Pontack is a venerable old English sauce that has been knocking around for at least 300 years. A slightly sharp but sweet reduction made from elderberries and spices. It’s the perfect accompaniment to rich gamey meat
It appears to have been first served in London’s Lombard Street in the 17th century. Named after its originator, Monsieur Pontack, proprietor of the eponymous Pontack’s Head Tavern, which according to André Simon was ‘London’s first fashionable eating house’. Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) "found the wine dear at seven shillings a flagon". Proving perhaps that some things in London remain eternal.
We came across Pontack whilst researching what to serve with pigeon breasts at last weekend’s ‘Montpelier Basement’ (Our Bristol supper club). Elderberries are everywhere around our area right now, and it seemed like the perfect choice.
Famously Pontack is supposed to keep incredibly well, up to seven years in fact, maturing and mellowing with age. This fact is what actually put us off following any of the published recipes…we wanted to use it the next day and we weren’t entirely sure how it would taste after such a comparatively short time.
So, after much umming and ahhhing we ended up making a semi-bastardised recipe of our own, a sort of Pontack’esque elderberry reduction. Success! It was absolutely bloody gorgeous.
Montpelier Basement Pontack
Makes (after being reduced by half to serve) …350ml
You’ll need: -
650g of de-stalked and washed Elderberries
180ml Red Wine Vinegar
200g Golden Caster Sugar
5 Shallots – finely chopped
4 Allspice berries
¾ Whole Nutmeg – grated
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
Pinch of salt
First strip and wash your elderberries from the stalks (The stalks are actually slightly toxic, small bits are fine, but don’t leave any large bits in). Dan’s first rule of cooking is ‘don’t poison yourself’…. perhaps you should mutter this gently to yourself as you carry on making the rest of the sauce. By the way, the easiest way to strip the berries is to use a fork. Easy.
Next, put the sugar and red wine vinegar in a pan, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat slightly, and boil until it slightly thickens and becomes ‘syrupy’.
Add the water, elderberries, shallots and all the spices. Stir and simmer for 5 mins and strain through a fine sieve.
If using straight away, reduce by half.
If not, pour into a prepared sterilised jar, it should keep for a good while (maybe even seven years…. but seeing as we’ve messed with the recipe, don’t hold us to that!). But, and this is the main thing…. It’s absolutely cracking to use right away, just reduce it a bit before serving… to get it nice, thick and glossy. You’ll only need about a tablespoon per person, so this amount makes about enough for 30 odd portions. Its a perfect accompaniment to game birds and also supposedly very good with liver or kidneys.