For this year’s Duck Day theme we decided on the Silk Road. This was mostly because corwin wanted to figure out a theme that would encompass both duck shawarma and tandoori duck. Since both those things are quite heavy/filling, I wanted to come up with other dishes that would be lighter. Bam, I thought of the Silk Road and we were off and running.
As it turns out there was not a single “road” but a network of trade routes that stretched from the Philippines at one extreme all the way to the Mediterranean coast at the other, with some land routes and some sea routes. So the meal could start in Thailand, slip past the Philippines, hit mainland China, trek through India, Egypt, and modern-day Turkey/Israel, with dessert coming to rest in Italy.
1. Opening Cocktail: “Long Thailand Iced Tea”
2. Amuse: Duck Arroz Caldo
3. Dumpling course: a duck soup dumpling, a duck “char siu” bun, and a duck seven-spice sausage
4. Soup course: Duck wonton soup
5. First Main: Tandoori duck with kale saag paneer fritters, garlic naan, and raita
6. Palate cleanser: Egyptian mint tea sorbet
7. Second Main: Duck shawarma with homemade pita, labneh, zhoug, and babaganoush
8. Cheese course: rose-water candied dates stuffed with bleu cheese, various cheeses, with homemade crackers, honeycomb
9. Dessert: Olive oil cake with pistachio gelato and candied citrus
10. Followed by tea/coffee and mignardises (hibiscus marshmallows, pistachio white chocolate truffles, dark chocolate truffles)
(If you’re not familiar with the Duck Day tradition, here’s the tl;dr — corwin doesn’t like turkey all that much and always wanted to make duck and his mother never would. So when he went to college in 1986 he decided to make duck for Thanksgiving and has been doing so every year since. This year we got lucky and only 14 people out of our guest list could make it–we’ve had as many as 28, which is the max we can fit into our house for a seated, plated, coursed meal, which this is. Not surprisingly, it’s SOOOOOO much easier to cook for 14 than for twice that many.)
To just see lots of photos of the meal and prep, take a look at my November 2015 Instagram feed, where I also have some small videos. To see descriptions of the dishes, recipes, and embedded photos, keep going under the cut:
Opening Cocktail: “Long Thailand Iced Tea”
One of corwin’s favorite things is Thai iced tea. Try as we might it never comes out quite like it does in the restaurants, no matter how much sweetened condensed milk or thai tea powder we add. corwin is known for his killer thai iced tea ice cream, though, and he wanted to see if that could be adapted to a cocktail.
Far as he could tell from research, there is no single spice mix which is canonically “thai tea.” Some have tamarind, some don’t. After reading up, corwin made his own blend (including star anise, cinnammon stick, cloves, and cardamom), steeped black tea for a short period of time and the spices for a long period of time, and used it as a base for this cocktail, which also included a little heavy cream and a South African creamy, fruity liqueur called Amarula and finished with a grated Bali Long Pepper(corn). (To me Amarula tastes a lot like jackfruit, though the marula and the jackfruit are not even in the same biological order of plants.) The cocktail was basically one of those things to wake up your tongue with many different flavors.
Amuse: Duck Arroz Caldo
Arroz caldo is a traditional filipino rice stew that I had for breakfast every day when we went to the Philippines to visit my family when I was 11 years old. Many recipes I looked at call it “congee.” It’s not congee. Congee is mild and does not kick you in the face with ginger flavor; arroz caldo should. Congee also tends to have the typical Chinese consommé-like broth, also mild, whereas for this I wanted a very dark, rich base like the one I remembered from when I was a kid. I started by browning 4 duck legs in the bottom of a dutch oven, about 4 minutes on a side, to make a dark fond. Then I added 4 cups of duck stock (with only 14 guests this year–a smaller number than usual–we could do more with the dishes). To recreate the ginger kick, I simmered chopped, crushed ginger in it. After it had simmered an hour I still wasn’t happy with the broth so I pulled the legs out, chopped a lot of chunks of meat off, browned them severely in another pan, and then added it back into the broth. Added some more large chunks of crushed ginger, too, and then added the rice. I used about a cup total, about 2/3 regular jasmine rice and 1/3 “Sweet” rice (glutinous rice). A small dash of fish sauce also enriched it. After about a half hour it had the flavor I wanted. I pulled out the large chunks of everything but left the browned bits of meat in. In fact, right before service I made matchstick slices from some of the drumstick meat I had saved out, crisped it in a pan with oil, and used it as a finishing element.
Since this was an amuse, it was served in a teacup, finished with the crisped meat, crisp fried garlic, minced scallion, and a sous vide quail egg. (Thanks to ChefSteps whose “sous vide egg calculator” told us if we wanted liquid yolk but jelly-set white we wanted a 65-degree quail egg done for 13 minutes! Handy.)
Our one vegetarian diner received a serving of rice porridge in which I’d cooked fresh shiitake mushrooms, made with the all-vegetable stock corwin had made earlier in the week.
Dumpling course: Dim sum:
a duck soup dumpling, a duck “char siu” bun, and a duck seven-spice sausage
The secret to making great soup dumplings and filled buns is basically get Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More book. Seriously, I’ve made probably a dozen recipes from this book and it’s far superior to any other book or reference I’ve had when it comes to making won tons, shu mai, and many other favorites.
The trick with soup dumpling is to use agar agar or gelatin to make the soup into a choppable solid that will liquify inside the dumplings when you steam them. To make a duck version, replace the chicken soup with duck soup (duck stock simmered with ginger and scallion, salted) and replace the pork with ground or minced duck leg meat.
Likewise for the char siu duck buns, replace the pork with duck. corwin made hoisin sauce from scratch. It comes out so much more delicious than the stuff from a jar. Hoisin sauce: from a previous sauce he’d made he had left over whiskey that prunes had soaked in. He combined that whiskey with brown sugar, chinese black beans, sesame oil, rice vinegar, homemde sambal and honey, simmered it until the beans were soft, hit it with the stick blender, then reduced it down.
So on this course corwin made the fillings and I made the doughs and did the assembly. This was the only course I didn’t feel was perfect: the steamers weren’t going hard enough and so I felt the dumplings and buns didn’t cook quite right; they seemed slightly gummy to me. Everyone else thought they were great, though. (And they did taste fantastic! Just could have been better, I thought!)
The third thing on the plate was corwin made a duck emulsified sausage with five-spice powder, but instead of five spices he used seven, so I’ve been calling it seven-spice powder. Five-spice is another one of those things where different recipes disagree on which five spices are in it. We went with cinnamon, clove, Szechuan peppercorns, ginger, and all three of the licorice-y tasting things: star anise, regular anise seed, and fennel seed.
Emulsified sausage is a bit tricky and difficult because if you don’t keep it very cold while you’re making it, the emulsion breaks and reportedly turns into a disgusting gunk that is inedible. corwin’s emulsion did not break. The process included lots of ice cubes in the emulsion, stuffing into hog casings, and then sous vide cooking the sausages to firm them up. Try imagining a kielbasa, but with the texture of a hot dog and the flavor of duck and five-spice, and you get the idea. It was then sliced and browned before plating.
Served with home made sambal (red chili paste) and some Chinese yellow mustard and a bit of cucumbers lightly pickled in sesame oil and rice vinegar. [Our vegetarian got all the sides and some fried wonton chips to dip in them.]
Soup course: Duck wonton soup
Back to Andrea Nguyen’s ASIAN DUMPLINGS for this one, again with duck stock as the base of the soup, simmered with ginger and scallion. I must have reduced the soup more than I realized while either simmering or heating it up because it came out saltier than intended–meaning for once corwin didn’t add soy sauce to his serving of soup. The only ways I veered from the recipe were not only replacing the chicken broth with duck and the filling of the wonton with duck, I made “mini” wontons of 2×2-inch homemade skins instead of the usual 3×3 inch. A smaller wonton means not only scaling down the area but also the thickness of the skin. I used the Atlas pasta machine and took it all the way down to notch 6 (Nguyen says do it to 5). I made the wontons a few days in advance and froze them. When it was time for service I put them into boiling broth with slivered snow peas and paper-thin slices of carrot. On the side were fried wonton strips: I had taken all the little bits trimmed from the skins as I’d made them and deep fried that into crispy curls and strips.
For our one vegetarian guest I made an egg drop soup and served it with fried wonton strips. She described it as the best egg drop soup she’d ever had. It might have helped that I did it with mostly egg yolks instead of whites, and corwin’s veggie stock is incredibly flavorful, too.
First Main: Tandoori duck with kale saag paneer fritters, garlic naan, and raita
We’ve been getting a LOT OF KALE and other greens from our farm share this year. Out of the Jerusalem cookbook comes a recipe for Swiss Chard Fritters that corwin experimented with throughout the farm season and it works perfectly well with kale. He invented a way to make it Indian by looking at a saag paneer Food Network Recipe from Aarti Sequeira. First he made his own paneer (Indian cheese) from scratch. Then he put onions, ginger, and garlic into a pan and slow-cooked them sofrito style for 45 minutes, then added all the spices and the cayenne and cooked it more in ghee. Then he drained all the excess butter out to use later to fry the fritters in.
The onion sofrito was then put in the food processor with the blanched kale, eggs, and a bit of matzoh meal to become something I could hand-form into balls and fry while he made garlic naan on the spot.
The tandoori duck was made by him mixing up his own version of the tandoori spice mix (based on a recipe from Food.com) and marinating boneless duck leg pieces in yogurt and the spice mix overnight.
Raita: There are a lot of raita recipes out there, too, some which add garlic, coriander, cilantro, or lots of cumin. Some add green onions. Some say peel the cucumber. Some say don’t. Since in this dish it was meant to be a contrast to the spicy tandoori and garlicky naan it seemed best to go on the light side of flavor. I peeled the cucumbers and only used a few minced mint leaves and a dash of cumin. Using a really good yogurt like Side Hill Farm was really the most important thing.
Palate cleanser: Egyptian mint tea sorbet
I looked up a lot of recipes and as usual didn’t think any of them were quite right, I decided one from Wolfgang Puck came close though. I brewed three cups of strong gunpowder green tea (a dark green tea with very tightly rolled leaves the size of pinheads) with about five or six fresh sprigs of mint in the pot, then took out the tea leaves and mint and soaked a fresh batch of mint sprigs in it for another half hour or so. I made a sugar syrup of one cup water and two cups sugar and then added it to the cooled tea, and left out the lemon juice suggested by Puck because it tasted just fine without. I let it sit around to cool but forgot to chill it. Fortunately our ice cream maker handled it just fine.
I served it with 2-3 fresh mint leaves in the dish with the scoop of sorbet.
Second Main: Duck shawarma with homemade pita, labneh, zhoug, and babaganoush
Having now arrived via Silk Road in The Levant (a term that at one time meant “everything east of Venice,” including what’s now modern-day Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Israel), this dish is 100% corwin. He baked the pita from scratch, made his own sheep and goat labneh (by hanging sheep and goat yogurt until it was basically like cream cheese), zhoug (apparently now Israel’s national chili paste, a green chili paste), and burned the eggplants to make babaganoush. Oh yeah, and duck breast marinated in a shawarma rub for a full day and then smoked on the grill outside and then finished on the cast iron stovetop grill inside and sliced. (Our vegetarian got everything but the duck breast.) Most guests put everything inside their nicely puffed pita while others used knife and fork. Pretty much everything in this dish was based off the Jerusalem cookbook except the babaganoush which is corwin’s own recipe: roasted garlic, fresh squeezed lemon, eggplants burned (yes burned whole) over flames, salt and pepper. Turns out burning the eggplant is really the key: merely smoking them doesn’t come out as good.
various cheeses, with homemade crackers, rose water candied dates stuffed with bleu cheese, whole honeycomb, rojik.
We totally stole the idea for the dates from our friends Shariann and John, who had us over for dinner recently. In fact I took their recipe but to make it really perfect for the cheese plate I pitted the dates and then re-stuffed them with bleu cheese before rolling them in rose syrup and toasted sesame seeds.
Also on this plate: rojik. When sold it looks like of like a light blue dildo wrapped in plastic. But corwin was assured by everyone in the checkout line at the Armenian grocery that it’s awesome: walnuts wrapped in grape molasses. So he bought one and we sliced it for this plate.
Note one of the cheese was so deliciously runny it had to be served in a spoon.
When the dried dates are huge and gorgeous like the ones we bought it turns out I could just grab the pointy end of the pit with a kitchen tweezers and pull slowly to pull out the entire thing. Especially after the first few, which then made the tweezers really good and sticky. No need to cut the date open at all. To get the bleu cheese in, I just stuffed it in using a chopstick.
corwin made the crackers. These came out perfect and the two secrets are no yeast and use the pasta machine. We’ve tried crackers many times and haven’t ever been quite happy with them, until now. Our friend Tamar saw me complaining about how hard it had been to get crackers right on Facebook and pointed me at a Washington Post article about them. I pointed corwin at that, the Everona Market recipe in particular, and a couple days later he got out the pasta machine and voila. The last trick: you have to watch them like a hawk, because at that thinness even 30 seconds too long in the oven will burn them. I’d say about 70% of the ones we baked came out great and the other 30% that were “overdone” we snacked on anyway throughout the days leading up to the meal.
Dessert: Olive oil cake with pistachio gelato and candied citrus
Olive oil cake
I knew since our dessert course was going to land us in the mediterranean what I did NOT want to do was something overly expected like baklava. Besides, I’m not that huge a fan of baklava and also it’s very filling and heavy. I knew by this time in the meal we were going to need something not so heavy. I lit upon the idea of olive oil cake while eating at one of our fave Italian restaurants, Giulia, where they have some of the best housemade pasta. (In fact they’ve gotten so popular it’s hard to get in these days!) I didn’t want to do it in the style they do, though. Light, I thought, light, yet olive-oily. Does such a thing exist?
I went to the Internet to look and found many many things called “olive oil cake.” Many describe themselves as “dense.” Nope, not what I wanted. Some had corn meal. Some were rich in eggs. Nope nope. I was trying to think, could I do the equivalent of a light butter pound cake but with olive oil instead of butter? Or was it fated to be a dense result by dint of the liquid oil somehow?
Then I hit upon a description of the formerly secret “chiffon cake” invented by a cook in Hollywood in the 1920s: His secret was “salad oil.” Chiffon cake sure sounds sumptuously light, don’t it? Could I replace the vegetable oil in chiffon cake with olive oil?
I asked Google and came up with a great recipe at ChefSteps.
I had not heard of ChefSteps until this month and I’ve already bookmarked two things on their site. Yes, they said, using olive oil works perfectly and they also gave a nice history of chiffon cake.
I ran a test recipe by halving the recipe (their site has a handy re-calculation feature! Thanks, ChefSteps!) and then baking it in muffin tins. The recipe insists one must use bleached cake flour to have the proper pH. I used unbleached for the test since that’s what I had on hand, and I upped the citrus juice slightly (adding a quarter cup tangerine juice to the lemon juice) and using tangerine zest. It came out AMAZING, fluffy but sumptuous. Drizzled with the awesome fresh-pressed olive oil Sam brought us from Portugal three months ago it was perfect. The only thing I changed for service is the ChefSteps recipe says to mix sugar and salt to sprinkle on the cake. Normally I like salt with sweet but this just didn’t work. The olive oil already adds a savory richness; the salt is overkill. Instead I baked the individual cakes in small size muffin tins that I had prepped with butter and granulated sugar. The recipe just made 18 (3 tins of 6 each). They baked for about 15 minutes but even though the internal temp on the minicakes read 203 degrees, they were still slightly wet so I kept them in until they were brown around the edges, about 3-5 minutes more.
To accompany the cake I wanted pistachio gelato. corwin is the ice cream meister and he looked up a recipe from David Lebovitz that required something called Bronte Crema di Pistachio which from the description appeared to be something like peanut butter made from pistachios by gourmet elves in Sicily. We couldn’t find it under that brand name but we did find something at Formaggio called Pistacchiosa. Ingredients: pistachios, olive oil, sugar, salt. If we hadn’t found that, we would have tried making pistachio butter from scratch.
I used Pistacchiosa but otherwise stuck to the Lebovitz gelato recipe, which has no eggs and no cream in it, using a cornstarch and milk base instead. All the richness comes from the olive oil in the pistachio butter. And boy was it rich. Fantastic. It came out a bit browner in color than it might have if we’d used the Bronte brand, but I didn’t really care. The flavor was the thing and it was by far the best ice cream I’ve ever made. We may experiment with trying to create our own pistachio butter next.
And I candied citrus peels for the first time! corwin found an etrog at Whole Foods. This is a wacky ritual fruit from Israel that is now being grown in California for gourmet purposes instead of ritual purposes. (Apparently it’s the main flavor ingredient in Absolut Citron?) It’s like a Buddha’s Hand without the fingers, just yellow and shaped like a supple lemon. It turns out to make the very best candied citrus peel. I also did lime and tangerine but the etrog came out the absolute best.
I started by looking at a recipe at AllRecipes.
But I ended up following the instructions from Jacques Pepin on YouTube:
The tangerine peels were thicker than the others so I blanched everything three times, then boiled them for about 8 minutes, which was when the sugar syrup had hit around 200 degrees, and then moved them in the sugar syrup, and cooking until pieces started to turn translucent. I pulled out the ones that had turned translucent and patted them in crystallized sugar and then moving them to a wire rack to dry. Since they don’t all turn at once it means picking out maybe 6-10 pieces at a time.
Mignardises: hibiscus marshmallows, pistachio white chocolate truffles, dark chocolate truffles
I made two kinds of chocolate truffles. Regular dark chocolate dusted in cocoa, and white chocolate in ground pistachios. corwin wanted to add a homemade marshmallow and we discussed rose water or orange blossom water flavoring, either of which would have made an aesthetic match for the rest of the meal. But when he found hibiscus petals on sale at the Armenian market in Watertown we went with hibiscus.
We’ve got one diner who can’t eat egg white protein so these were made with unflavored gelatin instead. I started with gelatin sheets that dated from 2011. According to David Lebovitz’s blog, where he references the Gelatin Manufacturers of America, gelatin never goes bad and only carries an expiration date because the packaging may degrade. Well, the label on the bag is in my handwriting so I know the 2011 date is correct, but when I put the gelatin sheets into water they didn’t bloom. They remained essentially just wet unbloomed clear gelatin sheets, softened but not something I could imagine was going to turn into marshmallows when whipped. (As it turned out, I discovered the plastic bag they had been kept in was partly melted with a hole, probably from being too close to the stove, so perhaps degradation of the packaging was in fact to blame?) I threw it out and went to the store during the 5-7pm grocery-store-pocalypse on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and thankfully snagged the VERY LAST bottle of corn syrup in the store (because it turned out we were out of it) and also picked up a fresh box of Knox unflavored gelatin.
In the end I adapted Alton Brown’s recipe for homemade marshmallows, except I halved the quantity and made a 9×9 square pan instead of a full rectangular baking pan. Because even with 14 guests to eat them, 9×9=81 marshmallows!! Alton Brown’s recipe uses no egg white. Its only flavoring is vanilla, dashed in at the end of the whipping process. I wanted hibiscus, though, so I referenced a recipe I found at Cupcake Project for Manishewitz grape wine flavored marshmallows which replaced all the water in the recipe with Manishewitz. So I used the Alton Brown recipe but replaced all the water with hibiscus syrup.
I made the hibiscus syrup using a recipe I found by Lauren Rothman at Food Republic for making “sorrel” as a basis for rum punch. This is basically a sugar syrup that included hibiscus flowers, sugar, brown sugar, lemon peel, ginger, lemon, star anise, and water, which I then set aside most of to make into drinks later, but I took a cup of it and made THAT into a much more syrupy sugar syrup (what Brown called “culinary napalm”) which whips into the gelatin to form the marshmallows. The end result was a fluffy pink, delicate-tasting flowery marshmallow.
The chocolate truffles are super-easy. I followed the basic Tyler Florence recipe on Food Network, and I use 8 ounces Callabaut chocolate as the base and the Droste dutch cocoa for the dusting. It’s basically half cup heavy cream heated until just simmering, then pour that over the shaved chocolate in a bowl and cover it until it melts. (He says 10 minutes. Took more like 15 in my kitchen in November and I had to nuke it on low power 2 times for 20 seconds after that.) Add 1 tsp vanilla, stir until smooth, then it says to let it cool for 30 minutes to an hour until room temp. Then “whip with electric mixer until smooth and light colored.” Mine never gets light colored. Then refrigerate an hour or two just until it’s firm enough to scoop. I put on nitrile gloves, scoop the balls onto a wax paper lined baking sheet and then form each scoop into a better-looking ball, roll it in the cocoa powder in a shallow dish, and voila.
The white truffles I followed a different Food Network recipe, from Ina Garten, but I replaced the hazelnuts with pistachio and I leave out the Bailey’s liqueur, and I don’t do the dark chocolate decoration step.
It was fascinating to see how certain ingredients like ginger and star anise were in nearly every dish we made and yet NONE tasted the same. Even the tandoori and the shawarma and the duck bun, which had striking similarities in form factor and elements really don’t end up resembling each other in the end. Also it was amusing that I think I made four (?) different sugar syrups in the course of the prep. (Tea sorbet, pistachio gelato, candied peels, and marshmallow all required it, and maybe I’m forgetting something…)