05 June, 2007

did you ever roast a duckling?

Oh, I'm just pulling your leg. The duck I roasted wasn't caught by Avery. Although she gave it the old college try. This photograph is just coincidentally about ducks. Isn't Richmond-upon-Thames lovely? Whether you end up at the theatre or not, you should go, just for the views.

Seriously, though, about ducklings and roasting. Why have I never roasted one until last night? I think that, while I have pan-sauteed many a duck breast in my time, I have always been intimidated by the thought of a whole bird. I think I've also been put off a bit by all the recipe warnings about extreme spitting. Of fat, I mean, not the duck itself (although one could hardly blame it for spitting, when one thinks of its future in my dinner table). I know some people are intimidated easily by just the idea of roasting a chicken, whereas my household would soon starve without that staple. At any rate, Sunday morning found me haunting the Marylebone Farmers' Market, as is my wont, and while the game purveyor had partridges, quail, capons and suchlike, there were no duck breasts, all sold out. There were whole ducks, however, the coveted (I later found out) Aylesbury variety, apparently snowy white and much sought-after. So I bit the bullet and snapped one up, thereby increasing the weight of my shoulder bag by nearly 4 kilos, and staggered home. What to do with it?

I ended up pricking the copious skin all over many times with a fork, and scoring several shallow cuts across both breasts, and salting and peppering him quite heavily. Then I put him in a deep roasting pan and, while I slaved away watching Avery skate, and gossiping happily with Becky as we shivered together, John put him in the oven at roughly 2 1/2 hours before we wanted to eat. And let me tell you, that duckling was a revelation. The crunchiest, crispiest, meltingly fatty skin you have ever tasted, and rich, dark, juicy meat. Even Avery, who has been known to object to duck on cuteness principles (as she used to lamb as well), succumbed and had three helpings. Mind, however, the duck was not madly meaty, so you'll need one for about every four people.

Roast Duckling
(serves four)

1 Aylesbury duckling
salt and pepper

First treat your pan with nonstick spray. Take the giblets out of the duck and lay them alongside the duck. I was surprised to find offal that is not included in your average chicken carcass: namely, a recognizable heart. Eeew. However. Salt and pepper all over, with the best quality sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast about 2 1/2 hours at a medium temperature, somewhere between 350-375 degrees. I turned the broiler on for the last five minutes or so, and the skin was really crispy. Let duckling sit for five minutes before carving, to let the last of the fat that will trickle out to trickle out. Lift the duckling out of the fat and onto a carving platter. The breast meat will virtually fall off the bone, and if you have a great suggestion for getting much more than a sliver off the legs, please let me know. I found the thighs to be nearly meatless.


Now, left with the lovely carcass, what was a girl to do? "Make duck stock," Avery advised. "What does one do with duck stock, pray tell?" I asked skeptically. "Look it up, I'm sure there's something," was her blithe reply. Not to be intimidated, I put the carcass in a huge stockpot, threw in a tired onion half, several even tireder celery stalks, a half a red pepper that had been neglected, and two cloves of garlic, a handful of bay leaves, and covered the lot with water. It simmered all the rest of the evening, filling the house with the scent of duck, which was not to be despised. Full of duck, mashed potatoes and asparagus as we were, we were all tormented nonetheless by the aroma. By bedtime, it was ready to be poured through a nice sieve, the bones discarded, and the pot put into the fridge overnight, so I could skim off the fat in the morning.

Better than looking up a recipe, however, I asked my mother in law, she who knows everything about food. "I would think it would make a lovely mushroom soup," came the confident advice, so that's what I did. You know me and soup. If you can simmer it in broth and puree it, I'll eat it. Almost any kind. Watercress, or even celeriac, you name it. Even sweet corn, if I have to.

Cream of Portobello Soup With Duck Broth
(serves four)

3 tbsps butter
3 cloves garlic
6 cups fresh duck stock
dash of Madeira or sweet vermouth
6 large portobello mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 tbsps creme fraiche, or sour cream, or light cream

Melt your butter in a nice heavy stockpot and saute the garlic gently. Carefully pour in the duck stock, add the liquor and the mushrooms. Simmer for about 45 minutes, remove from heat and puree with a hand blender. Whisk in the creme fraiche and voila.


It was, John and I agreed, much richer than mushroom soup made with chicken stock. A very deep flavour. I think you couldn't go wrong with a drizzle of truffle oil, but for the first time round I wanted to taste it all on its own. Lovely. Maybe I can get Avery to catch me another duck...

To ease your conscience, should you have one (or cholesterol issues, heaven forfend), here are two lovely salads to have alongside, to cut the fat. Whatever that means, it just seems intuitively true.

Cucumber Salad
(serves four)

1 large hydroponic cucumber
1/2 red onion
handful fresh dill, chopped slightly
3 tbsps sour cream (or creme fraiche or yogurt if you're dieting)
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper

Slice the cucumber lengthwise and, using a small spoon, drag all the seeds out. Slice thin and place in a medium bowl. Slice the onion very thin indeed and add to cucumbers. Place the dill, sour cream lemon juice and salt and pepper in a small jar with a lid and shake until blended. Toss the cucumbers and onions thoroughly in the dressing and bring, ideally, to room temperature.


Tomato and Avocado Salad
(serves four)

2 cups of the most varieties of small tomatoes you can find
1 large ripe avocado
1 medium-hot red chilli
1/3 cup chilli-infused olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp oregano leaves
salt and pepper

Quarter the tomatoes and prepare the avocado (halved, pit removed, diced large). Place all the other ingredients in a jar with a lid, shake well until emulsified, and pour over tomatoes and avocado.


John and I often have one or both of these salads for lunch. With a nice wholemeal pita bread, toasted, to soak up the dressings, they're lovely.

Well, later on I'll tell you about my "Creative Non-Fiction" class yesterday. I'm really inspired to write something now, and John says, "Something besides the blog!" I think he's jealous of you...

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