Thursday, 19 April 2012

HEDONIST: Staying In With Duck Breast & Linguine

I love special dinners.  The kind of meal you have when you’re staying in but want to feel slightly luxurious. When I first went to uni my favourite meal was prawn Thai green curry, using a ready-made sauce from Sainsbury’s. And zero chilli. Needless to say my taste now goes a little hotter. Seafood carbonara was top of the list for a while. 


These are dinners for one or two, no more.  It’s a dinner you cook to impress a date or as at treat if you’re home alone when everyone else is out raving. They shouldn’t take longer than around a half an hour and tend to use more expensive ingredients than average.  Epitomizing ‘because I’m worth it’, they suggest quiet hedonism.  Not the cocktails and narcotics of them out on the razz, but Nigella-esque food porn.  Damn sexy food. 

Duck breast with linguine is my most favouritist meal of the moment.  It ticks all the boxes: quick, fairly posh and of course decadent.  The skin. Holy mother the skin.  Crackling, crunchy and salty.  Better than the best of pork crackling and roast chicken skin giving way to tender duck meat.  The linguine is something else as well and I quite happily eat this on its tod.  Flecked with ruby chilli, vibrant chopped parsley and fragranced with white wine and lemon, it is pretty in an understated way.  Sophisticated comfort food.  Makes you hum of garlic but who cares, the other one does as well.  

 Duck Breast and Linguine – serves 2

2 duck breasts
Enough dried linguine for 2
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A large bunch of parsley finely chopped
1 – 2 red chillies chopped finely depending on your heat tolerance
Glass of white wine
Juice of half a lemon
Generous handful of grated parmesan (about 50 g worth)
2 huge nobs of butter (about a ¼ of a block – don’t be shy, it’s a special dinner)
About 150 g of fresh spinach (2/3 a bag of baby spinach leaves)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1)    Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius and put a small oven tray inside to heat as well.
2)    Get a large pan of water boiling and add a generous sprinkle of salt. 
3)    Put a heavy based frying pan on a low to medium heat.  Score the duck skin with a sharp knife and salt heavily, put skin side down in the pan (no oil).  The idea is to render a lot of the fat out and crisp up the skin so every so often spoon away the excess fat that builds up.  It will take about 10/15 minutes to get golden brown and you can in the meantime chop up the parsley etc. 
4)    Once golden brown, turn meat side down just for about 2 minutes to get some colour on the meat then transfer to the warmed oven tray (skin side up).  It should take about 10/15 mins in the oven to be medium cooked.
5)    While the duck is in the oven put your pasta onto cook, it should take about 7 mins.  Heat the now empty duck pan up to high and add a small splash of white wine, scrape up any burney bits as the wine rapidly reduces then add a 1/3 of the butter, half the lemon juice then the spinach leaves in handfuls as it wilts. This should only take a couple of minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
6)    The pasta should be half way done.  Heat another pan/wok (big enough hold the cooked pasta) to medium/high heat and add  a splash of oil and the rest of the butter, then the garlic and chilli.  When the garlic is just turning golden add the rest of white wine and let it reduce to about half its volume.
7)    The pasta should be done now. Add to the garlic/chilli pan and stir well. Add the parmesan and the chopped parsley and the rest of the lemon juice. Take off the heat, season to taste and if it looks dry add a splash of olive oil. Keep warm.
8)    The duck should be done – take out of the oven and leave to rest for 5 mins or so.  Slice diagonally.  Add resting juices from the duck to the pasta.
9)    I serve the duck on top of the spinach with the linguine on the side.




Sunday, 15 April 2012

SPECIALISED: Multi-Cultural Britain and Mexican Shredded Pork


Mexican restaurants are popping up on every corner in London now, touting not the TexMex cheesy beany Old El Paso stuff, but fresh and zingy street-food heavy on the avocado, lime and chilli.   We’ve embraced sushi.  Raw fish.  In England. Regional Chinese restaurants are gaining popularity.  Day-glo orange sweet and sour pork balls are being sidelined in favour of the numbing heat of Dan Dan noodles.   
 
Britain’s tastes and needs are expanding and you can see this reflected on the supermarket shelves.  On the same aisle as Bisto gravy granules you can now buy Sumac and Kaffir lime leaves.   However, despite the availability of Shaoxing rice wine and gram flour, I often come across recipes I want to make with ingredients I can’t find easily.  Even with Chinatown a tube ride away, I don’t read Chinese so shop with a combination of trial and error, and picture reference.

Mexican food is a thorn in my side.  The more I taste good stuff in town, the more I want to make it at home.  I keep coming across recipes with specific chilis, pastes and flours that your average supermarket doesn’t stock.  While companies such as the Cool Chile Co deliver to your door, 1) I balk at forking out around £3 for postage (more than the stuff I want in the first place) and 2) I usually decide what I want for dinner that day, so waiting for a delivery isn’t really an option.  

Alex and I had a craving for Mexican pulled pork and after a bit of googling I discovered a version called ‘cohinita pibil’ where pork shoulder is marinated then slow-roasted in citrus juice and chilli after being rubbed in achiote paste.  Of course, I didn’t have achiote paste, and doubt even the annatto seeds that make it are easily available down the road.  Google yet again gave me a substitute, albeit a completely random one that I reckon is completely unlike the real deal.

I didn’t set out to adapt the recipe as much as I did but to make it palatable it needed some tweaking. The temperature suggested was unfeasibly low, so I upped it to 160 degrees for three hours.  I didn’t have habanero peppers so used scotch bonnets.  I ran out of lemons so added more lime juice in stead.  Nearing the end of the cooking I added a good two tablespoons of muscovado sugar to the juices as they were ridiculously sour.  Lastly, we wanted some crackling so when marinading I didn’t submerge the skin, and cut it off the joint at the end of the cooking time, wacking the oven up to full, and giving it a blast to crisp up. 

Once shredded with two forks, the resulting roast wasn’t comparable to the steaming vats you get in Benito’s Hat or Chipotle though I suspect that if I’d simmered it in some stock and the marinade a little longer it would have been.   Though it wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind when setting out, the pork was bloody gorgeous.  The tangy shreds of meat were moist and slightly spicy with varying textures and levels of flavour. The outer layers of the joint having more crust and a stronger hint of the marinade, the inner bits being softer, juicier and milder in taste. 

We ate this on warmed tortilla quarters, with home-made avocado salsa and some Holy Fuck Hot Sauce.  I ate it again for breakfast the next day. Smashing.

Mexican Shredded Pork  - Serves 3 - 4

800g -1 kg pork shoulder with skin on
2 tables spoons achiote paste or achiote paste substitute (see below)
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
 2 scotch bonnets peppers, seeded and chopped
2 heaped tablespoon dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste


Achiote Paste Substitute

Mush all the below together.

3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red vinegar
1 tablespoon oil (I used olive)
3 tablespoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin


1)   Using a sharp knife or fork put slits and holes all over the pork and rub in the achiote paste substitute
2)   Mix all the rest of the ingredients together in an ovenproof container large enough to hold the shoulder and place in skin side up.  Leave in fridge for 8 hours or overnight.
3)   Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius and take pork and marinade out of fridge to bring up to room temperature. Cover loosely with a foil lid and roast for approximately three hours. Take out and separate the meat from the skin.
4)   Heat the oven to full wack, pat dry the skin, salt it heavily and put back in the oven.  Keep the rest of the meat in a warm place to rest while crackling crisps an puffs up (should take about 20 mins to half hour).
5)   Using two forks shred the meat apart.  If you feel it is dry, add a splash of the cooking liquid (check its not too sour though, and if so add some more sugar).
6)   Serve with warm tortillas, guacamole and hot sauce.