Friday, December 7, 2012

Red-Cooked Duck

Back in July (the first of July to be exact), Yael and Dan had us over to their farm for a splendid dinner feast and we have been trying to return the favor forever. Such is the nature of the restaurant life and the resulting 2-3 days off per month that it was the first of December before we could actually all get together for dinner at our house.

I have had duck on the brain for a month, red-cooked duck specifically, so I built a (non-traditional) Chinese menu around that.

Turkey and Black Truffle Rillettes
We had an extra jar of truffled turkey rillettes in the refrigerator from Thanksgiving that we started with. The flavor is now better than ever and it would probably get even better still except that now all three jars are gone, gone, gone.

Jook, Fully Garnished

Jook Garnishes: Cilantro, Spicy Cowpeas, Green Onions, Mustard Stems
Now that the weather is cold, my brain is about all things braised/slow-cooked and I have been on a jook tear recently. Jook, also known as congee, is quintessential Chinese comfort food: rice cooked in broth until it disintegrates and becomes a thick porridge.

For mine, I cooked down several chicken hind quarters and a bunch of chicken feet with about a pound of fresh ginger and a bunch of cilantro stems to make the stock. I picked the chicken meat and reserved it. Into the stock went some Carolina Gold heirloom rice and after simmering for about four hours, it had turned to a silky soup. Just before serving, I mixed the chicken back in and prepped a plate of garnishes: cilantro, spicy salted cowpeas, green onions, and preserved mustard stems (zha cai).

I know that jook is traditionally breakfast food, invalid food, and/or a meal by itself, but I like it as an appetizer in a western format meal.

Mise en Place for Pan-Fried Noodles
Because we had rice as a first course, I didn't want to serve it again with the main meal, so I decided to go with pan-fried noodles topped with a variety of vegetables and fungi: shiitakes, tree ear mushrooms, dried daylily blossoms, spiced and pressed tofu, snow peas, garlic chives, green onions, shallot rings, ginger and garlic. I finished the vegetables with a splash of soy sauce and sugar.

Red-Cooked Duck and Bok Choy with Pan-Fried Noodles in Background
Red-cooking is one of my all time favorite braising methods. I cut the duck into serving pieces and browned them. Then cut up the carcass and browned it very deeply in the oven. From this I made a rich duck stock. The duck slowly braised in the duck stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, and a really nutty Sherry with lots of green onions, a dried clementine peel, crushed garlic, and loads of sliced ginger. For spices, I added a sachet containing a few star anise pods, a cinnamon stick, and a handful of Sichuan peppercorns. The duck braised on Saturday for about three hours after which I removed the duck, defatted the stock, and reduced it to the point where I was happy with the flavor. Highly reduced soy-based liquids can get way too salty in a hurry.

Sunday, I put the stock back with the duck in a very slow oven and let it rewarm gently. Then at service, I pulled the duck and lightly thickened the sauce by adding a touch of hoisin sauce. I plattered the duck with some bok choy and poured the sauce over. Really, really good.

Binyamina's Farmer Series, Cab-Shiraz 2009
And speaking of really good, Dan and Yael brought this Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend from Binyamina Winery, one of the largest wineries in Israel. The soft fruit went beautifully with the duck!

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