Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Death By Duck

Do you know the feeling when you really want something, but just can't have it? Like a pet penguin. Or an Iron Man suit.

I had such a feeling last month, during a short road trip around California. We'd left LA a couple of nights previously, and were some way up the coast when I found out about a bar in the Koreatown area of LA called Beer Belly. This place features a huge selection of craft beers, as well as a menu stuffed with drool-enducing treats including "pork belly chips", "pizza mac n' cheese", "deep fried oreos", and "death by duck". The latter dish consisting of duck fat fries topped with duck skin crackling and confit duck, served with a raspberry mustard dip.

Furious with myself for missing the opportunity to visit Beer Belly, I had two options - drive two hours back to LA and risk disturbing the matrimonial bliss... or try to forget about it, and pretend I didn't care. Under the circumstances I really had to go for the second option (and to be fair, we actually ended up having some awesome tacos that night). But after the holiday, the intense sense of unfulfillment lingered on, slowly eating away at me. There was only one solution. I had to make my own replica of Death by Duck.

Stage 1 - Duck Confit

There is no end of recipes online for confit duck, but essentially it just consists of cooking duck legs in duck fat, at a low temperature, for a bloody long time. Technically you should salt cure the meat first, but frankly life's too short for that kind of palaver. First I had to remove the skin from one of the legs to use later for the crackling, and then I begun the slow processing of "confiting" the duck. Even the smallest ring on the hob seemed a bit hot, so I ended up chucking it in the oven at 115 C for around five hours.

I then let it cool, and put it in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to use it, you just need to pan fry the legs for a few minutes. This has the added benefit of crisping up the skin very nicely indeed. The meat should be very tender, and easily come away from the bone.

Stage 2 - Duck crackling

I took the duck skin that was salvaged from stage 1, salted it, and dried it with kitchen paper. I cut it into six pieces, and put in a dry frying pan on the lowest heat for 20 minutes, regularly pouring off the excess fat. The pieces of skin puffed up and became wonderfully crunchy, although they did dramatically shrink in size as the fat slowly melted away. It actually made me wonder where Beer Belly get all that duck skin from!

Stage 3 - Raspberry Mustard

Fresh raspberries cost a fortune, so I used tinned. I strained off the juice, and then pushed the fruit through a sieve to create a loose puree. I mixed in the wholegrain mustard, and also a dash of vinegar (as the tinned fruit was not really acidic enough).

Stage 4 - Duck fat fries

I really wasn't in the mood for peeling and chopping potatoes, so I used a pack of frozen french fries. I went for a variation on the "twice cooked" method - but instead of frying them twice, I started them off in the oven on a low temperature, to make sure they were cooked through. I then finished them off by frying them in very hot duck fat for five minutes, until they were golden and crispy. Finally I drained the fries, patted them dry, and tossed them in salt and white pepper.

The finished dish made for a handsome plate of food, perfect with a cold beer and a mound of coleslaw on the side. The crackling was light and crispy, the meat was tender and flavoursome, and the fries were gloriously greasy and ducky. Even the raspberry mustard dip, which I was initially cynical about, tasted really good and cut right through all the richness (maybe I shouldn't have been such a tight-arse, and bought fresh raspberries).

The name "Death by Duck" seems rather appropriate. Your arteries would surely give up the battle if you ate this thing regularly. But the things that are bad for you are usually the things that taste the best, and in that department, I can assure your that DBD is a winner.



Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Filthy Sticky Ribs

This is simple way of cooking ribs, that requires very few ingredients, but a loooong cooking time. They'd probably be great finished on the barbecue, now the weather's getting better... except that I don't have a barbecue. Or a garden.

Put a large rack of ribs in an even larger pan, then add a large bottle of coke, several (large) crushed cloves of garlic, and a few really large dashes of Worcester sauce. Simmer gently for at least half an hour. It will start to smell really revolting at this stage, but don't worry... things will improve. Transfer the ribs to an oven dish, along with some of the liquid.

Make sure that there's enough liquid in there to keep the meat moist, then cover with foil and cook on a low heat for two hours. Basting it occasionally will really help. Meanwhile, reduce the rest of the liquid in a pan until it is syrupy. When the two hours is up, uncover the meat, turn the oven up to 180, and spoon the thickened liquid over the meat.

Cook for a further half hour, and continue to baste it regularly with the thick syrupy goo which gathers at the bottom of the dish.

Sprinkle with salt, and they're ready to serve! The ribs should be nice and tender, and extremely sticky. Great with a bottle of cider and a jacket potato.



Thursday, 18 April 2013

Deep Fried Beer

You may remember that I mentioned my trip to Texas in a previous post. Well, one of the main highlights of the calendar in Texas is the annual state fair, held in Dallas - and at the State Fair of Texas, the highlight is the food. And almost all of it is deep fried... from fairly "normal" items such as corn dogs and spiral potatoes, through to more exotic dishes including deep fried twinkies and deep fried butter balls. And in 2010, the award for the most creative food went to fried beer.

This invention, covered in media around the world, consisted of ravioli-shaped pockets of pretzel dough, containing beer (still in liquid form) and deep fried. And even though each piece only contains a mouthful of beer at most, this being America - and deep in the bible belt - you have to be 21 to try one.

I realised, of course, that I had to try making this myself. It's one of those things which has been on my to-do list for ages... somewhere between watching Citizen Kane and painting the windowsills. But finally, the time had come. First I started by preparing the beer filling. I knew that I'd have to somehow set the beer before making the parcels. There were basically two options - freezing the beer, or setting it with a bit of gelatine - but I didn't want to risk the filling of the finished product being either icy or gelatinous. I ended up going for a hybrid approach... a little bit of gelatine, and a short period of time in the freezer. The result was a sort of sticky beer slush.

Next I made the dough out of flour, egg, and crushed pretzels. This stuff was hard to work with, and very hard to roll thin. But eventually I had ten thin discs rolled out, and I was ready to make the parcels. I made five of them, carefully filling each one with the beer goo, and sealing the edges with egg. I put them in the freezer for ten minutes, and then it was time to fry them!

I started by frying a bit of leftover dough to test the oil temperature, and was delighted to find that it tasted delicious... sort of like a crisp, brittle, pretzel flavoured biscuit. I had high hopes for this, and proceeded to fry the dough-encased beer packages.

Unfortunately one of them had sprung a leak, and when the freezing cold beer hit the oil, the thing fucking erupted, spitting out oil in all directions. I was terrified that it was going to catch fire, and I actually started preparing a wet towel to throw over the pan. Luckily it wasn't necessary in the end, and I bravely fished the thing out, through a shower of boiling oil.

Anyway, after a quick sprinkling of salt, it was time to taste them. The casing was nice and crisp, and the beer had fully melted (without being too hot). But how did it taste? Let's just say that if you like the idea of a mouthful of flat beer mixed with hot salty pastry, then this will be right up your street. As long as you don't mind beer spilling everywhere as soon as you bite into it.



Friday, 12 April 2013

Gulab Jamun

I love curry houses, I really do. I love the retro kitsch decor, the awful music, the poppadoms with bright yellow sauce, and the overwhelming choice of dishes (which all taste reassuringly familiar). I love the token vegetable sides, the pints of Cobra, and the after-dinner mints.

But one thing I don't love is the desserts. Why on earth do 95% of Indian restaurants have the same awful selection? Lemon sorbet stuffed inside a lemon skin. Coconut ice cream stuffed inside a coconut shell. Pineapple ice cream stuffed inside a hollowed-out pineapple. Kulfi moulded into a "mountain" shape. It's pathetic... and that's coming from someone who loves ice cream. A couple of proper Indian desserts wouldn't be hard to make, and I'm sure they would be top sellers.

Anyway, the other day I was in Asda - I don't often shop there, but happened to find myself on Old Kent Road, so I popped in. And let me tell you, I was pretty impressed. Particularly with the world food section, in which I found this - Gulab Jamun Mix!

Gulab jamun is probably my favourite Indian dessert - they look like little mini doughnuts or dumplings, and are made of... well I'm not really sure what they're made of. But mine were made of water, milk, and gulab jamun mix. You just have to make up the dough, roll it into balls, and deep fry them for a few minutes. The packet says it makes 40 - but I only managed half of that.

When it comes to the syrup, you have to make it yourself - you're on your own. So I made the syrup out of equal quantities of water and sugar, and added cardamon, saffron, and honey. I then dunked the gulab jamun in the syrup, and served ate them warm with some crushed pistachios.

I honestly can't understand why every Indian restaurant up and down the country isn't serving this. It's cheap and quick to make, and tastes absolutely cracking. But no, instead we get the same old crap that's been at the bottom of the freezer for the last 10 yeas. I really wish they would stop insulting us with this rubbish, and give us the real deal.

So onto the ratings. This may be the de facto national dessert of India, but that doesn't change the fact that it is truly filthy. Deep fried dumplings soaked in syrup? You couldn't really make up a less healthy (or more tasty) dish.



Sunday, 7 April 2013

Snakebite Ice Lollies

There are certain gifts I seem to receive every year at Christmas. Socks (boo). DVDs (better). Booze (much better). Chocolate (now we're getting somewhere). But I think it's safe to say that this Christmas was the first time I'd been given one of these...

Guitar shaped moulds... but what for? Jelly? Ice? Little ice lollies? Probably all of the above. But I decided that the latter option would be the most useful.

Given the shape of the moulds, I had to think of a suitably rock n roll flavour for the lollies. So... what is the most rock n roll drink? Jack Daniels? Tequila? Jager? Beer? All wrong - the most rock n roll drink known to man is, without doubt, Snakebite and Black. An ice lolly mixture has to be sweeter and more intense than a drink would be, so I put in more blackcurrant than you'd usually use, and also added a splash of apple juice.

As more observant readers will have noticed, there are moulds for an electric guitar, a bass guitar, and an acoustic. It seemed sensible to eat the electric-guitar-shaped-lolly first, since acoustics are for school kids, grandpas, and dorks like James Blunt. And the bass is for simpletons who can only manage one note at a time.

The next time we get anything resembling Summer weather, I'll be making another batch of these suckers.



Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Eating pt2 - Easter Katsu Curry

Some say that eggs at Easter symbolise new life, and celebrate the resurrection.

Unfortunately I don't believe any of that old cobblers for one second, but I still love Easter. And since we all associate Easter with eggs and chicks and stuff, here's my second Easter dish - the chicken and egg katsu curry.

Katsu curry has become pretty well known in the UK thanks to certain ubiquitous Japanese-style chain restaurants, but I'm prepared to stick my neck out and claim that the chicken and egg katsu curry is a brand new invention!

I took a few chicken thigh fillets and three soft boiled eggs, then dipped them in seasoned flour, then beaten egg, and finally panko breadcrumbs. Then it was time to fry them - I cooked the chicken at a moderate temperature until golden brown, but the egg had to be cooked at full blast for just one minute to ensure it stayed runny.

Most people just make Japanese curry sauce from ready-made sauce "blocks" which, to be fair, is probably the most authentic method. But although it says "hot" on the packet, I can assure you it is anything but. So I spiced mine up a bit with some chilli, garlic, and cumin. I also added some sliced onions and grated carrot, because vegetables cancel out fried chicken.

What better way to remember Jesus and all that stuff?