Slowly, slowly, roasty ducky (or goosey, or both-y)

There’s something wonderful about the slow cooking process that takes a simple little bit of meat and turns it into something amazing.  Just look at Lechon!  Or to the humble jerk chicken!  This duck/goose recipe is closer to jerk chicken in technique yet keeps the simple flavours of the meat and the rosemary front and centre – no Habanero heat to blow your head off.

This is a Slovakian recipe, lovingly transcribed from her parents’ cookbook (or, more likely, memory) by Lubi, once our au-pair, now living happily in Dundee.  We were served this when we visited her family in Slovakia, and have had it for our Christmas meal two years running.

For 7 hungry people, you will need…

1 duck and 1 goose.  You want birds that have lived and that have built up a lovely layer of fat.  None of these skinny-arsed ducks you usually find in the supermarket.  Ask your butcher.  If you don’t have a butcher, find one and ask them!  You really can’t beat having a tame butcher you can ask for the right meat at the right time – and one that won’t bat an eyelid when you’re asking for trotters to make the jelly for a pork pie or blood to put in a sorpatel.

Salt, pepper, rosemary, watercabbagebread.

Begin by jointing the bird/s, salting the meat generously and leaving to stand for 12 hours or more.  Overnight is perfect.

Next day, oven to 150C, wash the salt off, place the portions on a baking tray skin side up.  You can use a baking tray or a big, shallow pan with a lid if you’ve got one.  Sprinkle of salt, generous grate of pepper, sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary.

Add ~0.5l water to the pan.  Lid on (or cover loosely with foil), into the oven for 1.5 hours.  Relax.  Chop some cabbage, knock back the bread you started earlier in the day.  Read a chapter or 3 of London Falling.

After 1.5 hours, foil/lid off, jack the oven up to 250C, give it 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin.  You can do this under the grill if you like.  Cook the cabbage now.

Serve with freshly steamed cabbage and freshly baked bread.  Thick slices of the stuff (the bread, not the cabbage), drizzled with the salty, peppery, herby fat left over in the cooking pan.

Both times we’ve done this for Christmas we’ve had the same genius idea – there’ll be some meat left over for rissoles the next day.  And both times we’ve been wrong.  Somehow, even if there’s some left on the tray after everyone’s finished, you find yourself wandering past and picking off just one more little piece.  Just one more.  My, but this is tasty, even when it’s cold.  And before you know it, it’s all gone.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re eating on Boxing Day after all.

And if I’ve got anything wrong, Lubi, please let me know!

Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!

Lechon – fantastic porky goodness

Warning – This post is not diet-friendly.  Not at all.  Even a little bit.  Unless the diet your on is one where you’re actively looking to gain weight.  In which case, bring it!

Sometimes, running in the morning feels like incredibly hard work.  I mean *incredibly* hard work.  This morning was one of those mornings.  And I blame my body’s apathy entirely on Lechon.

I thought I’d come across the best ways to slow cook a lump of pig already.  Pibil, carnitas, what could beat those 2?  And then along comes Lechon.

For those of you who didn’t watch Mary Berry’s Easter Feast (watch for it on the BBC iPlayer, it’s bound to come back), Lechon is a Filipino pork dish that can be cooked using a cut as small as a large slab of belly or scaled right up to the whole hog.  It’s prepared for Easter and served to the whole family.

World-record breaking Lechon
Good, but what’s everyone else having.

Long story short, it’s a slab of pork, skin on, slow-roasted until the skin is crackling and the pork is moist and gorgeous.  And if you do it with belly pork from the butchers, this one isn’t going to break the bank.

There are as many recipes for Lechon as there are families in the region, it seems, so while mine won’t be 100% authentic, it’s a good approximation.  We had a slab of belly pork roughly 60cm long by 30 wide (2 feet by 1 foot in old money).  Adjust ingredient quantities accordingly.

Phase 1 – Brining

You will need…

  • Pork belly, skin on.  It’s up to you whether you have the skin scored or not.  On the program, it wasn’t scored, in the pictures and recipes I’ve found it wasn’t scored.  Our butcher scored ours on autopilot and we ended up with the MOST AMAZING CRACKLING EVER at the end.  YMMV.
  • Salt.  Loads of it.
  • Bay leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic
  • Lemongrass, 2 stalks, bashed
  • Water

Into a couple or 3 litres of water – more if you’ve got a bigger slab of meat – mix the salt until it’s dissolved and then add all the rest of the ingredients.  Brine is seriously salty stuff, so if it tastes a bit insipid, add more salt.

Leave the meat submerged in this overnight.  The next morning, dry the meat, discard the brine and prepare for…

Phase 2 – The Cooking

Alrighty.  Oven to 130°C, quick spin around the ingredients, Clive, then back to me.

  • 6 lemongrass stalks, pounded with a rolling pin and split lengthways with a sharp knife.
  • 2 onions, chopped in half then thinly sliced (or a bunch of spring onions)
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea salt
  • Oil
  • String

Lay the meat skin-side down and arrange the lemongrass, (spring) onions and garlic along the centre.  You’re going to roll this up, so these need to be in the middle.

Several recipes I found include a “milking” step at this point, where the skin is painted with milk and left for an hour for it to soak in.  We didn’t do this, largely because we wanted it in the oven and hadn’t banked on needing another hour.

Roll it up, tie it off with the string – one loop and knot every 3 inches or so – then oil it and rub in the salt.

Place on a roasting tin, cover with foil and stick it in the middle of the oven for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and give it another 4 hours.

Finally, once you’re about 20 minutes from wanting to serve, jack the oven temperature to 230C and let that scored skin crackle up good!

Once all that is done, you’re ready for…

Phase 3 – The Eating

And if you need my help with this stage, I’m more than happy to oblige.

We served ours with some plain white rice, a tomato and onion salsa and some home-made chutney, all wrapped up in a, well, wrap.

And it was all going so well until about 10pm when we fancied a snack watching Maigret and stuffed ourselves with a large sandwich – Lechon, mayo and the chutney you first thought of.

24 hours later and I’m still full.

I may never eat again.

Is that the leftovers?  Pass the chutney.