Thursday, December 17, 2009

Awesome duck salad

It was the 6th anniversary of the night Sandy asked me to marry him. (He’s much better at keeping track of these anniversaries than I am, but once reminded of the date, I was into it.) And I needed to cook something really special.
I don’t remember what I cooked that night; we’d driven up from Auckland to stay at our camp site, and it’s fair to say I had zero idea of what was in store for me. I probably cooked lamb racks and veges and potatoes from the garden, and after that we walked, as was our routine, up to the house site and out to the gate to close it. But this time, he ambushed me somewhere near where our bathroom now is, and said “I want to ask you something.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

So – my cooking has come along since then, I reckon, and I had in mind something nice with duck. I sometimes just roast duck legs with a bit of a glaze and some potatoes cooked in a teeny bit of the duck fat (note the teeny!). This is nice, but with the hot weather and the lovely radishes and lime leaves I’d picked up at the farmers market, I thought maybe something fresher. I rummaged, and discovered some mandarins and ginger in the fridge, and that was enough to get me going.

This duck salad turned out to be really awesome, if I do say it myself, and Sandy really loved it, which was the point of the exercise after all. What better gift is there than cooking something special for the one you love?

As an extra added bonus, I think the search for the Christmas day entrée is over. Make it now!

Duck, mandarin and radish salad

2 duck legs
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 cups rocket leaves
3 mandarins, sliced into segments
2 radishes, finely sliced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
2cm piece ginger, very finely diced
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely

2 tablespoons rice bran oil
2 teaspoons kecap manis
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Score the skin on the duck legs and place in a roasting dish skin-side down. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn over and roast another 30 minutes, draining the fat away after 15 minutes. Mix the honey and soy sauce together, and brush over the duck skin. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, then remove and leave to cool slightly, then pull the meat from the bones and slice.

To make the salad, mix the dressing ingredients together and blend well. Toss the dressing though the rocket leaves. Add the other salad ingredients and distribute between the plates. Add the duck on the top.

Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New nosh

I had an interesting catchup with Clinton Beuvink and Chris Moore, owners of Nosh food market, at their new store in Mt Eden yesterday. The Dominion Rd store has just opened, and it’s really fantastic. What I like about Nosh is not that its full of gourmet treats (which it is), but that it’s also full of everyday food, at really good prices. The veges, meat and fish are fresh and look great, and are priced extremely competitively – it’s like a really, really nice supermarket without all the washing powder and fizzy drinks. I for one like a smaller selection of things to choose from – an edited selection, you might say. It doesn’t bother me that Nosh doesn’t have ten brands of canned tomatoes, because they have my favourite one.

I’m super excited that Nosh is opening in Matakana next week, in the old Stubbs butchery space. I’ll be taking a sneak peek soon, so I’ll report back!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Naughty chef, happy eater

 “See what you think,” said Georgia, the lovely editor of the Australian Healthy Food Guide. “If you don’t like the look of it, we can go to the café next door”. She was taking me out for lunch in Sydney after a tough morning of planning and figuring out when we were going to schedule all the great story ideas we’d come up with for the NZ and Aussie magazines.

The Naughty Chef is a tiny Vietnamese Pho place in Albion street, Surry Hills. It has no ambiance to speak of, with plastic chairs and utilitarian tables, and boxes of tissues for serviettes. But I loved it instantly because I sensed there was something good to be found behind the uninspiring facade. Plus I had spied some of the photos of the food behind the plastic display.  “I love it”, I said, and asked the waitress what she would recommend. She described a hot and spicy chicken soup   - the “007 hot and spicy” Bun bo Hue - that sounded pretty good to me, and Georgia, the new vegetarian, ordered a vege version with tofu. The bowls, when they came, were gorgeous: fragrant and steaming and studded with cabbage and mint and tender poached chicken (in my case) and fried tofu. The broth was clean and savoury; a spicy-sweet stock made by someone who makes it every day and makes a lot of it.  

But it was the side dishes that were the most exciting thing about this meal. It was a help-yourself buffet of the usual pho condiments – lemon wedges, chillies, bean shoots, hoisin sauce. And the most inspiring and intriguing extra sauce. It was chilli, but mild, and smoky, with a smooth, thick texture. I couldn’t get enough if it. “It’s like these chillies have been roasted”, I said as I rolled it around in my mouth, and Georgia laughed and said “I love it that you taste that!” She could see the cogs in my little brain turning over, trying to figure out what was in there. Eventually I asked, and the smiling man who’d served us told me that he and his brother made the sauce (for which I didn’t get a name) themselves every week. I was right (yes!) about the roasted chillies, garlic, shallots, sugar etc, and completely wrong about the fish sauce. What I hadn’t picked was the peanuts, but as soon as he said it I mentally slapped my forehead; of course that’s what it was. I’m guessing very finely ground peanuts. He said it was very slowly cooked together over several hours, which made sense given its rich, deep flavour.

I briefly toyed with running the gauntlet of NZ biosecurity and bringing a jar home, but thought better of it. So the next step: recreating this at home! I’ve searched online and looked though all my Asian cookbooks without unearthing anything that seems quite right. I’m not a Vietnamese cooking expert, so clearly I need help. Anyone able to point me in the right direction, speak up!