Sunday, September 6, 2009

Father's Day Special: duck legs, fresh mulberries and crispy potato

Confit of Duck Leg with Mulberry Red Wine Jus and Crispy Hash Brown
Home Cooking

Mum's birthday is always around the same time as Queen's birthday. Dad's happens to coincide with Father's Day. Last night, we had noodles with savory mince (noodles to represent long life).

As for today, I volunteered to make something special.

Fresh mulberries still on the bush

There's a bit of a story here... my dad has a dream of raising silk worms. He did it a few times when he was a kid and they were successful attempts in that the silk worms spun. That's considered normal in China because well... it's unheard of for silk worms NOT to spin. The only problem back then was that mulberry leaves (the only thing that silkworms eat) were scarce.

One time, my dad went out to this zoo to get the leaves for his silk worms and by the time he got home, his clothes were dirty and he got a real flogging from his mum (my grandma). She got mad that he went out to woop woop without notification and got rid of the silk worms to teach him a lesson.

Young dad vowed that when he grew up he was gonna raise all the silk worms he wanted to.

I've lived at 2 houses in Brisbane now and the first thing dad does when we move to a new house is plant a mulberry bush. Once they start growing leaves, he sources some silk worms.

I'M SORRY IF YOU'RE SCARED OF BUGS!! I didn't know if I should include a photo of our pets on here but I think they're kind of cute. Avert your eyes if you're squeamish. And, NO WE DIDN'T COOK THEM

Unfortunately, out of the 2-3 attempts he's had so far, none of the silk worms have spun. We have no idea what's wrong... they just get fatter and fatter and eventually stop eating and die. If there's a silk worm expert reading this post, please contact me!

Our mulberry bush

To get to the point now, our mulberry bush has grown quite a bit and right now, it just happens to be mulberry season. Not everyone is aware of mulberries... they aren't commercially available because they're so fragile. They tend to be dark in color and look a bit like raspberries. They stain like crazy.

Freshly picked mulberries

We were eating a bowl of freshly picked mulberries when I commented that they go nicely with duck (having had a wonderful mulberry and duck dish at The Continental Cafe in New Farm). Dad was totally keen on the idea and hence, my cooking adventure began.

Duck legs were bought and after reading several recipes, articles, cooking guides, I decided to try and do a confit of duck leg. Basically, that involves salting the duck legs for at least 12 hrs (some say 48 hrs) and then slowly braising them in duck fat for another couple of hrs. The legs are then crisped up under the grill.

This sounded complex but appealing so I thought 'what the heck'.

Confit of Duck Legs
Serves 3

  • 3 duck legs
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • herbs to season (I used a mix of dried thyme, rosemary and oregano)
  • 2 cups or so of duck fat (I didn't have any on hand so I rendered some duck fat from excess pieces of skin on the legs and used olive oil for the rest)

1. Prepare the duck legs... I removed the thigh bone, trimmed off excess skin and fat and also exposed the bone at the hock of the drumstick. Score the skin with a sharp knife so that when the legs are cooking in the oven, more duck fat will come out of the legs.
These are the duck legs prior to any prep - compare to the photos below to see the difference

2. Mix together your salt, pepper and herbs. Rub onto the duck legs meat side first and then a little on the skin.3. Set the legs on a plate, cover in glad wrap and leave in the fridge for at least overnight.4. When ready, preheat your oven to 120 degrees Celsius. Rinse the excess salt from the duck legs and pat dry.
5. Lay them in a small tray and submerge completely with duck fat or oil.6. Cover the tray with foil and roast slowly for around 2-3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.
7. Remove the duck legs from the fat with a slotted spoon. At this stage, they can be cooled and preserved by covering them in duck fat and placing them in the fridge to be used another time. I just transferred them directly into another baking tray.8. Increase the oven heat to 190 degrees Celsius.
9. Place the tray near the top of the oven and grill for around 15min to crisp up the skin.
10. Serve with the mulberry jus (recipe below).

Mulberry Jus (you can substitute the mulberries with blueberries or black berries)
Note: the quantities I used are just an estimate. I was tasting and adjusting as I went

  • Some scrap pieces of duck
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 piece of shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup of mulberries
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp strawberry jam

1. Cook the duck scraps with a bit of olive oil. Add the chicken stock, wine, apple cider vinegar, shallot, garlic, bay leaf and about 1/2 the amount of mulberries. Season with salt and pepper.2. Reduce the heat and simmer till the liquid has reduced to about 1/3 the volume.
3. Strain through a sieve to get rid of all the contents.4. Return the liquid to the pan on low heat and stir through the butter. Adjust sweetness with brown sugar and a bit of strawberry jam.
5. The jus is ready when it is reduced in volume again to about 1/2. I added in the rest of the mulberries at the point and crushed them.6. Serve with the duck.

Fried Hash Brown

  • 1 medium-sized potato
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Japanese Panko breadcrumbs)

1. Peel the potato and slice thickly.2. Place in a small pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Keep cooking until the potato pieces are just tender but not falling apart. Drain and blot on a paper towel.
3. Coat the potato pieces in flour, dip in a beaten egg and then in some bread crumbs.
4. Deep fry until golden (I used the duck fat from the roasting tray)

All plated up...

My parents were really impressed with this dish and the amount of effort that went in. Mum's verdict was quite encouraging. We all though the duck was a bit too salty - I think I may have salted them excessively.

I personally thought the duck was still a far cry from restaurant standards. The skin could stand to be crispier and next time, I'll introduce better flavors into the meat.

The mulberry jus worked out quite well. It had a subtle berry sweetness that complimented the rich, gamey flavor of the duck.

I was also most impressed with the hash browns! They were a bit of an afterthought but worked out really well. Easy to make too.

Overall, I'm not too disappointed with my first duck dish ever but there'll be adjustments in the future. It's a far cry from the restaurant stuff but the process was fun.

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