Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Szechuan Duck with Mango Salsa (I Could be on MasterChef with this One)

When I was presented with the opportunity to have a practically kid-free Saturday night, I knew I wanted to cook something a little bit special. Our baby is 10 months and at that horrible screaming-in-public-stage, so going out for dinner wasn’t an option. I wanted to try something new, but also appropriate for the 40 degree day. Duck with mango salsa seemed to fit the bill.
The image from the book is basically food porn it is so beautiful (courtesy Jason Thomas)

Duck breasts are rubbed with a mixture of crushed Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon and five spice, and after being pan-fried and oven-baked, served with a salsa of mangoes, pawpaw, cucumber, red onion which is dressed with mint, chilli, sesame oil, ginger and sherry vinegar.
You need to poke your breasts before rubbing them
My first problem arose when I had a panic attack in the middle of Woolies. My shopping list was so long it went over both sides of my paper, and I hadn’t clearly marked what ingredients were for my duck dinner, and what was for the salads I had planned on making for a BBQ later in the week. The trolley was overflowing, the shop was overflowing and all I wanted was to escape.

I made a few bad calls, and forgot two of the ingredients. Oh well. I never follow a recipe properly anyway.
The salsa is fabulous on its own
My next problem was when I started cooking, I didn’t read the recipe from start to finish. I skipped to the bit that told me how to make the salsa, thinking that it would need to ‘brew’ for a while as the duck was cooking. Pity I didn’t read the bit about the duck needing to sit out of the fridge for an hour before being cooked.

Sidenote: always read the entire recipe before you start.
At this point I needed a drink

When I mentioned this to my husband, he gave me a look that clearly told me he thought I was an idiot. However what he said was simply: ‘I’m not going to say anything.’

He is much more restrained than me: I always tell him off for not reading the recipe.

This is one salad I enjoy eating, maybe because it's full of fruit

I started by dicing the mango, pawpaw, cucumber and red onion. I’m not a fan of raw onion, even red, so I only used about 2 tablespoons in total. I also added a handful of tiny red tomatoes from the garden and a sprig of coriander, because I love coriander. I had forgotten to buy the chilli, but I figure I don’t need any extra heat in the kitchen when it is 40 degrees outside.

By the time I had read the recipe and realised I was meant to rub the spices into the duck and let it rest for an hour before cooking, it was already close to our dinner time (even the absence of the kids doesn’t mean we eat late).
I mixed 2/3 of a tablespoon of Szechuan seasons [perhaps my greatest culinary faux pas tonight, as my local Woolies didn’t stock Szechuan peppercorns as the recipe required], and ½ teaspoon each of salt, cinnamon and Chinese five spice.
I rubbed it on the breasts, not feeling remotely giggly. Three kids will do that to you.
My breasts got a serious tan

I was getting the hurry up from the gallery so it only sat for a short while before panfrying in a hot pan for two minutes each side. I panicked for a minute when I realised the recipe didn’t say whether or not to put oil in the pan. You always put oil in the pan, right? My husband pointed out duck skin is extremely fatty, so I decided to follow the recipe and didn’t oil the pan. It smoked like the Marlborough man and I needed to put the exhaust fan on, and when I shook the pan there were little bursts of flame. I felt like I was on Masterchef.

Then it went into the oven (180C) for 11 minutes. The recipe said 10-15 minutes. My rather small breasts probably only needed 10 minutes, as even though they were still juicy after resting for ten minutes, they weren’t pink. Aren’t breasts meant to be pink?

Dinner was served and it looked fantastic. I also dished up a side of asparagus. There was a moment of awkwardness about whether or not to eat the skin. After all, that was the part with all the spice and flavour, but a few dreary comments from my husband about cholesterol quickly put a stop to any enjoyment I might have had eating the skin.
C'mon, it's just like the book! Winner

In the end it was a successful meal, despite forgetting some of the primary ingredients (we both agreed that the chilli would have helped). Duck is very filling, even when you leave the delicious, tasty skin and fat on the plate. I still managed to find room for dessert though.

My thoughts

Because you can prepare a lot of it in advance, this recipe would be great for a dinner party. It looks spectacular and tastes fresh and zingy. It’s not cheap though, the breasts cost about $7 each and mangoes and pawpaw are not the cheapest fruit in the fruit bowl.

It’s worth it though, for a special occasion. Such as the kids having a sleepover at Grandma’s.

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