Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! I’m happy to announce the arrival of my newly adopted niece: Sophie Lu-Yi Himmel (nee Rodriguez) Diaz Delgado! The clever among you will discern, by musing upon this little bundle-of-joy’s multi-cultural name, that she is a delightful salad bowl of ethnic affiliations: Chinese by birth, American by adoption, to Puerto Rican parents. My beautiful,(only- slightly-older) sister Lara has been waiting for Sophie for 5 years now — the longest gestation period in history, we like to think — and finally has her daughter in her arms, and her soon-to-be husband Roberto’s strong devotion and love behind her. My mom finally gets her grandchild (and a wonderful grandmother she’ll be), and my sister will show the world what super-star mothering is all about. I hope Sophie’s ready for the love – because it’s gonna come hard, and stick fast. Welcome to the family, baby girl – I can’t wait to meet you!
To celebrate my niece bursting upon the scene, I decided to craft a meal I thought would represent her international salad bowl heritage. A tender roast duckling fit the bill – one flavored by Chinese five spice and coasted in crispy, crunchy, cracklin’ skin. Puerto Rican was a little harder; I’m embarrassed to say (and my mother likely shakes her head sadly when considering it), I am especially untrained in the ‘Rican culinary arts. My grandmother, bless her soul, was a great cook, but I’ve always been an anglophile and, as such, wasn’t ever very interested in my own island’s cuisine. I’m trying to change that. My memories of specific recipes are foggy, and of side dishes appropriate for savory duck, they are also few. But duck loves sweet, and I do particularly recall the omnipresent plantain, and its unique sticky sugaryness once left to ripen and pan-seared. So, Puerto Rican – check! To complete the representative trinity of Sophie’s citizenry, we needed something purely American: I mean, it is the good ol’ U. S. of A. that stamps all our family’s passports these days – including our newest youngest member. Broccoli and cheese immediately came to mind, then I Lolitized it a bit, resulting in a soufflé of locally, New England sourced florets, eggs, cream, and cheese. A trifecta of flava’ — warm, complex, richly spiced duck meat redolent of the Far East, simple sweet sugary seared plantains a la Caribbean, and cheesy broccoli baked in an American state of mind.
Ode to Sophie: Chinese Roast Duck, Puerto Rican Caramelized Plantains, and Vermont Cheddar and Broccoli Souffle
1 5-6 lb fresh duckling
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tbs guava jelly
juice of 1 orange
2 tbs Chinese 5 spice
1 tbs cracked black pepper
1 tbs dried szchezuan red pepper
3 very ripe plantains
3 tbs brown sugar
1 lb broccoli crowns
3 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
1 cup half & half
1 tbs mustard
2 cups shredded sharp Vermont cheddar cheese
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites
scallions (for garnish)
Oh duck, how do I love thee? Now, before I go any further, I gotta give props to The Hungry Mouse – one of my favorite blogs. I follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and I have a link to them on my blogroll to the right. Their tutorial on roasting whole, fresh duck I followed almost to the letter – including the two recommendations to fry up the liver for a tasty snack, and to render the fat from the trimmed skin to save for future yummy uses. As they describe (and show with far more detailed, step-by-step photographic instructions then I’m doing here — I mean, why re-invent the wheel?), roasting a whole duck isn’t very difficult at all, although it does take a while and needs to be flipped several times, which can be daunting. Still – with little more than salt as the initial spice, and a very quick and easy glaze to finish it off, there was very little I had to do but resist the siren scent of the sizzling, roasting, dripping, browning flesh. I found us one beautiful bird, with a healthy, fatty, boneless cowlneck that would yield me some lovely, champagne colored drippings later, and two fat breasts stuffed with succulent meat. For $20 at Whole Foods, this was a pricey main course, but the rest of the ingredients cost barely$7, so for less than $30 (not to be cheap, Sophie dear) this was a fancy, but still fairly frugal, feast.
My bird’s got a few feather shafts left in her, so I pluck those out, and I remove the innards (the neck, kidneys, heart, liver, and lungs)…
… before washing her, drying her well with paper towels, scoring her skin in a cross-hatch pattern (being sure not to cut into the flesh), poking her skin all over with the tip of my paring knife, salting her enthusiastically with kosher salt, and tying her little naked legs demurely together. All these steps insure that the eager to fry fat right under the surface will sizzle through the skin and crisp it nicely. I set her on a rack over a deep pan, then set her into a 300 degree oven, and walk away for one hour.
The trick to this bird is to flip it each hour, pricking the skin all over each time to encourage the fry-o-lation. I’m going to cook her for four hours — so she starts breast side up, gets flipped down, then back up, then back down — all before her final roasting, breast side up. Here are the first few roll-overs.
Meanwhile, by the way, I have cut the neck skin into small pieces, barely covered it with water, and have set it to simmer over medium high heat to render all the fat.
About 45 minutes later, I strain the contents of my pan into a glass, and set it aside to separate. I get about 1/2 cup of duck fat from this (the lovely golden stuff floating to the top of my measuring cup there. I reserve this, and throw away the water below). I also capture the drippings off my fully roasted duck later on, which yields another cup of beautiful rendered fat. I let this cool, mix it all together, then cover it and set it in my fridge to use later.
I also follow The Hungry Mouse’s advice to quickly fry up the liver in butter with some garlic, salt, and pepper to enjoy as a wee appetizer. I mean, the roasting aroma of my cooking quacker is driving me to distraction already, and so far I’ve only rolled my bird over once. This ounce of savor each for a mid-afternoon snack is just the ticket. I pan sear the livers for about 5 minutes, stirring and flipping well.
After I mashed and spread this on some buttered toast with a sprinkling of sea salt and some quick chopped scallions, I called Clayton over for a bite. He sat down reluctantly, disclaiming that he “never really liked liver,” but he manfully took a hearty bite (withering under my icy “eat-it-or-die” glare, he’d say). Then he took another. And then he took another slice of toast, and ate that up, too. The sensation was rich and slightly gamey — the essence of everything good about the flavor of duck, distilled into a bumpy buttery savor. Needless to say, he actually really *does* like liver – he just hadn’t had it my way.
I also make my final glaze — the shellac I’ll brush on my bird’s breasts to add the ultimate flavor to the meat. The Hungry Mouse called for molasses, which I didn’t have, but I did have some guava jelly which reminded me of Puerto Rico, and therefore fit my theme for the night, so I substituted that instead. Here’s my honey, soy sauce, guava jelly, the juice of my orange, and my Chinese five-spice, set over medium heat on my small saucepan.
Oh, and I add my schezuan pepper – just to spice it up a bit (and to sub for the scriracha The Hungry Mouse calls for). I bring this to a boil, stir well, then lower the heat and let it simmer, uncovered and sitting occasionally, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of my spoon. I baste my duck for the last 10 minutes of cooking, after turning the heat up to high, so that the glaze bronzes. You’ll see.
I’ve also steamed off my broccoli florets and assembled the rest of my ingredients for my souffle.
I have my eggs, which I separate (yolks from whites), my cheddar cheese, which I shred, and I set my wok over medium heat with my butter and flour to make a roux. After the butter has melted and the flour has begun to thicken, I add my half and half, mustard, salt, pepper, and cheese, and whisk to melt thoroughly. I remove from the heat (sorry no pictures – I ran out of hands!), then add my egg yolks and stir well.
Using my electric whisk, I beat my egg whites until they are stiff but not dry…
Then I gently fold them into my cheese sauce and broccoli, then spoon this into buttered ramekins, and set into my oven to (unfortunately over-) bake for 30 minutes.
Black skins on plantains don’t mean that they’ve spoiled, it means that they’re sweet. Green plantains are starchy, but as they yellow then blacken, their starches turn to sugars which caramelize into a full-flavored sweetness.
I peel them, cut them across the bias into 1″ thick oblong coins, toss them with brown sugar, and layer them into a pan simmering with hot grapeseed oil to sear for 3-4 minutes, or until crispy and brown on the edges.
See? I sear them on the other side for a few moments, too.
10 minutes ago, I flipped my bird the final time, removed all the golden drippings from the pan (to use later — see above!), then slathered her with my guava five-spice soy glaze, and set her back into my now empty oven set to high. Now, I have a crisp, juicy duck simply begging to be supped upon.
Sticky, spicy, crisp skinned, fall-off-the-bone tender Chinese roasted duck topped with shredded scallions, coupled with sweet and crunchy-on-the-outside-sikly-squishy-on-the-inside Puerto Rican plantains, and triple-timed by fluffy baked and browned broccoli and cheese soufflés. A multi-cultural gastronomic exploration in honor of my new little China-rican (Puerto-ese?) American niece. I’m so happy for my sister, Lara, my mother, Evelyn, and my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, Roberto (and his family), for bringing Sophie home to live, love, and thrive with them, and I look forward to her growing the chompers – and the appetite – to enjoy what Auntie Lolita quite literally will bring to her table.