Monday, December 20, 2010

Confit of Duck

There may be a theme emerging. Fatty, unctuous meats cooked slowly and often more than once. This is no coincidence. Confit of duck is one of my favourite things in the world of food; the first thing I look for on a restaurant menu, and one of the reasons for which I love the south-west of France so much. (Even if it is a little distance from here...)

And yet, I've never cooked a confit of duck (nor any other meat for that matter), so I thought I'd better start somewhere, and christmas seemed a better place than most. This year, LW and I are going to spend christmas afternoon with our good friends with whom we share soup and sandwiches over the winter months. We're sharing the cooking, and then we shall, in traditional style, eat too much, and snooze...

So to the confit. 2 days ago, I butchered two ducks into portions: 4 legs, 8 pieces of breast and wing.

I then thoroughly seasoned the meat with a dry rub of salt (loads) pepper, thyme, bayleaf and garlic. The pieces were then packed into a baking dish and allowed to marinade for 48 hrs in the fridge.

Today, I batch fried the pieces in a little oil to brown the surfaces of the meat and skin.

Meanwhile, in a low oven (140 degC) I melted my entire collection of duck fat. This was about 1.5 litres of it, including the fat rendered from the pieces whilst I browned them.

Once the browning was done, I packed the pieces as tightly as I could into the baking dish full of melted duck fat (it nearly covered them)
and put the whole lot in said low oven for 2 hours, at which point the meat should be nearly falling off the bone (but not quite). Any portions that were not completely covered by fat need turning 2-3 times during the process.

This is as far as I have gone as I write.

The next stage will be to allow the whole lot to cool, and then pack it into sterile preserving jars until we get hungry. They'll keep like this for months if necessary, but it's unlikely that any will last as long as that due to the seductive power of the canard.

To cook, the meat simply needs cooking very hot in an oven for another 5 minutes until the skin is frispy. The fat can be recycled for another day. Needless to say, none of it goes to waste; it's the best thing in the known universe.

Photos will be posted. Duck will be eaten, and, in related news, we have several ducklings running around the garden, blissfully unaware of their rather tenuous future. Forage, my pretty ones, live lives of reckless joy...

French Onion Soup

Just what I'm doing making a rich, hearty soup on a day which, whilst pouring with rain, is also about 23degC and very humid, is anyone's guess. But the guess would have to include in it the notion that I'm making Confit of Duck for the 1st time, and I couldn't possibly let a litre of fragrant, sweet duck stock go to waste (or the freezer, which now resembles an old, forgotten mini black hole that someone made with the Large Hadron Collider and then quickly shoved into a cupboard to gather dust, and everything else within its event horizon, before anyone noticed.)

So soupe a l'oignon it is.

I'll admit, I made this up, it may be a mile or two from the authentic, but it tasted delicious, and there's none left. When the humidity reaches about 90%, my inclination to research tends towards zero.

I very gently sweated 3 medium sized onions for about 40 min, with a spoonful of soft brown sugar and some oil.
When they were very soft, I upped the heat, and deglazed the pan with some sherry, some brandy and some white wine. The smell was excellent! I also added some dark soy sauce for depth of colour and saltiness.

The stock was ready and heated, and when the alcohol was burnt off the onions, I added it, and seasoned to taste. Yum.

Meanwhile, I sliced a baguette, and drizzled some olive oil onto the slices which I then baked in a medium oven for 30 min to croutonize them. I made an aiolioilio (I'm sure that's how everyone in Italy, Spain, Portugal and southern France spells it) with wet garlic (just in season) salt (the seasoning, not the spy) and really good olive oil added slowly to form a thick emulsion.

I then slathered the croutons with the garlicky paste and covered them with grated gruyere.

The toasty things then went on top of the bowl of soup, and back under the grill for no more than 3 weeks.
oh joy. Even in midsummer.

Serve, remembering not to touch the bowls for fear of melty fingers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fat Pig Wine Festival

Yesterday was the 3rd "Fat Pig" wine festival, and they couldn't have chosen a better day for it. The fat Pig winery is a very small (2 acres) winery and hosts this event so that other small winemakers may showcase their product. There were 5 or 6 winemakers represented, 3 food stalls and a lot of people. For additional entertainment there was a really good band playing everyone's favourite cover versions of classic rock tunes. So. Wine, sunshine, good food, dancing, 500 drunk people. What could be finer?

The event started at 11.30 and ended, all too soon, at 5.30pm. And despite the intense heat, everyone looked like they were having a brilliant time.

We went with a 4 friends, one of whom has a big 6-seater truck, and LW, gracious, and teetotal, as ever, agreed to drive. We found a big table to sit around, and calculated that, by the time we really needed it we'd be in the shade of the avocado tree behind us. And so it was! The food went down well (Thai fishcakes, Chicken satay, a big cheeseboard and some couscous salad) and the drink even better; The wineries involved in the day were:

Fat Pig winery: they grow Shiraz and make a really good rose.
Marsden Estate: A bigger winery with some prize-winning lines. We especially liked the Pinot Gris.
Morepork Winery: Just across the road from the Fat Pig. Makes a pinot gris
Bent Duck: Makes a very passable chardonnay!
Chinook estate: Pinot gris (I didn't like this as much)
Ake Ake: Makes a range of wines, with a particularly good Chambourcin being my favourite!

We got home all (except for particularly LW) slightly the worse for wear, and then we...

Feasted! On very slow-cooked (7 hours or more at 100 degC!) pork belly and crushed new potatoes, tomato & feta salad and then Tiramisu! Oh, and a little more wine.

Roll on next year...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Noodles! (Wuhan hot-and-dry noodles, to be precise)

One of the many highlights of a trip to Auckland is the chance to visit a good, big Asian supermarket or 2. I love to find and experiment with ingredients, sauces and packets of things I don't recognise, and I love the almost infinite variety of packet noodle products.

Often, I'll basardise a recipe with additions of my own, but, in this case I'm following the instructions, detailed as they are, and seeing how it comes out. I have a second packet of the same noodles I can play with later if needed!

I like the detailed description of the product, and the packaging:

And the verdict?
surprisingly tasty: the packets are quite complex mixtures, the main ones being a sort of tahini-style spiced sesame paste, and a chilli paste with spices and oil. There's also a packet of light soy and one of pickled radish. I'd definitely have it again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicken Satay

Mmm... I haven't made a satay sauce in ages, so, having suggested it for a friend's get-together, I thought we'd have some ourselves.

The sauce has more varieties than Heinz, and mine is different every time. Here's what I did this time:

Sweat finely-chopped onion, ginger and garlic in a saucepan with a little oil, and then, when softened, I added a glug or two of Chinese cooking wine, some soy sauce (light and dark), some oyster sauce, chilli sauce (homemade) and some palm sugar. I seasoned with some ground cumin, coriander and cardamon, and salt and lemon juice. Then, after simmering for a minute or two to get the alcohol out of the wine, I added about 2 tbs of smooth peanut butter and stirred the thick mixture. I then added hot water, a little at a time until the sauce was the ideal consistency. I seasoned more to taste, and that's it! Probably a million miles from an authentic Indonesian recipe, but it tastes good to me!

Meanwhile I cut some chicken breast into thick strips and skewered it and then battered it thin under some cling-film. I placed it on the grill pan and seasoned it with salt, pepper, lemon juice and then sprayed some oil onto it. Of course, I was in too much of a hurry to remember to soak the skewers...

Meanwhile, I made some coconut rice. (1 cup long-grain rice, 1.5 cups watered down coconut cream, salt to taste) Simmer for 7 minutes, then lid on and heat off for 20 min (no peeking).

Meanwhile I laid the table.

Meanwhile, I cooked the chicken under a hot grill (only needs 3 min) and served like so: (note the finely-charred skewers).

Delicious! And filling. I made too much satay sauce, so I will freeze the rest.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tira, and quite possibly, misu.

Yesterday I took part in the second cheesemaking course. As before, it was excellent, and if anyone is contemplating learning how to make cheese, and lives in NZ, you should not go past these courses, run by Jean Mansfield.
Yesterday's course took us through the making of Camembert, Gouda (blue and white) and Marscapone.

Needless to say, the Camembert and Gouda need to be matured, and are doing so in the fridge (which I have had to turn down to the lowest setting so that the bacteria and mold can develop). Apologies to all who wanted a very cold drink...

However, the Marscapone is ready, and I've never made Tiramisu before, so it just had to be done. Especially as my wonderful dental assistant and her husband make their own Kaluha, and have given us a bottle!

So I bought some sponge fingers (Savoiardi) and we had all the other ingredients:

Whisk 4 egg yolks with 200g of caster sugar, then, when the mixture is pale and thick, add the marscapone and whisk till smooth. Add a tsp of vanilla extract. Fold in the beaten whites of 4 eggs.

Meanwhile: soak (briefly) the sponge fingers in a mixture of cold espresso and kaluha,
and make a layer in a bowl/dish/supertanker.
Cover with about half the eggy/cheesy goodness and grate some chocolate over it.
 Then another layer of soaked fingers, and the rest of the cheesy/eggy goodness and more grated chocolate.
Then place in a fridge (or ram into an antarctic glacier if you are using a  supertanker) for about 3 hours.

Then eat. Tiramisu was invented in 1985. So something wonderful did come out of the 80's. I'm amazed that it took so long to be invented, but, perhaps, people made it all the time but never called it that?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spaghetti with Pippis

Actually, I may have the spelling wrong. Some people spell them Pipi, some spell them Pippi. Who knows? Who cares?

Down at the beach, at low tide, I play with the dogs. It's a simple game, I throw a stick and the dogs rush into the sea to retrieve it. The 1st one there gets the stick, and is hounded (quite literally) by the other 2 who share the honour of returning it to me. Sometimes I throw more than one stick and the process becomes more complicated.

Meanwhile, as I tire the tireless dogs, LW and, in this case, LW's Mum dig for Pippis. There are 100s of them and it doesn't take long to get the 30ish required per person to make this dish. So, bucket full of clams, boot full of dog-tired dogs, we head home for the freshest seafood dish:

The Pippis are washed of any grit and sand, and then covered in fresh water for an hour or so. then I fry some onion and garlic, add a little herbes de provence and some dried chilli and when it's all softened and starting to engolden, I add about 2 cups of white wine and simmer for 10 min until the wine has lost its sharpness. The smell should be amazing by now. I then add the drained Pippis and steam them in the pan until they open.
The dish is finished with some cream and a handful of chopped parsley. I then mix in some cooked spaghetti and serve.

Pippis are tiny, bright orange/red and have a mild, sweet and slightly nutty seafood flavour. They are plentiful, easy to catch and some of the best kaimoana* I know of.

*kaimoana- A Maori word meaning seafood. I used it because collecting seafood in this way is a Maori tradition.

Biryani too. The sequel.


I didn't win. The standard of curries was, as anticipated, very high, and Bart made the most well-balanced and delicious chicken Thai Green Curry. I know that it's an old favourite, and a curry I have eaten often, but, truthfully, it was the most fragrant, excellent version of this dish I've ever eaten. It's not pictured here, but it is in the white ceramic pot. Lurking. Smug. About to win.

The other curries were also amazing and diverse. We had a Malaysian pineapple curry, beautiful, sweet and almost a dessert,
a Chicken curry with cashew nuts and blackened spices that was very lovely and very different from the heavyweights of Indian cuisine,
and a spinach and paneer curry that was just lovely.
And, just to prove that it wasn't just a competition, we had rice, poppadoms, an amazing aubergine raita and a banana and coconut salad.

And plenty of wine and chat!

What a good night.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


This afternoon a few friends are getting together for a curry cook-off. Last year was the inaugural event (we didn't know it then, we just got together to compare our favourite curries). I think 10 different dishes were made, all of them excellent, and a brilliant time was had.

So this year I suspect that the standard will be pretty high, and I haven't made a Biryani in ages, so that's what I'm doing. There are 100s of variations on this dish, as it's celebrated from the Middle East right across to the Philippines. The version I'm making owes more to India, but I suspect that I'm bastardizing several cultural standards in the process. Call it a fusion biryani. Actually, call it whatever you like; I'm sure you will.

Here's a brief rundown of what I done did:
I browned off a kilo of diced shoulder lamb in some ghee, and then fried a couple of chopped onions in the oil.
I made a very rich gravy with ground cumin, coriander, cardamon, garam masala, tamarind, ginger, garlic, chilli, prawn paste, mustard, coconut cream and chicken stock. I added so many little bits of things that I can't remember if that list is complete. Just keep tasting, and adding stuff until it has that balance of sweet/sour/salty/hot that seems right. I made about 3/4 litre of gravy like this.

Meanwhile I cooked some Basmati rice in stock with a few cloves, some saffron, and some bay leaves.

Once the onions were cooked, I used the same oil to cook some prawns adding some stock and some lemon juice.
I then removed them from the pan, and mixed the reduced gravy, the onions and the browned lamb and simmered the whole lot for about 40 min.
Meanwhile I took a good handful each of cashews and almonds, and dry roasted them in a pan. Once brown, I added salt, sugar and pepper and some stock, and reduced it until dry, whence all the seasoning had stuck to the nuts.
Oh, and I hard-boiled 5 eggs.

So now I have all the various elements of the biryani ready. I next made a layer of half the rice in a baking dish, and on top of that placed a layer of the meat and onions, leaving the gravy in the pan.
I then added a layer of nuts
and a layer of prawns.
On top of that, I added the other half of the of rice,
topped it with halved eggs,
and poured the gravy all over the top.

The whole thing then goes in the oven at about 150degC for 45 min with foil covering it so that it doesn't (hopefully) dry out. Ideally it should be a better fitting lid than that (tradition suggests a clay pot with a lid sealed with dough, but I'm using crossed fingers instead).

It smells wonderful and fragrant, so we shall see...

I shall have to add a comment as to how it tasted, and, if I remember, I'll take some pics of the other curries. Wish me luck!