fierce glow. A perfect autumn day was promised. Our syndicate, like many others up and down the country, has seen the devastating impact of avian influenza on bird population and availability, as well as the associated rising prices. The cost of attempting to procure pheasant poults earlier in the season ended in disappointment. Instead, the money was invested into turning two of the five drives into driven clays. The idea behind this is that, despite not having any pheasant, each member still gets a five-drive day with an opportunity to hone their skills prior to taking on the mallard. 

The key is education. In my last feature I discussed how educating the public, in particular the younger generation, was key to the sustainable future of game (Field Kitchen, 21 September). I was therefore pleased to hear from Roma Kealy, the daughter of one of our syndicate members. Roma has been with us since she was 12 and has grown up around our shoot. She passed her DSC1 at 15 and at 16 is now working on her DSC2. She admits that she is a stalker rather than a shooter but got in touch nonetheless as she was keen to explore some Anas platyrhynchos recipes — or as you and I know it, the common mallard. (Click here to see our archive of duck recipes). 


Working together

I was feeling confident going into the ducks — I only needed a couple for the dish I had in mind. Being the youngest person on the shoot (other than my seven-year-old son) I’ve always thought it important Roma really gets to be involved in everything — even cooking in this instance. As the rest of the syndicate took a turn on the clays, Roma and I went to try to find a duck. 

We headed off to the other side of the farm with a small team to a densely populated pond. As we arrived, my son, heading up the beating line, lifted 200-plus mallard off the pond in seconds. The air was thick with mallard coming from all angles. Anyone who is familiar with shooting a pond with reared ducks on it will know the frustration of fat quackers that won’t life — these ducks, however, have proved to be remarkably flighty.

Leon Challis-Davies and 16-year-old Roma Kealy with their finished dish

I shouted at Roma, “Take your time, pick your shots and remember to keep the gun moving.” This was obviously good advice as she brought down the first mallard while I was busy hitting nothing. Typical really. I then slowed down and concentrated on picking my targets. Two beautiful right-to-left crossing mallard were in my sights. Down they came, one with each barrel. I quickly reloaded and got back in position for a high left-to-right crossing mallard.

I took the shot and missed. With a loud ‘over’ call to Roma she followed the bird and brought it down with the first barrel. Moments later, she returned the favour with a shout and I brought down our final bird as it headed away from me.  


Prepping elevenses

This chaotic 10 minutes resulted in the ingredients for our elevenses. There are few finer joys, as a sporting chef, than feeding the Gun line. One of my main aims was to show how quickly and simply mallard can be prepared. The recipe I wanted to do was duck and waffle, a little unorthodox. 

My first problem was the lack of a waffle iron, so I opted for pancakes made from waffle batter and cooked over my trusty gas stove. The second problem was the geography. Bedfordshire is flat, open and very windy. A small area near the shoot room next to a large piece of farm machinery provided enough protection from the wind for the gas stove to function. The machine’s track also provided a wonderful stable surface on which to prepare our birds. 

A quick pluck of the bird’s breast area and the remnants of the down feathers revealed the skin. I demonstrated to Roma how a pinch of the skin and a nick with a sharp knife will reveal the breast intact. As an educational process we then prepared our birds side by side. 

Making the cut larger in the skin revealed both breasts on the crown, then I moved my fingers down towards the mallard’s legs. I’m a chef who does not like waste but also considers the practicalities of time constraints. I used a solid pair of scissors to cut through the leg bone just above the foot joint under the skin, then used a sharp knife to cut out the leg, saving them for another day. I then used a sharp knife to take each breast fillet off the crown. Expertly done by Roma too, I must say. 

Now down to the dish. For the savoury batter mix I put plain flour, eggs, baking powder, butter (melted on the gas stove), milk, chopped parsley, salt and pepper into a bowl. Using the remnants of melted butter in the pan to prevent the mixture from sticking, I dropped in 100g of the waffle batter. A couple of minutes on each side produced golden brown pancakes. I then coated 1cm strips of the mallard breast in gram flour (flour made from chickpeas), seasoned it with salt and pepper, then gently laid it into a hot, oiled pan for a couple of minutes. The strips do not take long to cook. 

A pancake isn’t a pancake in my house without maple syrup, so I then added 50ml of good-quality maple syrup into the same pan flavoured with the mallard juices. Then I mixed in 100g butter and 100ml sriracha chilli sauce, and brought the mixture to the boil for just over a minute, after which I added a handful of chopped parsley.

The dish took 10 minutes from beginning to end, which was a good thing as the Guns looked hungry when they arrived. The food was demolished in minutes with murmurs of appreciation and there was certainly no waste. Roma was inspired and bagged herself some mallard to take back with her. While walking away she shouted, “I have a waffle maker at home.”