Saturday, August 28, 2010

Food for the ill

I was pretty crook this week, with a virus or flu or something similar. I didn't bother to check. It was bad enough that I went five whole days without wanting a coffee and considering I think a blood/caffeine balance of about 50/50 to be appropriate I gauged I was pretty damn crook.

The funniest thing with me is my appetite when ill is almost nonexistent. All week I lived off a variant of Flinthart's awesome Asian soup/broth that he uses for wontons. Some sort of chicken, chilli, ginger, fish sauce, a sugar (I use honey), salt, onion, carrot, garlic, bay, lemon or lemongrass, bring to a simmer and turn the heat off and let infuse.

I use a whole chook and just tear the poached chicken off at the end. That was dinner, and lunch, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday I felt a bit better so I roasted off some pumpkin and used the leftover broth to make pumpkin soup.

What scares me is the lack of appetite, the lack of willingness to cook and explore flavors. It's such a big part of my life that the thought of ever having a terminal illness or something that took my hunger away for a long period of time is truly frightening.

I know a few crook people through twitter and my one week with a virus made me reconsider how much of a struggle it must be, just to deal with those little things that we all take for granted.

- MF from my iPad

Location:Riverside Dr,Tumbulgum,Australia

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Duck season

Dr Yobbo here. Duck is usually something I'm all over if I see it on the menu on my now-rare restaurant sorties. Amphora in St Lucia used to do (probably still do) an excellent one, likewise a short-lived but awesome place in Yamba called Beachwood. My Italian farmer relatives from up the back of Lismore also used to put on some fantastic duck dishes when we had the inevitable family get-together barbeques up at theirs. Never actually had a crack at prepping roast duck myself, so when the local supermarket had them on special I figured why the hell not. Now, obviously, this being a Serious Food Blog, using frozen duck is blasphemy and you should be getting only free-range, organically farmed fresh-killed duck raised on a diet of love and sustainably grown tofu, but as usual we've taken lazy shortcuts, so frozen duck it is. Looks a quality bird though, raised on a farm on the Canterbury Plains. Just like half of the current All Blacks. Works for them. This size 17 bird was $20, reduced from a budgetarily implausible $30. No idea what it'd be in your part of the world. Probably less.

Now the thing you need to remember about duck is that it's not chicken. That's not entirely the cretinous statement of obviousness that it looks. Ducks are longer and thinner of frame, carry more fat under their skin as waterproofing insulation (being waterfowl), and less bulk about them around the breast compared to chooks. As such you need a bigger bird to feed the same number of heads. They also dry out more easily, so you need to baste them regularly to retain the moisture. Beeso confits his. As with most cooking stuff there's a bunch of recipes on the web, including this one from Hugh Fairly-Twattingballs from River Cottage Thingie, but the general process is about the same. I'm actually going to do mine at a lower temp than Hugh, then ramping up in the final phase. Reason for that is I want to use that rendered duckfat runoff to roast some 'taties, but I don't want to have to leave the duck out to get cold and old while I do it, not for too long anyway.

Preheat oven to 220 C. This will only be used for the fat-rendering part of the roast, not the main cook which will be around 160. Have seen anything from 190 down to 120 (250 F) suggested. The latter for VERY slow roasting (3-4 hours).

Prep the bird. Rinse and pat dry, remove any large fat deposits, and pierce or score the skin (only lightly, not through to the meat - just enough to allow the fat to run off.) Am actually using a Stanley knife for this. Season with salt and pepper. I'm also sprinkling over some wild rosemary the old man recently discovered in the garden, because I can, and we have shitloads of it.

Render the fat for around 20min in the 220 degree oven, then take it out and turn down to 160. Baste the bird with the runoff. Do the same for the next 2 or so hours every half hour or so. For some reason my lads like souveniring my silicon basting brush from the second drawer, so even finding the bloody thing is an achievement.

Parboil some potatoes, just to get ahead of the game and shorten the final roast time. I like red jackets with golden flesh (is that the right term for potato innards? for the taste, the texture and the aesthetics of them. Lop them into rough cubes - I tend to leave the skin on, partly for the health benefits, partly because I can't be arsed peeling them - chuck them in boiling water - you know the rest.

Duck season? Rabbit(oh) season. I mentioned we ran the Tigers down last night? Yeah? If not, we did. 34-30 with a try in the last minute of golden point. After trailing 28-12 midway through the second half. Every All Black cloud has a silver (or coachwood and myrtle) lining.

Anyway - strain the runoff, combine with a bit of crushed garlic and chopped rosemary, over the parboiled 'taters and into the dish the duck came out of. Fire it up to Crispy Temp (220-250). Serve with Something Else. In our case corn because the eldest monster refuses any meal that doesn't include corn. Seriously. We had to order a kiddie-sized corn pizza on Friday.

Verdict: Excellent. If a bit fatty. Actually, a lot fatty (still slightly queasy.) Can't underemphasize just how lardy duck is. Which, I suppose, is why it tastes so fricken AWESOME. Give it a crack, if you can find it at an agreeable price, just keep it moist and avoid too much of the lardiness. It's a winner. As voted unanimously this evening - the only thing left over on Monster v1.0's plate at the end was... corn.

The Doctor is OUT.