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Duck Ham or Prosciutto

duck bacon

A few years ago, I discovered how easy it was to make your own bacon and Mister North and our mum followed suit, making their own guanciale and bacon on several occasions. It’s certainly given carbonara and an Ulster Fry a new lease of life in our family.

I’d wondered for a while if you could cure pig’s jowls or belly, what else could get the sugar-salt-saltpetre treatment and decided to try making duck bacon for Christmas. I got massively distracted and the duck breasts I bought for the purpose got left in the freezer until a few weeks ago. I wanted something simple but effective to make while working on other stuff and this seemed just the ticket.

On a semantic note, I found it hard to tell what the difference between duck ham and duck bacon was when researching the idea. Tim Hayward in Food DIY uses a cure close to my bacon recipe but calls it ham and most recipes from American food bloggers seemed to call it bacon when it had been smoked rather than simply cured and air dried. Lots of other people described it as duck prosciutto. I’m still not sure what to call it apart from very easy and incredibly delicious.

Duck Ham/Prosciutto/Bacon

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 200g sea salt
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon lapsang souchoung tea leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon saltpetre (optional)

This is ridiculously easy and works just as well without the saltpetre as with, but had a slightly richer more ruby colour to the meat when I used it. The lapsang souchoung tea leaves add a smoky note that works beautifully without having to start rigging up a smoker or adding the heat of any kind of chilli.

Lay the duck breasts skin side up in a non reactive container. I used one of my many many tupperware boxes after having had ziplock bag disasters before.

Mix the salt, sugar, herbs, pepper and tea leaves (and saltpetre) together and add the maple syrup or treacle to it all to make a thick barely spreadable paste. Smear some onto the skin of the duck breasts and then turn over and cover the meat well.

Put the lid on the box and leave it all to cure in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. The cure will create a brine and it’s best to turn the breasts everyday in this to cure it evenly. I forgot about mine after 3 days and left it for another 2, ignoring it somewhat.

When you remember about it again, take the breasts out of the cure and wrap in a clean muslin cloth. Hang this little muslin parcel up somewhere not too warm and away from pets to air dry. I use the clothes airer in my bedroom but it would be fine in a garage or cold hallway as well.

After 5 days, unwrap your duck breasts and slice as thinly as possible to serve. It will have a subtle smoky and herby flavour that goes very well with a kale salad and roasted tomatoes for lunch or topped with sauerkraut, pickles and cheese in a Reuben inspired sandwich along with a quick Thousand Island style dressing with mayonnaise, ketchup, onion, gherkin and a little green chilli all blitzed up together. This was so delicious I forgot to take any kind of photograph of it. I think I barely used a plate I was so keen to eat it.

This is a great way to make a duck breast go a long way and serve several people making it both economical and incredibly impressive looking as a dish. Your use of it is only limited by your imagination!

Brazilian wild duck à l’orange

Wild duck with forced rhubarb, blood orange, carrots and mash

Actually, this is a slightly misleading title. The duck wasn’t from Brazil (it was however, pretty wild, coming as it did from near Preston*), and it’s not your classic duck à l’orange either. But hey,  it was absolutely delicious, and as smooth and fluff-free as any Brazilian you’re likely to find in this country. Let me explain…

The game season somewhat passed me by this year: I’ve placed a few bits and pieces in the freezer which will make an appearance for a special occasion, but have been lacking in feathered friends to feast upon. So when a friend contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in a wild duck, I jumped at the chance. I’d have been quackers not to…

He explained once of his colleagues is a wildfowler, so at this time of year he often comes into work with a bunch of mallards in the back of his car. This particular specimen was a very fine fellow… a good weight, beautiful plumage, cleanly shot. I was very grateful, but after taking receipt realised I’d have to pluck the bugger. I left it hanging for a couple of days in a cool place, and put the plucking to the back of my mind as a busy working week flew by.

Wild duck, hanging

I’d picked up a handful of wonderful blood oranges from Bill the greengrocer in Todmorden Market in late January, along with my perennial local favourite, Yorkshire forced rhubarb. These wonderfully seasonal delights sat for a few days at home, teasing me as I mulled over what they’d be best used with. I really fancied pairing the two of them for something lip-smackingly tart and sweet, inspired by Miss South’s award-winning Bloody Old Lady marmalade from last year (which, despite rationing, I sadly finished last month).

Beautiful blood oranges

So when the mallard popped up I thought a simple compote would provide the perfect foil its wild gamey flavour. All I did was to roughly chop the rhubarb stalks, halve the orange segments, add a tablespoon or two of Demerara sugar and a splash of cloudy apple juice, then heat for a couple of hours with a cinnamon stick and a couple of star anise. After some gentle cooking the fruit fell apart into pastel strands, its sharpness balanced by the spices and a touch of sweetness. That made for a lovely dessert with some natural yoghurt

Cue Saturday night, when I’d promised to cook for my better half, and I suddenly realised I needed a foolproof method to denude the bird. Not fancying a messy pluck in the darkness outside, I stumbled on a video of this unconventional technique from the ever-reliable Hank Shaw from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

Rather than describing the technique in great detail, I recommend watching the video. But in brief, once you’ve removed the main feathers from the duck, rather than getting caught up in a maelstrom of down, you dip the carcass in a cocktail of hot water  and melted paraffin wax.  I had to improvise a bit (using half a bar of my favourite Fjällräven Greenland wax… is this the first time it’s been used in the kitchen, or does that proud Swedish hunting tradition mean it’s a regular culinary assistant in the frozen north?) but the whole process was dead easy.

Once the down was coated in a thin film of wax I yanked it straight out and plonked it into a bucket of icy water. Like magic (in fact, like Ice Magic, if anyone remembers that) the whole thing sets into a hard shell around the carcass. Removing the final shell of wax and down was as easy as peeling an orange… and it left skin as clean and dimpled as one too. A DIY wildfowl Brazilian… plucking brilliant!

I only used the breasts, which I delicately removed and rubbed with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, before sealing and searing it in my newly seasoned Mermaid** skillet. I’d had wild duck breasts a couple of weeks before at El Gato Negro Tapas, where the head chef, Simon Shaw, had recommended they needed to be treated with a delicate touch so they wouldn’t overcook and lose their flavour and texture. As we like our meat rare, I flashed them for a couple of minutes in the pan, then rested them for at least twice as long.

There was just time to plate up the veg – a simple selection of creamy parsley mash and some Vichyssoise carrot batons – then I sliced the duck. The deep magenta meat quivered almost as much as I did as I spooned the spiced winter fruit over it… the aroma was stunning and it looked as pretty as a picture. Thankfully the taste was equally good… incredibly tender, rich duck was given a light kick from the sharp, spiced notes of the rhubarb and blood orange. Accompanied by a bottle of Spanish red (a delightful Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero from Hangingditch) this was the perfect dish for a freezing cold January night… seasonal, (mostly) local, and bursting with wonderfully rich, complimentary flavours. I can’t recommend it highly enough; indeed I might open a salon to wax the local wildfowl population on a more regular basis…

* Wild? I was absolutely livid
*
* Disclosure: I unexpectedly won this in a Christmas Blogger’s Challenge for my Tongue’n’Cheek pudding… hurray!

Duck, or strange love (adventures with a homebrew sous-vide)

Duck or strange love (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the (flavour) bomb that’s cooking very low and slow).

I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the concept of sous-vide cooking over the last few months, but I’ve been put off by the extreme set-up costs associated with this oh-so-trendy way of cooking. Sous-vide, incidentally, means cooking under vacuum, at a low temperature for a long time. The idea is to preserve flavours and cell structure better through super-slow cooking. It’s actually a pretty simple concept, and in theory one can’t go far wrong with the ‘low n slow’ cooking style. However if you look online there are a lot of very expensive pieces of kit designed to relieve you of your hard-earned cash along the way.

That’s the thing: it’s one of the those ‘art vs. science’ techniques. I’m definitely more artistic than scientific, although I’ve watched as a more technical style of cooking has become more popular, thanks in part the Hestons and Ferrans of this media age. However I’m also a pragmatist. It was reading a review of ‘Modernist Cooking‘ that made me think, dammit, I should have a go at this malarkey. So I decided to rig up a rather Heath Robinson-esque DIY sous vide cooking kit. Take one slow cooker (rather a kitchen favourite, cost under £20 when I bought it a couple of years ago.) Add one inexpensive electronic cooking thermometer/probe from Clas Olsen (a tenner to you and I). Finish with a lot of cling-film and some zip-lock plastic bags. There were promising reports of similar setups on the net. But would it actually work?

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Udon at Koya, Soho

Oooh-don

As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I seem to be on a massive kick for Asian food at the moment and while I’ve been enjoying my meals out, I realised I seem to have been sticking to Chinese food above all else. Good reviews and a nudge in the right direction from A led me to branch out this week and try Koya in Frith Street for some honest-to-goodness Japanese noodles. Read more

Mister North’s souper noodles…

I was out with some friends in Manchester yesterday and we decided to eat in Wagamama, previously a reliable and solid choice for utilitarian Asian food. Their first branch in Manchester opened a decade ago, and provided good competition to local chain Tampopo. Wagamama tended to be more Japanese-oriented, and I credit it as being the place to get me interested in expanding my knowledge of Nipponese nosh. I and my companions were, however, massively underwhelmed by last night’s meal: I think the chain has become more focused on homogeneity and profit margins in the last few years. Either that or my palette has become a lot more discerning…

So today I resolved to make up for my mediocre yaki soba with something a lot more delicious. When I go to Manchester, home of one of the biggest Chinese populations in Europe, I like to stock up on Asian goodies from one of the many fabulous Asian supermarkets. Fresh udon noodles, green Asian brassicas, random sauces, and staples of my store cupboard such as bonito and kombu seaweed. So yesterday I filled several bags with the above and other delicious morsels – wasabi peas, roast duck, Chinese sausages – and revelled in the prospect of a fresh and filling bowl of goodness for my tea.

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