Sunday, January 27, 2013

D - Duck with Five-Spice and Bok Choy

Duck with Five-Spice and Bok Choy

“Technology is a part of cuisine that should be embraced rather than shunned.”

– Heston Blumenthal, ‘Heston Blumenthal at Home’

I’ve never been a fan of duck. Most people find this a horrifying revelation – duck, for them, is usually a treat, residing in that category of dishes one orders at a fancy restaurant because one doesn’t often cook it at home. I never order the duck dish at a restaurant, though I will often have a taste from someone else’s plate. Each time I do, I maintain that I cannot see what all the fuss is about.

So it was with some reluctance that I conceded that duck was the obvious choice for ‘D’. I decided to take the plunge and ordered duck breasts from our butcher, having settled on this recipe from Heston Blumenthal. I thought if anything was going to make me a believer in the wonders of duck, it had to be one of Heston’s meticulously balanced and scientifically prepared dishes.

Five Spices

And did the preparation of this dish feel like a science experiment!  We used a stop-watch to time the cooking of the duck. Heston’s technique involved flipping the meat every few minutes to ensure even heat distribution.  Because duck has a layer of skin on one side, that side was cooked for 3 minutes while the skinless side got 1 minute. Each side got four flips.

Strictly Timed Cooking!

We blanched the garlic for the vegetables in milk four times. It felt like a ridiculous waste of good milk, but we were determined to stick to the recipe and, in fact, it did enhance the flavour, giving the garlic a nice, nutty earthiness, without the usual acridity.

Baby bok choy

We cooked the bok choy in mirin until tender and then added soya beans, peas and a soy sauce mixture at the end along with curls of spring onion.

Bok choy in mirin

And the verdict? The dish was di-vine. The duck was, thanks to all that flipping, perfectly cooked, lightly pink in the middle and incredibly tender. We made our own five-spice powder for this, with an aromatic mix of star anise, cloves, fennel, Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon. It gave the duck meat a lovely thin, but satisfyingly crispy crust. The soy sauce dressing for the vegetables sang with garlic, ginger and chilli and it’s saltiness was the perfect foil for the richness of the duck.

Mission accomplished!

Who would have thought it? I’ve found a duck dish that I would be happy to trot out for my next dinner party.

Technical Info
This week's setup shot is of the lighting setup I used for the first photograph of the Bok Choy. Again it was a two light setup.

Lighting setup - Baby Bok Choy

The key light was a Canon 580 EX II fired from camera left at 1/16 and zoomed to 105mm.

The second light, used for fill, was a Canon 430 EX II fired at 1/16th and zoomed to 70mm. It was fired from camera right.

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