Category Archives: Duck

Foie Gras (Fat Liver) with Sake and Chilli

foiegras_sake2pNo matter if we have guests or not, fat liver (foie gras) terrine is the only item I cannot imagine my Christmas without. Undisciplined and messy cook that I am, I never manage it to look as good as I’d like,  the shape is never neat and, in general, it’s far from being perfect. I’m sure professional chefs would consider it unacceptable, but I love my homemade terrine and never even think of buying it already cooked. Now is the best moment to plan a trip to a good duck liver supplier, so I thought I’d share with you my most recent seasoning variation, successfully tested and planned for this Christmas too.

Probably because foie gras is expensive, most people (also in France) think it’s very difficult to prepare a terrine, i.e. seasoned half cooked whole liver. There are different methods, such as poaching it rolled into a piece of fabric or cling film, but I’ve always practiced the most popular one among home cooks: hot water bath baking in a rectangular terrine dish. Seasoning options are endless, though most cooks use only salt or some dry spices and/or aromatic alcohols. The first time I made it I was surprised how easy it was, though I had been scared to spoil the whole liver. It doesn’t require any skills (apart from a bit of patience if you have to remove the veins, but nowadays the liver is often sold deveined) and most of the process consists in… waiting, since you need to prepare it several days in advance.

Apart from those who love cooking and experimenting, people often decide to make this terrine at home because the price is about three times lower (and it’s still costly!), so if you have access to the raw or good quality but frozen liver, do not hesitate (I have no experience with goose liver, so I cannot give any advise on it). Disciplined, meticulous cooks will obtain a beautiful visual result even the first time, but since I’m clumsy and don’t care for the visual improvement that much, I only pay attention to the flavours; good taste is all that counts and it’s very simple to achieve.

I like experimenting with new flavours, but since I’m never sure of the results, I always do it with only a half of my liver (or just one, if I buy two). Last year I prepared half with “safe” Armagnac (see below) and half with a slightly risky mixture of sake and powdered chilli, which reminded me a bit of Korean cuisine. The result was moderately spicy and the delicate sake aroma was still recognisable, so this year I’ll repeat this version, but I have already planned a new experiment for the other half of my liver….

If you prefer a more traditional version of foie gras, you might like the Armagnac seasoning:

foie_gras_a

TIPS: 

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones. Try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course, the fresher it is, the better and even famous French chefs recommend frozen product if one is not sure about the raw liver’s freshness because livers are normally frozen the same day the animals were slaughtered. Obviously, it’s better to buy liver from a local producer and if it’s imported, but some countries don’t have the same level of hygiene/quality/medicine use regulations (or simply don’t respect theirs). The difference in taste will be huge. I always try to look for free-range birds, which are force-fed only during last weeks of their lives.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All my tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

The terrine must spend 48 hours in the fridge before being served. This is obligatory: I once tasted foie gras about 12 hours after cooking and it was awful. I already thought I had spoilt it, but it was just too early to eat it…. Both the texture and the taste really improve with time.

Since it’s a half-cooked product, you should eat it in four-five days after you cook it. If you see you won’t be able to finish it, freeze the remaining part whole or in small portions.

Remember, even if you forget a step, even if you overcook your liver or you make any other mistake, don’t despair. It might prove totally edible! You will be able to learn it only after 48 hours in the fridge. I once forgot mine in the oven and was surprised it was actually quite good.

How to serve it? 

Foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. For me the simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as damson jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast/brunch is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, actually prefer it with red wine).

If you don’t like the shape of your cooked terrine or if it falls into pieces, serve it on small toasts as canapés.

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should be ok too)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but it’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver, weighing max. 500g (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons sake (I have used here really cheap sake I use for Japanese cooking – though not the sweet mirin! – and it was perfect)

5 flat tablespoons (or more) powdered medium hot chilli (I have used here Kashmiri chilli) or sweet paprika, if you prefer it mild

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (you can add 5 if you use low-sodium version)

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (10 g/about 2 teaspoons per kilo, since there is also soy sauce)

(some more medium hot or sweet chilli powder to sprinkle just before serving)

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, chilli, soy sauce and half of the sake (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

You may sprinkle it with some more chilli powder just before serving.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Terrine de foie gras (Fat Duck Liver Terrine) with Armagnac

foie_gras_aFat duck liver terrine was love at first bite. The first time I tasted it I was lucky to discover a superior product made by a friend’s uncle, duck farmer. Afterwards, having tasted inferior copies even in decent-looking restaurants, I started to assume it was extremely difficult to prepare. This was before I made it on my own and realised that the aesthetic side wasn’t easy to achieve for a me at least (as you can see above…), but even the clumsiest home terrine often tasted much better than some excellent-looking, but undeniably low-quality specimens served by professional chefs, not to mention supermarket-bought jars.

Fat liver production dates as far back as Ancient Rome, when birds were fed figs, and the method was so widely practised that the latin “ficum” is a root word for French “foie” or Italian “fegato” (both meaning “liver”). Until now figs or fig jam are considered good company for fat duck liver. Even though goose fat liver is also popular in some countries (such as Hungary), in France the duck liver prevails and it’s even difficult to find a goose liver, raw or transformed.

Fat liver can be prepared in many ways, the most famous two being very simple, quickly fried hot “steaks” and more elaborate and complex “terrine”, usually (though not always) cooked in hot water bath, and served cold and definitely my favourite. The terrine is not difficult to make, but it takes several days, so if one wants to follow the French trend and serve it for Christmas, it should be bought at least four days before being served.

Most people don’t dare preparing fat liver at home. I was also afraid of experimenting with such an expensive product, but, encouraged by my mother-in-law whose terrines were always fabulous, I made it one day and was genuinely surprised it was actually good. As I have mentioned above, excellent visual results are difficult to obtain (at least for some cooks…), but, even though it takes time and requires patience, a good-tasting terrine is not difficult to prepare.

The only difficult part in the preparation is deveining, though many butchers sell it already deveined. The liver has big and small veins and the more of these are removed, the better. The trick is to find the right compromise between removing as many veins as possible and not tearing the liver apart in hundred pieces.

Fat liver terrine recipes are galore and mine is loosely based on mixed sources, such as my mother-in-law’s advice or tips from internet and cookery books. Different spices and/or aromatic alcohols or even fruits/vegetables can be used (I have had fantastic terrine with artichoke for example!), but even made with simple tawny port terrine is really good and even salt and pepper are sufficient, as long as the raw product’s quality is good.

TIPS:

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones! (I have seen such livers too). Then try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course the fresher it is the better and good French chefs recommend even frozen product if we are not sure about the liver’s freshness.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All the tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

What to serve it with? As I have mentioned above, foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. The simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as violet plum jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, prefer it with red wine).

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should do)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but tit’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons armagnac or another aromatic alcohol of your choice (e.g. port), but alcohol is not necessary really

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (15 g/about 3 teaspoons per kilo)

ground pepper

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, pepper and half of the Armagnac (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Duck Tsukune (Japanese Ground Duck Skewers)

ducktsukunepTsukune, or ground meat skewers, are the first thing I order whenever I go to an izakaya, a Japanese pub (the probability they serve it is very high). As I have mentioned here, in a place specialised in yakitori (chicken skewers), tsukune’s taste measures the cook’s skills and the place’s ambitions, so if they are just average, it’s probably high time to move to a different pub… A huge majority of tsukune are prepared with chicken meat, so using another bird instead is not a revolutionary idea, but this slight modification does make a nice change and I see this stronger-flavoured version as cold-season tsukune. I found the green chilli and lime zest paste (raimu koshou, my Westernised version of yuzu koshou) an extraordinary flavours enhancer here.

If it’s the first time you come across this name, “tsukune (捏ね or つくね)” apparently comes from the verb “tsukuneru” (to knead) and refers to the fact that the patties shaping process involves more or less kneading. Even though they are usually made with chicken, other meats can also be used or a mixture of meats. The shape also varies: while most yakitori-serving restaurants give them an oval shape and grill them on skewers, tsukune can also be round and pan-fried or simmered in soups.

This recipe is loosely based on the Chicken Tsukune posted here, which was based on a recipe from  Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson, a fabulous cookbook and Tokyo izakaya guide in one. As I have mentioned above, I served these tsukune with raimu koshou and its mixture of hot and slightly bitter flavours was the best seasoning I can imagine.

If you don’t have or like duck meat, you might want to try the basic, chicken tsukune version:

Tsukune

Tsukune

TIPS : For optimal results do not use ground duck breast here (you can use it as a small part of the meat mixture), otherwise the tsukune will be tough and dry.

If you cannot find ground duck legs, you can easily mix them in a food processor (this is what I did). After grinding, remove any long stringy white bits you see (unless you have a real meat grinder; then the result should be perfect). You can grind the meat almost to a pulp, if you wish, but I liked the slightly chunky texture too.

I prefer my teriyaki glaze less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Raimu koshou (lime zest and chilli paste) recipe is very easy and goes perfectly with strong flavoured meat dishes or ramen soups:

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

If you don’t have time to make the lime and chilli paste properly (it does take several days to mature), you can try a quick version, mixing the chilli and the zest with salt just before serving the tsukune.

Special equipment: skewers (I have used 8) and a brush

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

ground meat from 2 medium duck legs (about 250 – 300 g/9 – 10 oz)

1 small onion (I have used a shallot)

(optionally: grated zest from one big lemon or 2 limes)

salt, pepper

oil

Teriyaki glaze:

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the onion and combine with the zest, the salt and the pepper.

Refrigerate for one hour (you can skip this step if you are in a hurry, but it lets the flavours mix better together).

15 minutes before grilling or pan-frying, soak the skewers (if you use wooden ones) in water.

Form equal balls in your palms, slightly kneading the meat.

Give the balls an oval shape and “stick” them around the skewers, pressing with your palm, making sure they don’t fall off the skewer (I was worried they would fall, but mine never did).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the skewers on a grill or on a pan, turning them regularly.

If you grill them on a pan, I advise keeping the pan covered, so that you don’t end up with raw meat inside and burnt outside. I turned them four times (as if they had four sides), each time after about a minute.

Just before serving, warm the teriyaki glaze a bit and brush the skewers with it.

Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast, Carrot and Mint

What do you do with leftover roast? For many years I used to put it into salads, sandwiches or stir-fries and then one day I simply wrapped them in rice paper with some vegetables and glass noodles, making very unorthodox version of spring rolls. Since then this is the first thing I think about when I take out the leftover roast from the fridge. Spring rolls with leftover meat proved not only easy, quick and healthy, but most of all extremely versatile and convenient. They can be made with any vegetable found in the fridge, while rice paper and glass noodles can be stocked for long months or even years. If you have ever made spring rolls you probably know that they can be served for any meal of the day, as a starter, a snack or a main dish. They are also an excellent choice for a picnic, for packed lunch at work and I often prepare them for long car journeys instead of traditional sandwiches. (If you are not the one who drives, you can even dip them in a bowl of sauce!). Last but not least, they can be made well in advance and kept in the fridge for several days (as long as they are tightly wrapped in cling film).

The rolls can be served with any sauce of your choice, but my absolute favourite now is a mixture of soy sauce, chili oil and vinegar. It’s hot and slightly acid thank to the vinegar.

Preparation: 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

2 big slices of roast chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb…

6-8 (22 cm or 8 3/4 in) rice paper sheets

1 small individual package of glass noodles (40 g)

2 big carrots

mint leaves

(roast sesame seeds)

Dipping sauce:

5 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce (or less if using standard soy sauce)
1 tablespoon chili oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Cover the noodles with boiling water. Put aside for 15 minutes.

In the meantime cut up the carrots into matchsticks and cut the roast slices into rectangular pieces.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Fill a big wide bowl with warm (not hot) water.

Dip rice paper sheets one by one in the water, immersing them delicately so that you don’t break them.

As soon as the sheet softens ( after about ten seconds), put it onto a chopping board.

Rinse the noodles.

Place horizontally a stack of the carrot and roast pieces, a bit of the noodles and the mint leaves close the the rice paper edge (the
one which is closest to you).

Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like them and roll tightly starting from the edge which is closest to you.

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Serve them immediately as they are or cut in two horizontally.

If you wish to serve them later, wrap them individually in cling film because they dry out very quickly.

 

 

Duck Confit, or confit de canard

Duck confit is roughly duck’s meat cooked slowly in fat. It doesn’t sound very exciting or light, however I still have to find someone who doesn’t like this dish and I am sure it actually does less harm to your body than having a full fast food meal. Confit is like a magic wand transforming fat, ordinary and rather dry duck legs into soft, tender and addictive delight. A full-bodied good red wine is its inseparable friend!

Duck confit comes from the South-Western France, also renowned for its foie gras (fat duck’s liver), but it’s found in restaurants all over the country and canned, ready to be warmed or fried in every supermarket. Confit is usually made with duck legs, but sometimes includes also other carcass parts. Even though the duck is much fatter than for example the chicken, apparently its fat is actually good for your health! It contains almost 50% of “good” monounsaturated acids (olive oil contains almost 75% of those, and butter a bit more than 20%). Personally I like using duck fat in most fried and especially deep fried dishes. It doesn’t burn as easily as oil and gives a richer taste to the fried food.

“Confit de canard” is ridiculously easy to prepare (mind you, I didn’t say “quick”!), much better than the industrial one, and sometimes than the one you can have in a restaurant too! In theory it may even be canned at home for later use, but preserving meat without a special pressure cooker is very dangerous. The hot water bath method used for jams, pickles, sauces etc. is simply not safe enough. You may however prepare the confit and keep it covered in fat, in the fridge, for several weeks.

This is a slightly modified recipe from “Ripailles. Traditional French cuisine” by Stéphane Reynaud, an extraordinary and beautifully edited book containing hearty, country French, mostly meat and offal dishes.

Preparation: 3 hours+ 24 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 duck legs

around 1 litre of duck fat or half duck fat + half  oil for deep frying such as grape seed oil*

bay leaves

thyme

salt, pepper

(a couple of garlic cloves, not obligatory, but they go very will with duck)

a bottle of sturdy red wine, preferably from South-Western France, is a must (a good bottle of Portugese wine from Alentejo region will be very good too)

Rub the duck legs with a big handful of sea salt, a couple of teaspoons thyme, 4 crushed garlic cloves and some ground pepper (2- 3 teaspoons). Put into a closed container and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Rinse well the legs. Put into a saucepan together with fat, oil (if using), bay leaves, thyme, slightly crushed garlic cloves and simmer covered for around 3 hours, turning the meat delicately 2-3 times (unless it’s completely covered with fat, then the turning is not necessary).  When slightly pushed with a fork the flesh should come off the bone easily.

Either put the legs in a big jar/container, cover with fat and keep in the fridge for up to several weeks, or let the legs cool down and fry them, of course in its own fat (I like the skin and the lower, fleshy part, to be very crunchy).

Strain the cooled fat into a jar, cover it and put into the fridge for later use.

If you want to reduce the fat content, pat dry the legs with paper towels before serving.

I like serving confit with preferably small (or cut up if big) potatoes, cooked, and then fried – of course in duck fat – with thyme, pepper and salt, and of course a green salad with mustard vinaigrette.

*To make this recipe you need enough duck fat to cover et least up to 3/4 the cooked legs. In most countries duck’s fat is very expensive, so if you don’t want to buy it, there are two options. You buy a whole duck, cut it on your own, take away the fat and melt it, than you can add some deep frying oil (grape seed oil for example) to obtain the required amount. You can also cook the legs in oil, but the taste will not be as intensely “ducky”.  Whatever happens, never throw away the duck’s fat! It keeps very well for months in the fridge and can be strained and reused several times.