Saturday, May 22, 2010

Roast Duck with Lavender & Herbs ... and Three Tricks for Leftovers

Sunday Roasts are in my blood. A traditional middle class English background means that I've spent so many Sunday's enjoying a roast joint with the family that that's an inescapable fact, so I guess I'd be bound to continue this tradition. But as much as I enjoy the pleasure of cooking and eating a Sunday roast, it's perhaps the leftovers that I enjoy more than anything. This duck was no exception, and it did such a great job feeding us through the week, I thought I'd make a bit of a special post about leftovers. But first, the main event.

Roast Duck with Lavender & Herbs

Duck is a bit of novelty for me, and once again was I was inspired to cook it by "a woman at Cullompton Farmer's market". I forgot her name last time I bought something from her (Roast Guinea Fowl with Lavender, Mint & Thyme) and now I've gone and done it again! Next time I really must make more effort. She doesn't half deserve the credit as well - not only does she sell great meat, but she makes some of the best pies to be had in Devon I reckon.

Just like that Guinea Fowl, I decided to follow a recipe (well, mostly follow a recipe, I was kind of following several) for the Duck, and from the same "Flavours of the World" book. I've becoming quite fond of Lavender and meat, and this was done with fresh thyme from the garden as well, made into a kind of salty rub that's pressed all over the lightly scored meat before cooking. Wonderful stuff.

The Lavender and Thyme salty mix

Scored and dusted duck ready for the oven

Close up on the dry mix on the bird

The duck itself has been lightly scored to let the fat run, and I'm using a support in my roasting tray as well so that it won't sit in the fat as it's running. This was cooked fast then slow, pretty normal cooking style for me, but longer than I usually do for poultry as I prefer duck either pink or well done, kind of how I like my lamb. It's quite a complex recipe, involving making stocks, reducing them, etc., so I won't go into it all now, but fun to do and not at all challenging, just time consuming.

Duck out of the oven, ready to rest. Lovely crispy skin

Came out pretty tasty, with a wonderful sticky sauce. Lavender's not something to use often in the kitchen perhaps, but now and again it does add a welcome and interesting variation to dishes.

The Roast Duck finished dish, minus vegetables

But then what to do with lots of leftover duck? Duck's often not a huge bird, true, and we had a female this time around which is much smaller than a drake, but you still get a fair bit of meat off it. First things first, it was time for stock.

Duck Stock

The first thing we tend to do with any roast is get the meat off the bones and make a stock. That's one of the great things about always going for meat on the bone, you've not only get a better roast but also bones for stock. I'm not really someone who bothers much with trying to create elaborate stocks, honestly it's usually just bones and water for me cooked for an hour or two, but this time I added the usual suspects of carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf.

Stock being made

To be fair it does add extra depth to a stock to do this, but I had an ulterior motive as well - I'd worked out what to do for my first proper left over dish - duck & noodle soup.

Duck & Noodle Soup

As ever with these things, my leftover cooking is largely driven by what's in the fridge. The meat may be the core of any dish, but it needs other things to make it into a complete meal. This time around it was cabbage & spring onions that needed eating, so I decided to plump for an oriental style soup.

Ingredients for soup ready to go

By taking the remaining breast off the bird and slicing it into delicate thin discs I intended to make a simple spiced soup, with noodles cooked in stock at the bottom, and cabbage, spring onion and slices of duck on the top. Simple as anything to make. I strained some of the stock off and added some Chinese five spice and soy sauce to taste, and then added each ingredient according to how long it would take to cook.

The stock strained and enriched with soy sauce

Cabbage was first for about 10 minutes till it was getting really tender, then in went the spring onions and noodles for 3 minutes, some very finely sliced fresh ginger (done in inch long extra thin match sticks, to add texture and interest) and some very finely chopped red chili, and finely the duck back in for just a minute at the end to warm it through. Lovely stuff.

Duck & Noodle Soup in the office

This is one of my first trick to leftover cooking - you have to ignore the 'rules' of cooking fresh meat if you want to make the most of leftover meat. If I'd put the duck in earlier it would have got tough and dry, but by reversing things and just adding it at the end you get the opposite effect. By using the stock as well you still get full flavours, without needing any long cooking.

We got four large portions out of this, soup always goes a long way I find. Well, unless the Italian gets hold of it, she's a fiend for soup! Still had lots of duck left though, so next up ...

Roast Duck Ragu

The English are pretty keen on Italian food generally, and in a mixed Italian/English house like hours that's even more pronounced. Ragu or sugo is therefore a bit of a staple way of using up leftovers. Just to clarify, the term sugo generally means a slightly more smooth sauce than ragu, which usually has larger pieces of meat and a rougher texture.

And here the second of my tricks with leftovers. When it comes to well cooked meat you can't really mince it up and re-fry it, that just dries it out or makes a mush - not pleasant. The technique I use these days is to flake the meat, creating texture while preserving the moisture within it.

The flaked duck meat

You still need to cook a ragu long and slow, as tinned tomatoes need time for their flavour to develop, but by flaking in this way and cooking slowly in a liquid environment the meat will enrich the dish and not get tough or dry.

I always do my ragu's the same way, the usual sofrito of onion, carrot and celery is cooked till golden and tender, then in with the meat, deglaze with wine if you like, and in with the tomatoes and herbs.

That leads me to my third trick with using leftovers, adding something from the original dish so that you always get a different result, that way your food never gets too samey. For this one, for example, I chopped up the leftover skin really finely and added that to the sauce with all it's flavours of lavender and thyme. Once that's blended with the rest you don't really pick up the individual notes of flavour anymore, but it does add a subtle distinctness which makes all my ragus or sugos different, no matter what they're based on. Whether it's a lamb cooked with lemon balm, or chicken cooked with basil, I think your main roast always ends up adding something special to a leftover dish, which you'd otherwise be hard pressed to create. Sometimes it may be that the meat itself is simply infused with interesting and different flavours, other times there may be something leftover you can add, but either way it keeps you from getting bored with your food.

Ready for deglazing, white wine this time (usually what Italians use)

Now with the tomatoes added, ready for long slow cooking

One note on ragus and sugos - don't skimp on the tomatoes, or the herbs for that matter. I used six tins of tomatoes I think, plus a large bundle of marjoram, thyme, bay and rosemary. Your sauce will be very wet to start with, but the long, slow cooking will slowly reduce it down, concentrating the flavours. I think I must have done this one for about two hours at least, maybe three. Served it with a good thick pasta, and that made supper for the two of us and then lunch the next day as well. Then it was off to the freezer with the rest of the ragus for other days.

Ragus ready for the freezer

These old cheese pots are fabulous for this - they just about contain two portions per pot, and not skimpy ones either. Let me put it this way, I'm not exactly losing weight eating portions of this size! "DS" stands for Duck Sugo here. Our freezer is usually full of BS, RS, VS, LS - you get the drift I'm sure :-) The labels are for ever getting rubbed off, and we end up playing the mystery sugo game - still, it's all good.

So that's my leftover odyssey. I hope it might inspire others to make more of their Sunday roasts. Duck is an expensive meat compared to others, this one cost about £15, for example, but if you consider that I managed to make twenty four meal portions from it, suddenly it doesn't seem so expensive at all. All the other main ingredients, i.e. pasta, noodles, carrot, onions, etc, are very cheap - and the lavender and herbs free - so it's relatively simple to turn out pretty good quality food like this for less than £1 per meal. Personally I'm amazed people think they're getting a good deal from places like McDonalds, I find it a bit galling to see people chucking tens of pounds at those places, and then claiming they don't have any cash. Still, different folks, different strokes I guess.

All comments welcome, as ever!

Guest Post Recipe: "Pit Cooked Pig"

I don't usually bother with advertising on this site, after all it's more of a hobby than anything else, but I had an email the other day from a new hog roasting company in the south west, Astridges, who were looking to spread the word about what they do. Since they were a local family firm - with a great look for their website! - and they were offering an interesting recipe for pit cooked pig I thought I'd give them a mention.

I've not tried their service yet as I've not seen them at any events, so can't vouch for them personally. I do know the butcher who supplies their meat though, Hartnell's, and have bought a fair bit from them myself over the years so can certainly vouch for the quality of their produce.

I would like to try one of their Lamb Roasts that's for sure. A whole lamb roasted at once? My idea of heaven :-)

Anyhow, here's the recipe - enjoy!

Pit Cooked Pig

Called Mumu cooking in Papa New Guinea, a Kula in Hawaii and a Porceddu in Sardinia, this rustic method of cooking a pig has provided a celebratory feast for many ancient cultures, dating back hundreds of years. A suckling pig was, and still is, a popular choice, particularly in Mediterranean countries where outdoor cooking and festive occasions are something we can only follow. The flavor and texture really is quite wonderful and delicious!
There are a number of variations but, in outline, a large pit is dug in the ground and layered with stones. A hardwood fire is then built up over a number of hours until the heat of the rocks reaches maximum temperature. The embers and the top layer of stones are then removed and the prepared whole pig, wrapped in wet aromatic leaves, is lowered on to the remaining stones and covered with the embers and spare stones. After this the pit is then back-filled with earth and the pig left to cook. Depending on the size of the pig this could take up to 12 hours... or more. To ensure the heat is maintained, a fire can be built over the top layer of stones and used as an alternative to backfilling the the pit with soil. Some of the hot stones can also be placed inside the pig cavity to generate a more even distribution of heat.
As an accompaniment, apples, corn on the cob and sweet potatoes wrapped in foil can also be cooked in the pit by burying them in the top layer of the soil about an hour before the pig is ready. 
I have have been to a wedding where they had a pit roasted pig – it was fantastic, BUT a lesson learned was to ensure that the pig is well wrapped and protected in a suitable layer. As delicious as it was I spent most of my time spitting out gritty soil and ash! For more detailed information there are a number of sites offering advice and instructions. 
If you'ld like to hire a Hog Roast caterer, why not get in touch with Astridges Hog Roasts and they'll be happy to help you.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Italian Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Potatoes & Olives

I'm a big fan of the slow roast, though perhaps I do have something of an ulterior motive. It gives me time to get on with other things (which this Sunday unfortunately meant studying), yet means I can create a delicious tender and well flavoured Sunday roast without having to spend as much time and effort creating it as you might think. This Sunday it was lamb again, but given an Italian twist through the combination of a few recipes.

I rarely if ever follow one recipe, but I guess I'm experienced enough in the kitchen to combine them, picking up their various strengths whilst adapting them to suit what I have in the house and what it is I'm trying to cook. I do have an extensive library of cookbooks, well over 100 now, ranging from small pamphlets produced by local groups like the WI (that's the Women's Institute for international readers) to huge tomes like McGee's On food and cooking and the Italian classic The Silver Spoon. I absolutely love cook books, but much prefer scouring old book shops and charity stores for them, as opposed to buying new ones. I've found some wonderful gems that way, for example the fabulous Time Life Good Cook series.

But back to the slow roast. The tradition of slow roasting like this on a Sunday apparently goes back to the days when villages like mine used to have a communal bakery. Bread of course is traditionally baked very early in the morning, and needs a very hot oven. As these village ovens cooled people often used to bring their meat to the bakery and use the residual heat to cook their Sunday lunch, whilst they went off to Sunday church. Of course the longer you cook a slow roast the more tender and moister it gets (up to a point that is), leading to the idea that the longer the sermon in church the better your lunch would be! Not being a religious person myself, I tend to head to the pub (my favourite local The Lamb in Silverton) rather than the church, but at least I'm supporting some sort of local institution that way. I'd recommend the Dob's Best Bitter in particular, though that may be a bit biased again, seeing as the Exe Valley brewery who make it are based in my village.

I'd chosen a shoulder of lamb from Crediton Farmers market courtesy of Higher Hacknell farm this week, and picked up some waxy potatoes there from Linscombe as well. I knew I had some black olives knocking about at home, so decided to re-do an old recipe from Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking, but with a nod to Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat Book and a touch or two of myself thrown in for good measure. Basically what you need is this - black olives, waxy potatoes, shoulder of lamb, onion, rosemary:

The ingredients ready to combine

Put all this together in a deep roaster, add plenty of seasoning, and toss together to make sure it's all well coated:

Everything ready to go in the oven

Roast in a hot oven (220ºC) for about 20 minutes, then turn down to about 150ºC for another 3 hours or so. Timings not too critical, you've got a fair bit of leeway either way with this sort of cooking - enough for a pint at least. I did baste it once during this time, but it's not imperative. One small note - I don't use my fan oven for this, I use a conventional oven. I find the fan is too hot and tends to dry things out too much with it's constant convection.

Eventually you should end up with this:

Everything cooked and ready to serve

You'll probably need to pour off some of the fat, depends on the meat. I used spring lamb this time around wish isn't very fatty, so only poured off a very small amount, but later in the season they'll be a lot more. Then straight out onto the plate and enjoy!

Flavour wise it's pretty strong, and if you don't like olives then you won't like this. It will depend to a certain extent on the olives themselves though as they tend to dominate - these were particularly strong, even a bit strong for me if I'm honest, but still delicious none the less.

We had a primo with this, something B cooked up with Ricotta, left over home made paste and chives from the garden - it was wonderful, really light and tasty. If you're looking for a light supper in the heat this would be the business I reckon - but that's probably another blog post :-)

Primo - home made tagliolini with a ricotta and chive sauce


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