Monday, May 27, 2013

Duck! There is a Problem...

Duck! There is a problem.

So while working on the menu for our last STARA Beijing dinner; trying out recipes, perfecting the flavors and textures, gathering information, learning new skills, we encountered a slight problem. We loved the silkiness of the duck confit starter we had at SALT and, silly us, thought we were up to the challenge.  Having read and researched all about how to make duck confit; the traditional way, the quick way and the new way, it was time to get into the kitchen.  Thankfully duck is cheap in China!

Duck is mainly eaten in France and in China, where the most famous dish of all is Peking Duck. The bird is slowly roasted until the skin becomes crispy and the fat is almost completely melted into the meaty bits. These birds are pretty skinny and the fat layer is much thinner than that of the ducks eaten in France. The skin is considered a delicacy and is served as an appetizer. You dip the thin slivers of duck skin in sugar or, as in one restaurant we discovered, pop rocks, which actually was quite wonderful.

Peking Duck - even better with pop rocks - trust us!

In France duck is cooked many ways; some of the most famous recipes, duck confit excluded, is Duck a l’Orange (duck in orange sauce) and of course foie gras, duck (or most often goose) liver. French ducks are fatter and the fat is where the taste really is. When you cook a duck breast for example you score the skin side in a crisscross pattern and sear it in a very hot pan, then finish the cooking in the oven and most importantly – let it rest well before cutting! Duck is just like steak; if it isn’t allowed to rest there will be juices all over the place. The skin/fat should be crispy and the inside nice and pink and yes, you do eat the skin.

Duck a l'Orange

Here in Beijing, it is for obvious reasons difficult to find the French kind of duck and, as we quickly discovered, impossible to find duck fat (rendered (the clean kind) that is!). After searching the Internet we learned that neutral flavored olive oil can be used as a substitute and we decided to try it.  Now, we consider ourselves decent home cooks, cooks that love a challenge in the kitchen, but who knew that a duck would be the death of us!

We cured the stupid leg according to recipe books and Internet searches, cookbooks were consulted and famous chefs’ advice was taken. Oven temperatures were carefully monitored and the limb was treated as a newborn baby cocooning in a lukewarm bath in a sauna.

The sad duck curing away.

So, we tried it again, first in the slow cooker but that didn´t work because the slow cooker bought in China turned out to be a fast and hot cooker. Thus the second duck leg went in to the oven again. Do we need to tell you the result? Disaster. We admitted defeat, finally, and aborted the mission.  It was back to square one having to figure out what to cook for our SALT salutation starter.

After HOURS in the oven.  Doesn't look much different, does it?!? 
Finally, just for kicks, we thought we would share this photo we found of a Chinese duck born with three legs and four feet.  And you wonder why we worry about food safety????

Thai Martinis

These martinis came about while we were planning our Salute to SALT menu.  Lemongrass was the predominant flavor - infusing both the soup and the dessert.  It is a lovely herb that takes us away to tropical beaches, spicy food and lazy afternoons.  So how to combine all of that inspiration into a cocktail??  Time to play at the bar!!

Let's just say that after several rounds of trial and error (or was that error and trial??), it was a surprise ingredient that pulled it together and made it zing - Sriracha!   This fabulous chili sauce (from the Thai coastal town of Si Racha) is a traditional dipping sauce that isn't for the faint of heart.  We hope you like it!


1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 part lemongrass-infused simple syrup
2 parts lemongrass infused vodka
4 drops Sriracha

To make the simple syrup, combine 1 cup (250 ml) each water and granulated sugar.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.  This will get you a standard simple syrup that you can use to sweeten any cold drink - from ice tea to lemonade - we prefer cocktails!!

Once the dry ends and outer layers are removed,
the lemongrass should be smooth and fragrant

To make the syrup really special, cut the dry ends and bottom from a stalk of lemongrass.  Remove the tough outer layers.

Press the knife down gently to bruise the stalk, not crush it,
to release to release the oils.  

Lightly bruise with the flat side of a knife and add to the simple syrup (along with a few strips of lime peel and slices of fresh ginger if you really want it to zing!).

Let steep at least 15 minutes or longer if you prefer a stronger flavor.  Strain the solids and you are ready to go!  The syrup can be made a month ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

To infuse the vodka, prepare two or three lemongrass stalks as you did for the simple syrup.  Pour a 750ml bottle of good quality vodka into a clean container, add the lemongrass, seal and allow to infuse away for at least twenty-four hours.  Strain into another container (or back into its original bottle).

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and fill at least half way with ice.  Shake well while listening to your favorite island music.  Strain into two chilled martini glasses and enjoy with whomever you like while planning your next holiday to Thailand!!

Warning, these are addictive!

Yields two cocktails