Tag Archives: duck

From Beijing to Hangzhou (via Changsha)

Tea picking

I suspect many westerners have a handful of preconceptions about China, primarily driven by what we see on the news and read in the papers, and all coloured by the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the terrible government backlash that ensued.

But if you visit, I think you’ll see a very different place to the one you are expecting. People are more enthusiastic, more intelligent, more energetic, more interesting, more opinionated and enjoying life more than most people I meet in London. Everywhere you look, people are going about their daily business in the same way people do here in the UK. Of course the press is controlled by the government, and Twitter and Facebook are blocked and replaced by Chinese versions that are automatically monitored and censored (mainly through keyword searches), and of course there are serious human rights issues that are a real concern. But despite all that I think it’s fair to say that for the vast majority of people, life over there is just as it is over here. Business is booming, people have good jobs, eat good food (far better than we do), drink lots of beer, go to bars, drink more beer, play dice, drink more beer and fall down. Oh and they smoke a lot. Really, all the time. Remember when you used to have an intercourse fag at the dinner table? (about 20 years ago…) They still do that in China. I hesitate in saying this for fear of my own little backlash, but that’s pretty cool…

And so to the food. Wonderful. Fantastic. Unbelievably good. And not at all like the british Chinese food we get to eat over here (mainly I think, because we generally eat Cantonese food here in the UK, rather than Mandarin). Every meal feels like a banquet, and rice is rarely served. Normally about 20-30 dishes, all shared and all perfectly balanced with each other: pork (Chairman Mao style is the best), steamed fish, fried fish, soup, noodles, pak choi, beef, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, beans, prawns, snails, duck (although the tongues are not my faves) and tofu. Always tofu. What is so perfect is that everyone helps themselves from the centre of the table and takes only what they enjoy and only what they need.

So rather than trying to describe how it was all prepared (I have no clue), I’ll just leave you with a little peek at some of the dishes (with a few of the more challenging ones thrown in for fun – there were very few of them, but they have to be included for balance) – oh and the odd funny sign. No photo album is complete without a photo of a funny sign…

Thanks Fan, Jacqueline and Watson…

For all you meat lovers…

It seems I’m getting into some sort of rhythm with DATW (it must suggest too much free time, which can’t be a good sign) so I’m going to try to keep the momentum going. I’m still a country mile away from the 500 views in one day that I set out to achieve back in January, but it’s been fun failing to get there.

Anyway – the other day my friend Eve told me that I should put up a few things for Christmas, which I think is a great idea. So I’m going to start with something that I did a few years ago and I think works really well in the lead-up to Christmas, or as an antidote to cold turkey. One thing though – you do need to have a lot of hefty meat eaters in the vicinity – this isn’t something you can get through on your own in a hurry…

Winter terrine with duck and chicken

This takes a little work, but it’s so good and certainly worth it if you’re a full-on carnivore.

Start with the duck, as this takes the longest time: take four duck legs, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and then cook them in a warm oven (150c) for two hours covered in foil – this will essentially confit them, making them beautifully tender. Once done, pull the duck meat from the legs with your fingers – leaving them in little pieces, and put them aside.

While the duck is cooking, you can do the rest. Firstly, make the forcemeat (which helps bind the terrine while keeping the duck and chicken from drying out) by taking a bowl and putting in 500g good quality sausagemeat, a few chicken livers (chopped), two handfuls of white breadcrumbs, half a red chilli and two cloves of garlic, finely chopped, a good glug of olive oil, vermouth and brandy, an egg and a handful each of parsley and thyme along with 4 juniper berries ground down with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Next fry four chicken thighs (skin removed) in butter and oil until golden brown, and almost cooked, and as with the duck, remove them from the bone, cut into strips and set aside.

Now, take a rectangular loaf tin and line the bottom and sides with slices of good streaky bacon so that they will wrap around the terrine. Into the bottom of the tin put a layer of the forcemeat, then a layer of the duck (with some of the juices from the roasting tin, but not too much of the fat), then another layer of forcemeat, then a layer of the chicken thighs (again with their juices), then a final layer of forcemeat and then finally wrap around the edges of the bacon strips. now press it all down and place foil over the top.

Cook the terrine in a bain marie (roasting tin half filled with water) in a warm oven (160c) for 2 hours. Then take it out and let it cool fully before putting it in the fridge. There are loads of juices in there which will set into a lovely jelly, but you have to let them cool fully – I made the mistake of taking the terrine out too soon and they went everywhere – precious precious juices…

That’s it – take the terrine out of the tin and serve with a really good chutney, bread, salad, cheese, etc.

(by the way, If you wish, you can substitute the chicken and duck for any game you like – rabbit, pheasant, partridge etc)

Chilli fig chutney

I did this is Spain earlier in the year with figs from my mothers garden and it goes perfectly with cheese and cold meats and especially the terrine. Start by cutting about 20 figs into quarters, or eighths (keeping the skins on). Then take two large onions, five cloves of garlic, an inch of fresh ginger and a whole red chilli (or two if you’re in a dangerous mood), chop them and fry them just for a few minutes in olive oil. Put them in a saucepan with the figs along with about 200-300g sugar, 500ml of red wine vinegar, seasoning and a sprinkling of (freshly) ground coriander and cumin seeds. Let it boil away for 5-7 minutes until the figs are just cooked, then remove the figs and continue to reduce the liquid for another 10 minutes or so, until it takes on the thickness of double cream. While you’re doing this, taste the liquid and adjust for sweetness and seasoning. Replace the figs, and then decant the whole lot into sterilised jars. You can use it pretty much straight away, but of course it gets better with age.

Leftovers don’t get better than this…

Question – What’s the best thing about cooking for friends?

Catching up on all their news, hearing about their work and their kids? Being gently tickled by their dazzling repartee? Sharing memories and nostalgia of years gone by? Perhaps just enjoying the presence of people who you care about? Or (more likely) getting a little kick out of the fact that you cook better than they do?

No, no, no, no and no.

The fact of the matter is that the best thing about cooking for friends, by far, is the chance to cook too much food and eat it all over again the next night (or the next two nights if you’re really lucky. or single).

And here I am with what are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best leftovers you could ever, ever eat:

Dauphinoise potatoes – infinitely better the day after you cooked them
Red cabbage – barely getting going until day two, let’s be honest
Confit of duck leg – not even worth eating until at least a month after it was so lovingly poached in its own fat

That’s it – put the three together and you have heaven on a plate. Stick a glass of bordeaux next to it and you may as well just kill yourself there and then, because it’s never going to get any better. Try it. And then try telling me I’m wrong (if you’re still alive that is…)

Confit of duck, red cabbage and dauphinoise potatoes

The confit is easy – have a look here to see how it’s done.

For the red cabbage, take a whole small red cabbage, cut it finely and put it in a large pan with a small jar of redcurrant jelly (or something similar), and couple of peeled and chopped apples, a finely sliced onion, a large knob of butter and plenty of seasoning. Add 100ml of water, put the lid on and cook it on a low low heat for an hour or two, stirring every 10 mins or so.

For the spuds, get out the mandoline and finely slice a couple of handfuls of waxy potatoes and put them into a shallow over proof dish (preferably standing on edge – you’ll get more in and they will cook so much better) with half a pint of cream mixed with a quarter of a pint of milk (enough to ensure the spuds are almost completely submerged, and few cloves of finely chopped garlic, plenty of little knobs of butter and season it well. Cook it in a low oven (150-160c) for about an hour.

Now, get your friends over for dinner (preferably ones who don’t like eating too much), serve them a tiny portion of your feast, have a quick chat, get rid of them as quickly as you can and then wait…with all the patience you can muster…

Canadian duck

Finally – something different for breakfast! The Canadians are here so I have to do a real English breakfast with bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, black pudding, baked beans and toast – brilliant!

Then off to Cambridge and Immie’s skating party. It’s unnatural for english people to ice-skate. We simply have no grace and it’s all too obvious when we strap blades to our feet and try to look like we know what we’re doing. And that lack of grace is compounded by the fact that we can’t maintain ice rinks either – it feels more like skating along a rocky mountain pass than a placid lake. Why can’t we do these things properly?

Anyway – we get back and it’s time to cook the thing I have been waiting to do ever since I started this blog –

Confit of duck leg, pan fried duck breast with mustard mash and garlic fine beans

The thing to know about this meal is that you should prepare the confit at least a day before you eat it (although you don’t have to).

For four people you need a whole duck and an extra pair of legs. Take the duck and remove the legs and the breasts. Remove any fatty skin from the bird cut into small chunks and put in a saucepan. Trim the excess fat off legs and breasts (not too closely) and put the fat into the pan, then put the pan on a low heat. When the fat has fully melted you can take the pan off the heat and set aside. In the meantime, take the legs and cover them in salt (and pounded juniper berries if you have any) and leave for a few hours (or overnight if you’re patient – although to be honest – you can probably skip this step if you are in a rush)

When that’s done – take the legs and scrape off the excess salt and juniper berries and put them in an oven proof dish (that is just big enough for all four legs) and pour over the duck fat – they should be virtually covered in the fat. Cover with foil and put in a low oven (about 150c) for two hours then just turn off the heat and leave them. You can turn them over half way through cooking if you like. The trick is to make sure they cook in the fat and that they don’t cook too quickly. Once they are cool, that’s it – they can stay in the fat for a very long time (old French preserving technique).

Right – now you’re ready to cook the meal –

I think I’ve done mashed potato before so just look down this blog – the key here is to make sure there is a enough cream, mustard, salt and pepper in there.

Take the legs – scrape off the excess fat, place on a baking tray, brush with a little honey and place in the oven at 180c. They will take about 20 mins – but check them to make sure they don’t overcook. Take the duck breasts, season well and place into a frying pan at a moderate heat (about 3/4 strength) fat side down. Now the timing completely depends on the thickness of the breasts but I would go for about 5 mins on the fat side, turn over for 4 mins, and then do a last couple of mins on the fat side again. The breast needs to give when you prod it – otherwise it’s overcooked – and that is a disaster. When done, take them out of the pan and onto some foil to rest. While the duck is frying, steam the fine beans for about 5 mins until almost cooked. Then take the beans out of the pan, finely chop a large clove of garlic and put it in the pan with a good shot of olive oil for one minute, then put the beans back into the pan with lots of salt and pepper – they will be the best beans you have ever tasted – trust me.

Finally, put equal amounts of honey and balsamic vinegar into the pan and let it reduce a little to make a glaze. Now you just need to serve –

Cut the duck breasts into 1 cm slices and place on the plate, covering with the glaze. then add the leg, mash and beans. Works every time.

Lovely with Rioja.