Sunday, 14 November 2010

Perfect Roast Duck in the Weber

Cooking duck indoors can be a smoky affair, especially in the winter when the house is tightly closed up. Our local shop had fresh duck on offer, so I grabbed two, one for dinner and one for the freezer. It was only after bumping into a neighbour in the shop that the idea of cooking the duck in the Weber came about. She had recently roasted some duck legs and found the duck fat smell in the house fairly overpowering and long lasting.

Our normal winter Sunday evening roast is a fairly random rotation of chicken, beef, pork, lamb and gammon. The duck idea freaked the young ones out a bit, but when they remembered how they loved Chinese crispy duck pancakes they relaxed a bit.

The Weber is just ideal for cooking duck. The high starting temperature gets the fat melting and skin crisping up straight away, and as the temperature subsides during the hour and a half or so of cooking time, the meat cooks more gently finishing off soft and moist inside. I followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat Book as a guide. This included the giblet stock for the gravy, but I added a tomato to his stock recipe, and a spoonful of cranberry sauce to the gravy.

The Weber guides never tell you this, but I always use a rectangular roasting dish rather than just sitting the meat on the grill. This retains all of the fat which is a must for basting. I have a pyrex dish which is perfect for this.

I made a plan for the afternoon, working out at what time I needed to light the fire, put on the duck, prepare the other veggies and so on. I filled my fairly new Weber Chimney Starter with good quality lumpwood charcoal and a piece of newspaper. I had allowed 20 minutes for this, but the charcoal was in paper packaging and was stored outside (under cover) so had become a bit damp. The chimney starter took twice as long, and the meal time was bumped further away as a result.

The starting temperature is much higher in a Weber than the 200 degrees C oven temperature recommended, so the roasting started off with a real sizzle. After the first half hour, the skin was browning nicely and it looked like I wouldn't be needing to top up the charcoal at all during the roasting. In fact I was getting worried that the outside might burn before the inside was done. An hour in, the temperature was still high and there was a lot of smoky fat spitting away in the roasting dish. I gave the duck a good basting and let it get on. Another 15 minutes in and I was still worried. I gave the thigh a poke with a skewer and from the steam it was clear that the duck was still very moist. I just hoped that I hadn't put too much fuel in at the beginning. Luckily the fire did what it was supposed to do and eased off towards the end so that by the time the 90 minutes were up, it was an aromatic, gentle sizzle.

I took the duck out of the Weber and covered the baking dish with foil to rest before carving and set out to make the gravy from the giblet stock prepared earlier. Following Hugh's advice, the breasts were removed whole, and the legs and thighs separated from the carcass. The breast was sliced thickly and offered with either a leg or thigh when served.

I was really surprised as to how moist the flesh was and how tasty the crispy bits were. There was also the distinctive smoky taste from the Weber that reminded me of the Christmas Turkey we had last December. The breast was almost creamy in texture, and the legs moist and savoury.

We had our roast duck with steamed carrots, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas, gravy and some shop bought cranberry sauce. And, the kids loved it.

I found a new home for the charcoal indoors so next time it should be nice and dry.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Aussie Damper Bread on a Stick - Chapter 3


And also our lovely Luca's ninth birthday. After igniting a fair sized box of fireworks in our friends Katie and Cai's garden, I spontaneously decided to make a batch of damper dough for the kids to bake on the fire in the brazier.

The simple mix of self raising flour, milk (or water) and a bit of salt was mixed in a bowl, kneaded to a light dough, and wrapped in foil for a while until the fire subsided to embers.

Cai's son Louis was sent on a mission to find sticks in the garden the thickness of his little finger and about 50cm long. He returned with some bamboo gardening stakes which were just perfect. Cai sawed off the ragged ends and washed the dirt off them before I worked a small ball of dough a bit larger than a golf ball onto the end of each one for the kids to slowly roast over the embers.

The kids took their damper and rotated them constantly and slowly over nice hot spots above the embers for about 15 minutes until the damper expanded to about double the size and was a lightly toasted colour on the outside. For the kids 15 minutes was an eternity, constant cries of 'mine's ready' were countered by me reassuring them that it would be worth the wait.

After being removed from the sticks, the dampers were broken open, buttered and topped with jam, Marmite, whatever. They loved them.

For the recipe look at Aussie Damper Bread on a Stick.
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