Saturday, January 26, 2013

Duck in master stock

Duck in master stock

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 7 December 2012 

Duck, cooked in a myriad of ways, is one of the most popular street foods across Asia. If you tend to avoid cooking duck because you believe its too difficult, this method of red braising will give you sweet and succulent meat with a deliciously crispy skin every time. Using this ancient but simple technique might give you confidence to add duck to your favourites list.

The very traditional method of red braising produces some prized master stocks, with recipes that are often handed down by families over generations. Many family master stocks are so highly valued they are given as a wedding present to represent good luck and a long and happy life.

I picked up my master stock recipe many years ago from Darren Ho, who was the executive chef at the award winning restaurant Terroir, in the Hunter wine region. Ho, steeped in the business of food since he was seven years old, hails from a long line of chefs and restaurant owners. His grandfather bestowed the family master stock recipe on him and the affable chef willingly  shares his knowledge of this cherished braising liquid. 

My master stock is more than a decade old and, like a good red wine, has aged gracefully, with its well balanced flavours bearing testament to many past meals. I have named my pre-adolescent stock Mao, as the erstwhile Chairman of the Peoples Republic insisted that his dishes were cooked in this way.

Preparing your first master stock is simply a matter of combining the ingredients in a large stockpot and simmering until the flavours are infused. If you follow some basic rules, the stock will keep in the refrigerator for many years, ready for when you next need it. Before refrigerating, the stock should be strained and brought to a rolling boil for a few minutes after each use, to keep it free from nasty bacteria. The complexity and depth of flavour of the master stock continues to grow based on the accumulated meat and vegetable infusions.

The flavours in master stock are incredibly versatile and will provide just the right base for sauces, soups or gravy. It can even be reduced down to a paste to make a glaze for pork or ham, and it makes an easy stir fry sauce or as a natural enhancer for casseroles instead of using stock cubes. 

Duck legs, or marylands, are the best cut of duck meat for this recipe, and the skin can then be crisped up under a hot grill before serving. I like to serve the duck with a fresh Asian style salad of mint, coriander, lychees and ginger to cut through the richness of the duck meat.

If you are cooking for a special occasion and you have a large enough pot, a whole red braised duck is an impressive dish, just make sure you make enough stock to cover the bird in the pot and cook slowly for three and a half hours on top of the stove on a very low heat. You will need to double the recipe quantities below to cook a large piece of meat. Pork belly can also be braised in this way, adding some onion, cloud ears (black fungus) to the stock.

For your initial batch of master stock, prepare it a day before you are ready to cook your duck, so the flavours will have time to infuse. Each time you use the stock you can add to it by replenishing the ingredients to ensure you keep a large enough quantity for your next use. The ingredient quantities are approximate, you can adjust these based on your taste.

The ingredients in the recipe are available at Asian grocery stores and the quantity serves 4.

Master stock
2 litres of water
250ml Shaoxing wine
125ml light soy sauce
75ml dark soy sauce
100g yellow rock sugar of palm sugar
3 cumquats or 3 pieces of orange peel
2 cinnamon quills
4 star anise
1 knob of ginger, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
5 dried Chinese mushrooms

4 duck marylands or 8 duck legs
full recipe quantity of master stock
2 shallots, chopped
12 lychees, peeled and chopped or tinned
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup coriander leaves
½ red chilli, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
juice of half a lime

To make the master stock, bring all the ingredients to boil in a large stock pot, simmer for half an hour. Strain. This recipe makes about two and a half litres. Any leftover master stock can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for longer periods. With regular resuscitation, rejuvenation, boiling and refreezing, your stock can be made to last for generations.

To prepare the duck, preheat the oven to 160C. Trim any excess fat from the duck and slit the joint in the leg to keep it flat. Place in a baking dish, skin side down. Bring the master stock to the boil in a saucepan and pour over the duck pieces so they are almost submerged. Cover with a lid or aluminium foil and place in the oven. Cook for one and a half hours and then remove the lid or foil and turn the duck over to skin side up. Cook for another 45 minutes until the meat is almost falling from the bone.

Remove the duck from the stock and refrigerate until needed. Completely chill the master stock in the refrigerator and then remove the fat that has accumulated on the top. Place two cups of master stock in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce by half. The duck pieces can be either reheated in the reduced stock or, for a crispy skin, placed in a shallow pan, skin side up and reheated in a 180C oven for 10 minutes or reheated under a hot grill.

While the duck is reheating and sauce reducing, make the salad by combining the remaining ingredients in a bowl and tossing with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Transfer the duck pieces to a serving bowl and pour over the reduced stock, then pile the lychee and ginger salad on top of the duck.

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