While on a recent trip to South America, I had the fortune of staying in a superb hostel called The Magic House. Lucie and I stumbled across it by using the hostelworld website and it was a great place to stay. The hostel was run by a couple - 5 foot tall Tanya, the first firewoman in Valpariso, and her partner Victor. They were very friendly and Tanya spoke the better English of the two. On one of the nights there, Victor arrived back with what appeared to be a bird of some sort. Through a combination of sign language and mime, I managed to work out 3 things : it was a duck, victor had never cooked a duck before and Tanya was highly sceptical of him being able to do so.
Lucie suggested I get involved and give them a hand - which I was more than happy to do so - and so we were set for the following evening, a transatlantic cooking lesson for our hosts.
Roast duck, roast potatoes, garlic mushrooms, greens and a salad. Serves 4.
Victor and I started by removing the packing and having a look at the bird. I had guessed it would be around 2.5hrs cooking time based on my previous experiences with chicken of a similar size, but I'd never actually cooked a whole duck before, so this would be a bit of an experiment. Of course, a bit of flexibility is always needed when cooking. To prepare the bird, we did the following :
- Boil water and use pour over the ducks skin ; this tightens it
- Salt, pepper and paprika the skin, piercing the skin and meat at several points to allow seasoning to permeate through
- Oil (or some sort of fat) on the base of an oven dish
- Rub the oil and seasoning in
- Peel and chop an onion, stuff inside the bird
That was pretty much it, I kept it simple, but Victor seemed impressed. Once we'd done that, Victor immediately opened a beer, as if to celebrate the hard work, though it had taken less than 10 minutes. I tried to explain, again in a combination of sign language and very broken spanish, we'd more to do. He didn't seem to mind - the hard bit was done, it was beer o'clock for Victor, and by proxy, Lucie and I.
Having pre-heated the oven to 200c, we covered the duck in tinfoil and set the timer for 1hr 40. This, I explained, would be plenty of time for me to come out and take care of the potatoes to go with it. Having peeled and washed them already, all we had to do was boil and roast them. It was time for Victor to put his feet up
Next up though for the prep was the salad and Garlic mushrooms. Garlic mushrooms are dead easy, you either buy button mushrooms or roughly chop in half larger ones and fry in a bit of oil or butter with some finely chopped garlic. Takes a total of 5 mins and they taste delicious, so that was next on my to do list - chop some mushrooms and garlic.
Once done, I moved on to the salad and greens. As we were cooking for what we thought was 4 people, I had to add in salad and greens. A simple salad and boiled green veg works well with duck as it is quite a rich meat and comes with plenty of fat. A simple green salad of mixed leaves was made up in a large bowl for people to help themselves. For the dressing, a splash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt an pepper. Make up separately for people to add themselves.
Finally, as the duck is just about ready, boil the greens. This should be the last thing you do - greens should be freshly served so as to retain their flavour. We used broccoli, but green beans, kale or mange tout work equally as well.
General timing for the cooking was as follows :
- 0 - 1hr 40mins : Cook the duck, turn after 1 hr
- 1hr 40 - 1hr 50 : Boil the potatoes, return the duck to original position
- 1hr 50 : Put the potatoes in with the duck for roasting
- 2hrs : Prepare Salad and dressing
- 2hrs 25 : Boil greens and place in large bowl to serve
- 2hrs 30 : Ready
With meals like this, there are 2 things to remember : someone has to carve the bird and it's best if you let everyone else serve themselves the vegetables, salad and mushrooms. Serving yourself is a great way to feel involved in the meal and has as tendency to make the occasion less formal as people have to stand up and sort their own food and generally get stuck in. It also takes the attention from who ever is carving.
When splitting up the meat, the main thing to remember with a duck is that there is less meat on it than you think. We divided it up as follows :
- 1 breast is a good sized portion
- 1 leg is a slightly smaller portion
- 1/2 of one thigh for each person
- The smaller bits on the belly are divided up equally, probably mainly to those who have the legs
Along with a handful of potatoes, greens and salad with the mushrooms for those who want them, you've got a good hearty meal. Our lovely hosts provided us with a bottle of Chilean wine to share and Victor delighted in explaining to everyone that we were eating duck by saying "Quack Quack" at every opportunity. It was a good meal with some great company.
- Ease : Cooking dinner for 4 does not have to be difficult or time consuming, just take 5 mins to work out your timings at the start and when you need to have things in the oven by. Cooking a duck is actually great as once in the oven,, there is very little you have to do with the bird, save turning it
- Community : Language differences do not matter - in fact, cooking was a great way to break down some of the barriers in communication. Eating is a very communal thing to do and there is no reason that cooking cannot be as well. I was showing Victor what to do by literally showing him, so he could do it again for him and Tanya. Sure, we had to rely on Google Translate for a couple of things, but these were mainly around timing
- Serve yourself : This is genuinely one of the best ways for breaking the tension at a table as it ecnourages everyone to get involved in handling and distributing the food. This means people have to be considerate of the amounts they are taking and also work with and around others to get it on each others plates. It also makes your job, as the chef / carver easier as you don't have to worry about presentation of the food and can focus on getting the flavours right
This is my first post on cooking and while I've written on Philosophy before, I've never even tried to write out a recipe or talk about the what and the how that goes with cooking. If there was one thing I took away from this experience hoewever it would be that you dont need to be a master chef, have superb skills in the kitchen or even speak the same language as someone to prepare a varied meal. All you need to do is plan your timings, rely on a mixture of hand gestures to explain what needs to be done and recognise that when your host puts a beer in your hand, the best thing to do is say cheers, and drink it with him.