Monday, 26 December 2011

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce

Cooking a duck may seem daunting, but this dish - a starter or snack - is so easy and has such a delicious, lip-smacking depth of flavour that I eagerly encourage you to give it a go. My sweet, spicy relish is made with dried pears, an excellent South African ingredient (and rather neglected in this country, I reckon).

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce
There are many schools of thought when it comes to achieving very crisp skin on a duck. Some recommend that you pour boiling water over it or blast it with a hair dryer, or prick the skin a million times, or separate the skin from the fat with a blast of compressed air, or let the skin air-dry for 24 hours, or all of the above. I have tried some of these methods (the boiling water, the hair dryer and the pricking) but I really haven't noticed an appreciable difference in the end result. So these days I skip the duck-torturing steps and slow-roast the bird, with an initial blast of heat at the beginning and end of the cooking time. This creates a skin of acceptable crispness.

 I'm not saying it's the most brittle duck skin on earth, but it's satisfyingly crunchy, and absolutely achievable in a domestic oven. You will need to cook this in a fan-assisted oven, however, because the circulating heat helps to dry out the skin.  The duck is roasted for a long time, but you need have no fear of it drying out, provided that you use a duck of excellent quality.

Supermarket ducks are cheap, but they're not very good, consisting largely of bone and fat (and each one feeds only two to three hungry people). A plump free-range duck from a good butcher or food market will cost you more, but you won't be disappointed by its flavour and succulence.

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce
1 large free-range duck
1 Tbsp (15 ml) flaky sea salt or coarse salt
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Schezuan peppercorns
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black peppercorns
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced
half a lemon
3 spring onions, whiter parts only,  finely sliced

For the sauce:
10 dried pear halves (about 100 g)
¾ cup (180 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) white sugar
2 whole star anise
a stick of cinnamon
a thumb-length strip of orange zest

Heat the oven to 200 ºC. Dry the duck with kitchen paper, inside and out. Grind the salt and peppercorns together with a mortar and pestle to make a coarse powder, then pat the mixture all over the duck breast, sprinkling a little into the cavity. Tuck the ginger and half lemon into the cavity and roast the duck, breast-side up and uncovered, at 200 ºC for 15 minutes. Now turn the heat down to 160ºC and roast the duck for one and three-quarter hours, with the oven fan on. Every half hour, slide out the roasting dish and use a ladle to scoop out the rendered fat (keep it for roasting potatoes). Now turn the oven heat back up to 200ºC and roast the duck for a further 20 minutes, or until the skin is dark golden and crisp.

In the meantime, bring the sauce ingredients to the boil in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the pears are soft but not collapsed. Allow to cool and discard the anise, cinnamon and peel. Fish out the pears using a slotted spoon and place in a blender. Press the pulse button a few times to create a chunky sauce, adding just enough of the cooking syrup to allow the blades to turn freely.

When the duck is done, allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Scoop all the remaining fat from the pan, but leave any juices. Prepare the duck as follows: peel the crisp skin off the top, pull the breast and leg meat away from the bone, and using two forks, pull it into shreds and flakes. Tip the meat back into the roasting dish and toss it in the remaining pan juices. Cut the crisp skin into very thin slices. Tip the duck into a warm serving platter (or divide it among ramekin-sized bowls, or ceramic Chinese spoons, or ‘cups’ of crisp lettuce). Sprinkle the crisp skin and the spring onions over the duck and serve immediately with the pear sauce.

Serves 8 as a snack or starter

Like this recipe? Try my Easy Duck Rillettes

Easy Duck Rillettes
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Kit said...

I've never cooked a duck before - yo make it sound very tempting! Our free range ducks on the farm are quackers though (supposedly they don't taste good - they're jsut there to gobble up the bugs and look cute!) and there'd be outrage from the whole family if I even dreamt of cooking one, so need to look out for one of less immediate origins!

Kitchenboy said...

I've learnt to love duck duck in Taiwan. There are some excellent Peking duck restaurants here - some of them on the sidewalk of a busy road. I know they blow them up like balloons with compressed air, before roasting them, hanging from their necks.

Yours look and sound really delicious Jane-Anne. Awesome photo!