Vietnamese-spiced duck legs in orange sauce

Pete likes duck, but I haven’t often bought it because it seemed to me rather difficult to cook (from what I’d seen on TV shows, anyway). However, the whole purpose of this blog is to face my fears and make my discomfort zone into at least a zone of tolerance, if not quite a comfort zone quite yet. I guess that if you make anything often enough, it automatically becomes something you get good at cooking.

Anyway, I mentioned to Pete that I was going to make duck a l’orange (to get all Frenchified about it). Then I came across a recipe at The Foodpot that gave a Far-East twist to this classically French recipe, and that seemed like a better idea still, because I had plans for a bunch of choi sum greens that I’d picked up at Morrisons. Pete made a slight face when I said there would be a change of plan, but decided to go with the flow because after all, it was ME going to do the cooking. Chef‘s word is law, around here.

I followed the Food Pot recipe quite faithfully (the time for dicking around with recipes is after you’ve gained some experience) and the result, served with the choi sum (done to my own recipe!) was better than I’d dreamed because Pete couldn’t stop praising the end result. With one exception, though, which was to NOT salt the duck legs before frying. To be fair, I hadn’t wanted to salt the legs at all, never mind as generously as the original recipe had stated… so I guess I should have just followed my instinct. Next time, I certainly will. Like I said, this counts as learning from experience!

Choi sum, in case you’re new to it, is a leafy Chinese green like pak choi, except that it looks like pak choi‘s much taller cousin. It tastes pretty much like pak choi, too. I served the duck legs with the choi sum and plain steamed rice. Pete’s other suggestion was to use duck breasts rather than legs, the next time around, because he said those would slice up easily and look pretty on the plate, as well as taste great. I guess he’s hoping to invite his mates round for dinner some time soon.

Ingredients:

2 Gressingham duck legs
2 tsp sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, diced finely
1 lemongrass stalk, bashed with a rolling pin but with the “leaves” still attached to the base
1″ piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped finely
1 medium hot chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely
1 small star anise
1″ piece cinnamon stick
1.5 tbsp nam pla or fish sauce
1 tbsp jaggery (palm sugar)
1/4 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1-1/2 – 2 cups fresh orange juice (from 4 medium oranges)
4 spring onions, separated into green and white parts, and chopped
2 tsp cornflour
5 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste
Method:

1. Heat a large pan over medium heat with 2 tsp sunflower oil. Place the duck legs skin-side down in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or so, turning them over after 5 minutes.

2. When the duck legs are pale golden brown on both sides (turn as required), remove them from the pan and set aside.

3. Drain off all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the pan. Put the pan back on the heat and add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies, the five-spice powder, star anise and cinnamon stick. Fry until the garlic starts to change colour and smells lovely (be careful not to burn it).

4. Next, add the orange juice, fish sauce and jaggery. Bring this to the boil, stirring well, then add the duck legs back into the pan. They should fit nicely in a single layer.

5. Cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the duck legs cook for 25-30 minutes. The legs are cooked when the meat is tender. (Check with a small knife pierced in the thickest part of the meat to see if it is still pink inside. If it’s no longer pink, it’s done.)

5. Remove the duck legs to a plate. Now turn the heat up to high, add the chopped white part of the spring onions, and let the sauce boil for 4-5 minutes uncovered, until it reduces a little.

6. Fish out the star anise, lemongrass stalk and cinnamon stick and discard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Dissolve the cornflour in the water and add it to the sauce. It should thicken up nicely in a minute or so. Put the duck legs back in the sauce to warm up.

7. Scatter the chopped green part of the spring onions over the duck legs and pour over the sauce. Serve with plain steamed rice and the choi sum greens on the side.

How to cook the choi sum: Slice a bunch of greens (per person). Chop 1 large clove garlic finely. Heat 1 tsp stir-fry oil or Chinese sesame-seed oil (or use regular sunflower oil) and fry the garlic gently over low heat. Add the sliced greens along with 2 tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp rice wine vinegar (or to taste) and turn the heat up high, stir-frying till the greens are wilted (about 2 minutes tops). Scatter with sesame seeds if you like, and serve immediately with the duck.

Verdict: Pete couldn’t stop raving about this dish, apart from being a bit saltier than called for. He said the greens were the perfect accompaniment to the sweet-sour-spicy sauce.

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