Every once in a while I develop a food obsession -- a full blown, OCD-like, as in pureO, obsessive compulsive disorder food obsession. What is a food obsession one might ask, and rightfully so, because it is very important to clarify the issue right away. Contrary to the popular belief, food obsession is not a phobia, as in “I do not eat unpasteurized cheeses” or “Chinese takeouts give me headache” type of stuff. Food obsession manifests itself with I-must-eat-this-food-and-this-food-only-and-nothing-else-but-this-food urge, drive, calling, passion, need, impulse, whatever -- you name it -- but you get the point.
If I were to go and get myself diagnosed, a mental health professional might say that the spectrum of my obsessions is quite broad. My obsessions do not discriminate against any type of food (cilantro excluded). Sometimes, they are induced by travel. As in Paris in the spring of 2009, when I drank nothing but hot chocolate... Or the summer of 2006 on the Amalfi coast when I ate nothing but granita. A long-time-ago ski-trip to Canadian Rockies turned into a weeklong dining on sausage stews -- and no, I do not pick my food obsessions if you really must know, they pick me and believe me, I could have come up with seventy five better ways to indulge after a long day of skiing, including cheese fondue and mulled wine, but it was the stew that picked me and I had no say in the matter. Sometimes, my obsessions are triggered by the change of seasons. The winter of 2012 was hallmarked by the Belgian Abbey Ales addiction attack. Throughout the fall of 2008 I consumed nothing but single origin dark chocolate and for the three months of spring in 2011 nothing but sorrel.
And sometimes the obsessions come out of plain vanilla nowhere... The world around us is paved with dangers, and they lie at every step along the way, on our way to school, supermarket, skating practice... Or they can be a short walk to Chinatown away. Chinatown is a particularly treacherous zone, it takes just one look at the exotic fruits and vegetables on the stalls around Mott Street, one sniff at the steamy mists from dim-sum parlors, or the sweet vapors of bubble tea, and one peek at the ensemble of shiny, mahogany-orange Peeking Ducks hanging in the restaurant windows, and poof, a new food obsession is born.
Who can say no to a Peeking Duck? I cannot. No one can. The idea of roasting an entire bird, in all its glory, is pretty hard to resist. Just think about it, think about the warm and fuzzy feeling that consumes you when you put a carefully trussed chicken in the oven -- I guess the subconscious side of the experience explains why to this day roasting a chicken continues to be the #1 obsession of cooks around the world. Then think about the Thanksgiving turkey. A whole, big bird on the table brings out the primal side of us, it conjures the images of our forgotten ancestors seated around the medieval fire, turning the spit patiently, ready to make an offering to a Mighty Kitchen Deity.
My love affair (and obsession) with roasted duck started along these lines. Alas, it was a short love affair (and thankfully a brief obsession). Duck is a fatty thing, and as we all know, roasting fatty objects in a high-temperature oven inevitably leads to splatters and smoke. I do not mind the latter – but the former one is an issue, especially if you are the person cleaning the oven after the show. Dr. V holds an orthogonal view on the subject – he does not mind the splatters (because he does not do the cleaning), but smoke he objects to, and man he can be a loud objector, especially when the neighbors call to complain. And no, I cannot cover the duck with foil, nor will I reduce the temperature, because as we all know, both actions will lead to suboptimal results when crispy skin is concerned... And because I cannot accept any form of suboptimality, my love affair with a whole duck came to an end before it even started.
Which led me to a great discovery, and a love affair/obsession that might never end...
Simply put, duck in pieces is much more fun!!!
Have you ever realized that a duck is a world of treasures? I have -- many times -- over and over again. As a matter of fact, I have this epiphany every once in a while -- every time I take a stroll to Chinatown, which is on average once a week. I wrote about my duck obsession in my Christmas post, but there are so many ways one can spin a duck in pieces, that I decided to write about it again. In a series of posts... A duck trilogy as to say, because, when handled with care, disassembled properly, and cooked with a lot of love, one duck can produce an entire menu! It will gift you with a soup (the most divine soup imaginable), a meat course, crispy skin cracklings (which I use instead of croutons in a salad – stay tuned -- yay!!!) and a couple of jars of duck fat! “Cooking with duck fat is kitchen alchemy at its tastiest,” D’Artagnan folks write on their webpage. And D’Artagnan folks are right. For ten thousand great reasons. Let’s just name four: 1) duck fat is one of the healthiest animal fats around, 2) duck fat has high smoking point, 3) duck fat is reusable, and 4) duck fat yields the freaking best ever tasting roasted potatoes on this planet.
I can go on for hours about all the culinary splendors of duck fat, but that’s not the subject of this post. (We will arrive to duck fat later, so stay tuned.) If I had to pick my favorite part of the duck project it would be Part 1 -- the soup -- the broth, and all of its derivatives. Duck broth is the essence of the duck. Imagine duck bones, roasted to perfection and simmered for hours until they give away their richness to the liquid. Then imagine your mirepoix and alike roasted to perfection too, and added to the liquid, together with herbs, spices and port wine. I am at lack of words to describe the end result. As a matter of fact I will have to turn into Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser and Pete Wells combined to arrive at vocabulary worth of this soup.
One duck, six hours of work, and four to five cups of liquid that will come out of the Duck Project Part 1, could be THE sole purpose of buying-the-whole-duck-and-not-treating-it-as-a-whole endeavour. The essence of it. The heart and soul. Hence, I am starting the Duck Triology with the Intense Duck Broth and all things one can make with it. Compared to this broth, everything else is secondary.
Everything else does not matter.
Duck Triology: Part 1 Project
We will start with about 5 1/2 – 6 lb Long Island duck. Whole. We will then break the creature in pieces. Now, not all of us are born duck butchers. I learned to do it by pure trial and error. The beauty of this project is that you really do not have to do it right. Just find the way to separate the skin (and fat) from the meat and bones. (I am not teaching duck butchery here, there are so many more folks better qualified to do it, so go ahead and google.) If you are good at duck butchery – great! If you butcher things in the process -- do not feel bad about it -- it is perfectly fine for this project. Just go and separate the skin, meat and bones (I call it the Part 3, Part 2 and Part 1). We will use everything, no matter what shape it is in, so stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3. At the moment we will need only the carcass and the bones. So, let’s get to work.
Intense Duck Broth
This is an amazing broth. My favorite by a long mile. And a favorite of all the folks I know. I like to cook fancy multi-course dinners for my friends, and most of the time, this broth steals the show. My daughter likes it with mushroom ravioli, Dr. V loves the Duck Ramen (see the recipe below), and my guests are impressed when I use it as a base for the Good Luck Red Soup. And I, I just pour it into a mug, get the blanket, sit on the couch and slurp. Forget about the ramen and the good luck red soup -- there is nothing better than a mug filled with this broth.
* carcass and bones from one 6 lb Long Island duck (about 1 1/2 lbs of bones)
* 10 cups of water
* 1 small yellow onion (about 6 oz), quartered
* 1 small red onion (about 6 oz), quartered
* 10 oz carrots
* 8 oz parsnip
* 4 oz celery stalks
* 2 garlic cloves, quartered
* 4 stems of thyme
* 4 stems of parsley
* 1 large bay leaf
* 1 tsp black peppercorns
* 1 tsp coriander
* 1 tsp juniper berries
* 1/2 cup ruby port
* 1 tsp double tomato concentrate
* 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
* about 2 tbsp of sunflower oil
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Arrange the bones in a roasting pan in one layer and roast until the bones are nicely browned, for about 45 minutes.
Put the bones into a large stockpot. Pour the port into the pan, add a little bit of water, if needed, to fully cover the bottom of the pan. Return the pan into the oven for a couple of minutes – the liquid will get heated up and deglaze the pan. Add the liquid to the pot with bones.
Cover the bones generously with cold water (you will need about 10 cups of water). Heat over medium-high heat until the liquid is about to simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover with lid partially, and simmer for about three to four hours. Do not let the liquid boil.
Keep the oven at 375F, you will now roast the veggies. Peel the carrot and parsnips. Cut the carrots, parsnips and celery into 1/2-inch cubes. Cut the onions into 1-inch chunks. Drizzle the vegetables with a tiny bit of oil (about two tablespoons or so, just so that the vegetables are gently coated). Place the vegetables on a large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the vegetables are gently caramelized. Mix occasionally with spatula, so that the vegetables brown nicely.
Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
After three to four hours, the action begins... Heat a dry small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add peppercorns and toast them briefly, until they become fragrant. Remove the peppercorns from the skillet. Repeat with the coriander seeds. Again, toast the coriander seeds briefly, until they begin to release fragrance. Crack the peppercorns and coriander gently, with a pestle or with a bottom of a heavy object.
Add the roasted vegetables to the pot. Add the garlic, peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries, thyme, parsley and bay leaf. At this point you should still have enough liquid to cover the veggies, but if too much liquid has evaporated, add another cup or so of water. Add the tomato concentrate and Worcestershire sauce and continue to simmer for another hour, partially covered.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer lined with two to three layers of cheesecloth. Season with salt to taste. Discard the solids. Taste the stock. If you would like to intensify the flavors even further, return the stock to a clean pot and simmer for another fifteen minutes to reduce even more.
Cool the stock immediately in a sink full of ice water. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from the surface of the liquid and store in the refrigerator for two to three days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Yields 4-5 cups
This is not true Japanese ramen. No pretending here. But it is still delicious, intensely flavored duck soup, holding hands with noodles, scallions, shitake mushrooms, pickled carrot, and of course, an egg. I like to use shitakes here, instead of meat, because the broth is so rich and so good, you do not need anything on top of it to steal the show. You can, however “ramenize” the dish further by adding a touch of soy souce, but that is totally optional. I like to use fresh tagliolini or linguine as the noodle of choice, because it is a hearty soup and it likes somewhat hearty noodles.
* 4 – 5 cups Intense Duck Broth
* 3 - 4 scallions, white and light green parts only, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
* 2 eggs
* 6 - 8 oz shitake mushrooms
* 6 - 8 oz linguine or similar thin noodles (ideally fresh)
* 1 tbsp sunflower oil
* a drop or two of soy sauce (optional)
for pickled carrots
* 3 medium sized carrots, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices or julienned
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
First make the pickled carrots. In a small pot, stir the sugar and salt into the vinegar until completely dissolved. Add the carrots, place the pot on a stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once the liquid starts to boil, simmer for about ten minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the carrots marinate in the liquid for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate overnight).
Wash the shitakes carefully. Discard the stems. Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch thick strips. In a small skillet heat the oil until hot. Add the mushrooms and stir fry until the mushrooms are nicely browned, for about four minutes. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them well with water until they are no longer sticky.
In the meantime, fill up a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for about 5-7 minutes (five for a runny egg yolk, seven for somewhat less runny as in the picture, it depends on how you like it). Peel the eggs and cut them in halves.
In a medium sized pot, heat up the duck broth until it is about to bubble. Pour the soup into individual bowls, add the noodles, and top with mushrooms, scallion, carrots and egg. Serve and eat right away.