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????

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