Lucked out with the duck, again

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The duck looked nice but . . .

TIME was when I ordered duck breast in a restaurant the waiter would lean over his notepad and say in hushed tones, to prepare me for the bloody spectacle to follow, “We serve our duck pink here, sir.” Ah, those were the Eighties when customers expected all meats to be incinerated.

Of course, chances were it would appear anything but pink, perhaps pinkish but very often grey.

There were two possible reasons. First was inept over-cooking. Secondly, when a duck breast is thinly sliced and fanned – the juices running out to add resonance and depth to your sauce – oxidation quickly sets in and pinkness fades.

Now I have not been having a lot of luck in the duck department while eating out lately and I’m wondering if there’s been a cheffy twist in fashion I have not yet caught up with.

On two recent meals chefs have treated duck like steak, serving it up as thick, bloody, chewy, inelegant tranches of meat. Perhaps they are worried it will go grey. Worse, each time the breast retained a sliver of gristle or cartilage from where it was attached to the breastbone. Inexpert butchering: I wonder whether they have the same supplier?

This last was at the otherwise excellent Silver Plate training restaurant at Sheffield College (I go back far enough to remember it as Granville) which is well worth that proverbial detour if you want a more than decent luch or dinner.

The £25-a-head Wine and Dine evening had rattled through splendidly: excellent canapes which included a dinky little falafel; smoked eel, perhaps not Capstan Full Strength but with just a whiff to balance against delights such as a soft-boiled quail’s egg and a first class cabernet reduction; then hot mackerel fillet strips partnered not with the more usual gooseberry (not yet in season) but rhubarb puree, which is. It delivered just enough tartness on the palate.

Our table of four chortled happily, praising the precision of level three students under the guidance of chef-lecturer Neil Taylor.

Then we had the duck.

It was described as: “Caramelised duck breast (with) glazed pear, truffled gnocchi, celeriac, duck parfait emulsion.” Which sounded lovely.

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Mackerel with rhubarb puree

Sadly, my duck was nowhere near caramelised and the skin was flabby. It was lukewarm at best and a bit of a chew. Oddly, the taste was fine but that strip of ligament prevented me cutting it up properly and I gave up wrestling with it. In Man versus Duck there was only one winner and it wasn’t me. By contrast my wife’s duck was cooked to grey.

A pity, because the other elements were fine: the pear delicate, the gnocchi generously truffled, the foam tasted good (Heaven knows what a duck parfait emulsion is) while the jus was excellent.

But if the central element is off kilter it doesn’t work. A double pity, because the wine pairing in our wine flight (£10 a head), was a little stunner. Look out for Poderi Parpinello ‘San Constantino’ from Sardinia.

The duck apart, the kitchen’s handling of ingredients was impressive. Our dessert, Opera Gateau, a French sponge classic looking like a little like a Tecnhnicolor liquorice allsort came with roast pineapple (makes a change from grilled) with a malty ice cream.

But I don’t want this to be one big grouse: beside, I am going back later in the year, virus permitting.

I want to add a word of praise for the breads, particularly the focaccia and light-as-a-feather rolls.

Just as important in a training restaurant are the front of house staff. They were a delight. I like the way my serviette, accidentally dropped on the floor when I went to inspect the facilities (sparklingly clean by the way), was replaced on my table shaped like a cardinal’s hat.

And our server fielded our grumps over the duck well. It appeared we weren’t the only table. We were promised extra petit fours (petit eights?) but it didn’t appear we did, looking at other tables. But coffees were deleted from our bill.

If you want  a different take on this meal check out Craig Harris’s review here as he was sitting at our table.

Not every meal out works 100 per cent but I do know one thing – next time I order duck I’ll get it in writing how the chef cooks it first!

*Because of the corona virus the Silver Plate has now closed until at least after Easter.**The restaurant lighting is a curious pink so my photographs came out in a bilious colour. These pictures of dishes have been taken from the restaurant’s Twitter feed.

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Opera gateau with malt icecream

 

 

 

 

 

Everything but the quack!

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Pappardelle with duck ragu

SOMETIMES you wonder about supermarkets. Waitrose are currently selling two duck breasts for £9 but whole roast in the bag 1.25kg ducks at £8.35. So that means any sharp-eyed cook with a sharp knife can get the breasts, plus two legs and the carcase for free and still finish 65p up on the deal.

Or even more. “I’ve got a £1.50 voucher for any duck product,” said my wife as she disappeared down the aisle. I did the maths. That meant I – or she – was only going to pay £6.85 for that quacker.

Which made up, in part, for the laughably high prices she insists on paying when she could go to more inexpensive supermarkets.

I’ve done it before (without the voucher) and the legs normally finish up as a confit. Sadly, this is where things go wrong – I sometimes roast them too dry or to a crisp when I dredge them out of their fat some months later. There had to be another use apart from a stir-fry.

There is: duck ragu.

What follows is an amalgam of several Venetian recipes, which concentrate on flavourings such as bay, thyme and sage and, in one case, cinnamon. So I used all four and added rosemary for luck.

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My cut price duck, ready for butchering

All the recipes I consulted stipulated using one leg per person or a whole duck (in which case you roast it) but I found two legs gave quite enough ragu for four. And I prefer cooking on the stove top rather than in the oven because it is less wasteful of energy. And cheaper.

You need:

2 duck legs, oiled and seasoned

1 small onion, 1 stick of celery, 1 large carrot, all chopped small for a soffrito

125ml red wine

125ml chicken stock

1 tin chopped tomato

tomato puree

herbs as above

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp plain flour

1 dessert spoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

Butchering was relatively easy. Dislocate the leg and wing joints first before cutting and work your knife carefully along the breastbone.

Brown the duck legs in a heavy casserole for about 10 minutes. I added the tops of the wings – not much meat but they will add flavour.

Remove the meat with tongs and pour off all but 1 tbsp of duck fat. I poured the excess into my duck fat jar.

Gently cook the vegetables, herbs and garlic gently for as long as you can be bothered (but at least 10 mins) then add the cinnamon and flour and stir in for a minute or two.

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All chopped and ready to go

Now add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and puree and return the meat to the pan. It should be just submerged. Bring to boil then turn down to a simmer and leave, stirring occasionally to stop things sticking. You want the meat to be really tender.

Then remove it to a plate and allow to cool. Then, with two forks, carefully remove the skin (don’t both if you miss bits, it will be very soft) shred the meat from the bones and return to the pan.

A cook’s treat is to suck, guzzle and gnaw the bones clean before discarding.

It tasted wonderful although I might go a bit easier on the cinnamon next time. It’s going in the freezer until I need it (as a sauce with pasta) because we are having those duck breasts, pan-fried, first.

I also boiled up the carcase as a stock, also destined for the freezer, and while all this was going on I gently fried little two inch squares of snipped skin from the carcase in a heavy-based frying pan. Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they made another little treat.

And, of course, they yielded even more fat for the jar. And I even finished up with a little duck ‘dripping’ which went well with my breakfast toast.

I’m feeling pretty pleased with it all. That duck gave us eight main meals in total: breasts, four plates of ragu and two bowls of soup, plus all those little extras. We ate everything but the quack.

When you’re married to a Waitrose Wife you have to stretch those pennies, don’t you?