Well, the title doesn’t really do this second attempt at making Asian-style duck justice. It’s really ‘Poached duck leg with soy-honey glaze, served in its own broth, on a bed of noodles, wilted greens and broccoli and, incidentally, garnished with fresh chili and mustard leaves’. But that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. In fact, it almost runs to two sentences. Hell, it almost runs right off the page, down the side of the laptop and out, into infinity, only to be crushed by a passing lorry. I may or may not have been posessed by Terry Gilliam for that last piece of imagery. Despite its somewhat verbose appellation, it was nothing more than lovely, fresh, home-cooked food except for the part where the duck had been frozen and then defrosted… Look, I took a picture of it:
That’s it all dressed up, like in its Sunday finest, to go with its Sunday name. It’s a bit like a picture from a 70s cookbook in its composition, and that’s part of what I like about it. See the concentric rings of broccoli and chili? See how brown is a feature colour of the piece? Brilliantly terrible, if I do say so myself. Come payday, I’m going to buy myself a camera and hopefully my pictures will start to get better. I also intend to build a little open-fronted box lined with white card and to adjust the lighting in my kitchen to stop my shadow getting in all my photos. Big plans, eh? I can only hope that they will improve after putting in money and effort, otherwise it’ll just prove that I actually have no eye for photography and will never get a picture on Epicute, and that would make me quite, quite sad.
Once I’d taken a few pics in a 70s style (I narrowed it down to just one, for everyone’s sake), I put the food back together in a way that would actually be practical to eat. It looks a bit more contemporary but doesn’t showcase the duck nearly as much. I’ll let you peruse it as I go through the details of how I made the duck and its accoutrements.
- one duck leg (in this case, frozen then defrosted as required)
- spices as follows:
- one star anise
- one large piece of blade mace
- one medium-sized piece of cassia bark
- two cloves
- one large garlic clove, peeled and squashed
- 1/4 tsp grated ginger
- 1/8 – 1/4 tsp of light soy (enough to lightly colour the broth)
- 1/8 tsp dried sage (yes, I know it’s a herb, not a spice)
- one further large garlic clove, peeled and squashed
- one mate tea bag with added ginger
- one pinch sea salt flakes
- three shakes white pepper
- a few turns of the salt, chili and garlic grinder
- one small head of broccoli
- dark soy
- chili vinegar (a mix of apple and rice vinegars, which has then had sliced chilis added and been left to develop flavour)
- half a block of instant noodles, seasoning packet removed and thrown out of the window (or put in the bin, or put to one side for seasoning packet emergencies)
- a good handful of sliced cabbage – when the broth is ladled over the cabbage it will wilt it, so it doesn’t need cooked beforehand
- half of one long, red chili, de-seeded and thinly sliced
- preserved mustard leaves to garnish
So, I decided that since roasting the duck leg last time had left it dry and not imparted the flavours of all the delicate spices throughout the meat, that I’d try poaching this time to maintain more moisture, and to allow all the flavours to get in amongst the meat. I put all the numbered spices (they are not numbered in any particular order, in case you were wondering, and I still know that sage is a herb) in to a pot that was just wide enough to hold the duck leg, put the duck leg in on top and covered with water. I put on the lid and brought to a gentle simmer – just before boiling but without tipping over. In reality, I have an electric hob, so this temperature was difficult to find and maintain, and I did end up going into a boil at times, and dropping below a simmer at others. Let’s ignore that for now, I’m hoping that it balanced, although I understand that continuity of temperature can make a difference to how a meat tastes when cooked; all the more reason to get a gas hob, really.
As I say, I brought this to a simmer and left for half an hour. After this time I checked the duck, which was still looking very rare, so I returned it to the pot for another fifteen minutes. I think ten might have done it, and maybe even just five as I do like rare meat, though I have never tried duck that way. I kind of chickened out – or ducked out, if you will… hey, that kind of works… – and made sure it was cooked through on this occasion. At this time I took it out of the pot as rested it on the chopping board while I tasted the broth. The duck had given it a lovely richness; almost as soon as the water went into the pot you could see little beads of fat forming on the surface of the soup, which you can make out in the picture below. This is why I left the skin on the duck while it was cooking , to impart flavour, but it also helped to retain the moisture of the meat. I felt like the broth needed further seasoning, so I added the twists from the grinder, then the additional salt and white pepper. I also put in the second garlic clove, and the tea bag. Mate tea (mah-tay, I’m pretty sure, not like tea that’s your friend) is the latest addition to my tea cupboard. It’s Argentinian, and can lay claim to all kinds of lovely health benefits, depending on who you listen to. It helps to avoid obesity in mice, which is extremely handy in *my* everyday life, I don’t know about anyone else. It contains minerals, which we all know are good for you. It can give you the power of flight. Wait, that might not be true… I like it because it tastes nice, power of flight or no, especially the blend with ginger. It has a sort of spicy, peppery kick to it and I thought it would complement the sweet, aromatic spices in the broth nicely. Also, tea and duck are pretty close companions so I felt like I couldn’t go too far wrong. Once I’d added these extras, I brought the broth right up to a boil, and this time covered with a bamboo steamer which was filled with the broccoli. Then I turned my attention back to the duck.
I wanted to remove the skin and a lot of the fat from the duck now that it was cooked. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of fatty meat, both from the point of view of it being unhealthy and the point of view of it being just really chewy and blubbery and bad to eat. Just sayin. Also, in this instance, the fat was particularly soft, having been poached as opposed to roasted or fried, which would have made it crisp and slightly more appetising. I won’t say that removing the fat and skin was the easiest job I’ve ever given myself – it was keen to stay on the duck, and didn’t want to peel off as easily as chicken skin does. My guess is that this is because there is more fat under the skin of duck, holding it to the meat and keeping the duck warm in the freezing water as a happy by-product. Or perhaps it is the other way round. Anyway it was a bit tricky and required a sharp knife and a moderate amount of patience, but I managed to get a lot of it off in the end. It only really took about five minutes, which was lucky as I had the broccoli cooking and didn’t want it to get over-done; I was aiming for it to be finished at the same time as everything else. A novel idea, I’m sure you’ll agree. Once the fat was removed from the meat, I made the glaze – a mix of honey, dark soy and chili vinegar. I couldn’t give you quantities for this, which is a bit remiss of me, but I just threw it together and adjusted until the balance tasted right. I think it was mostly honey, slightly less soy and then not much vinegar as I didn’t want the glaze to be sour, I just wanted the acidity to cut through the stickiness of the honey and heaviness of the soy. I also wanted the heat and the added sweetness that the apple vinegar brings to the mix. It’s specific terms like ‘not much’ and ‘slightly less’ that make me such a great recipe writer, you know. Regardless of what the quantities were, once I felt like the balance was right I got a frying pan on to a high heat and tipped the glaze in, to start it thickening up, ready to coat the duck.
Once the glaze was on the heat, I took the broccoli off the top of the broth (leaving it in the steamer to stay warm) and skimmed out all the spices with a slotted spoon. The tea bag was the easiest bit – if I’d thought I could have made up my own tea bag of all the other spices tucked away inside a coffee filter. This just occurred to me now. Never mind – it was nice to let them all go free-range and casually chat to each other as they flavoured the water, like a youth club for spices. It keeps them off the streets, you know. Some of the smaller bits and pieces got left behind while I was skimming, which I was fine with; I didn’t want to accidentally bite down on a garlic clove, or a bit of twig (ok, cassia bark), but beyond that I wasn’t too fussy. The broth was now a very rich colour and had thickened a little with the duck fat and with the ten or so minutes of boiling down. Once the broth was suitably skimmed, I dropped in the noodles, then added the duck leg to the frying pan containing the now-thickening glaze. I turned the duck to coat it, and basted the glaze over each side too to get even coverage. The noodles take just three minutes to cook, and I knew that at a high heat the glaze would set in about that time, too. Another thing was that I didn’t want the duck to cook any further, I just wanted to heat it up and coat it in the extra flavours. I kept an eye on it for those three minutes, so that it didn’t burn or stick, and kept turning and basting while I was about it.
Finally, I put the cabbage in the bottom of the bowl, then once the noodles were cooked lifted some out and placed them in the centre. I ladled over some broth, arranged broccoli round the sides and dropped on the duck leg, then garnished with a ring of chili and some mustard leaves. After taking a few pics, I took the duck leg back off again and removed the meat from the bone – it came easily, though it wasn’t quite at the ‘falling off tender’ stage. I think a longer, slower cooking would be required for this to happen. Then I kind of just tipped everything bar the duck back into the pot, ladled it out again as one entity and placed half of the meat (the rest went back in to the pot) on top, garnishing further with a few more mustard leaves. Then I ate it, and it was extremely enjoyable. The duck was still moist and had taken on the flavours of the broth, as well as the added sweet and salty glaze flavours. The broth was flavoursome but still refreshing, and all the greens kept the dish fresh. THe mustard leaves added sout notes here and there while the chili gave spikes of heat. All in all, an excellent ensemble performance from the ingredients. I have some left for lunch tomorrow, too, which should make the canteen at work smell suitably unusual for people to give me funny looks. Maybe I’ll eat it with chopsticks and sip the broth right out of the Tupperware, as if I was on my own – everyone will love that, right?
Tunes: This is what happens when you search Youtube for ‘duck song’, seeking inspiration. I’ve watched it a few times now, and I keep going between finding it really, genuinely funny and just looking at it blankly, as if it will begin to make sense. Tablet, brick, potato llama right enough… Llama llama duck song
Movie: Well once again it’s a TV series – it’s Flight of the Conchords. I just got myself the box set and I can’t wait to watch them all again. Does anyone else hate how work consistently gets in the way of doing other, fun things? I am conveniently choosing to ignore the fact that without the job I wouldn’t have money to buy box sets in the first place. Sh. Anyway, watching Conchords will cause me to adopt a terrible Kiwi accent for a while – I’ll try to only do so when with other people afflicted by the same peculiar illness, but I’m not making any promises. This is one of my favourite songs. ‘She’s so hot she’s making me sexist’ – the boys are genius. Boom boom