Introduction: Harry Potter and the Order of the Duck
The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine was published by the Gault-Millau restaurant guide 1972, which both championed and explained their new style of cooking. This was then adapted in 2011 in Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine to give this idea:
- Cuisine is a creative art where the chef and diner are in conversation. Food is the primary medium for this dialogue, but all sensory aspects of the dining experience contribute to it.
I believe that the goal should be to elicit surprise, delight, humour, and nostalgia, among others by utilising the chef's skill, knowledge and experience to create a narrative for the diner that goes beyond just flavour and texture; to create a dish that's thought-provoking and memorable as well as extraordinarily delicious.
The Order of the Duck is the result of just that, from the inspirations of one of my favourite series of books and films, I decided to invent a dish that threw in a little magic and nostalgia into the pot but also takes into account some Muggle science.
This features a Sautéed duck breast upon a cloud-like sweet potato mash, soy-honey caramelised onions and a spiced sauce with pickled beetroot.
Step 1: Ingredients
Portions for 4 people:
- 4 Duck breasts
- Salt & Pepper
Sweet Potato Mash
- 600g Garnet sweet potato
- 40g butter
- 15ml Olive oil
- 15ml of vegetable oil
- 1 small shallot
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 star anise
- 10 peppercorns (preferably pink)
- 1 bay leaf
- 15g of sugar
- 15ml white wine vinegar
- 15ml Dark rum of your choice
- 300ml Duck or chicken stock
50ml of Cranberry juice
- 1 tbsp Clear honey
- 2 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 white onion
- Pickled beetroot
- Watercress (optional)
Step 2: Sweet Potato Mash
The texture and consistency of a mash is mostly down to its starch content. Soaking or rinsing a peeled potato washes off starches and even some of the enzymes which break down pectin (the natural glue that holds cells together) and soaking them for too long will leave to much glue that can't be broken down, preventing the potato from ever cooking properly (J. Kenji López-Alt, The Food Lab).
The method I've used is to pick the a specific sweet potato that has the right flavour and starch content for the texture I want in my mash and then preserving/enhancing it across the cooking process. Garnets are moist, pumpkin-like sweet potatoes which have a great balance of weight and sweetness to them whilst also being reasonably abundant. Hannah and Okinawa are also suitable for this recipe. However varieties like Beauregard have too little starch which results in quite a waxy mash. On the other hand, Jewels have the opposite problem of having too much starch which make them too crumbly for this method.
- First slit each side of the potato and steam for 10-20 minutes till you can poke a chopstick through it comfortably.
- Peel the cracked skin off whilst still warm.
- Rough chop into a large pot, stir in the butter and olive oil under v.low heat and mash till there's still a few lumps left for texture.
- Season to taste with just salt but sparingly, then take it off the heat.
Step 3: Spiced Sauce
This sauce was based on the Chinese 5-spices, perfect for inducing a warm mulled kind of feel as well as negating any gaminess the duck meat might have.
- Heat the Vegetable oil on medium heat and gently fry all the spices. This process extracts all the flavour and oils from the ingredients but make sure not to let them burn. To help, put them in the reverse order of the list, starting with the bay leaf.
- Deglaze with the white wine vinegar and add the sugar. Cook until it reaches a caramel colour.
- Add the dark rum and cranberry juice, reduce down by 2/3 till it reaches a syrup like consistency.
- Add the stock and reduce by 2/3 again.
- Pass through sieve and discard shallots/spices.
Step 4: Duck Breast
Sautéing requires a sprinkle of good intuition and patience to get right but oh is it the one of the most satisfying of things when you do.
- Make sure to have left the breasts at room temperature for at least 20 minutes beforehand otherwise the protein strands clench up at the heat and can toughen the meat.
- Preheat oven to 185˚C/gas mark 4.5.
- Score the skin diagonally without damaging the pink meat beneath. This helps to keep the breast in shape whilst the skin and meat contract at different rates from the heat.
- Coat in a little Salt and Pepper. Make sure to rub it into the cuts.
- On an ovenproof skillet, gently lay down the breast skin side down on a moderate heat. There is a high amount of fat in between the duck skin and meat so there's no need for any additional oil. The fat will begin to break down into oil whilst also insulating the meat from over cooking.
- After 5-10 minutes till the skin is crispy and golden, move to the oven for 3 minutes (still skin side down) and then flip for another 3 minutes. The oven temperature can linger around 180˚C but shouldn't exceed 190˚C which is the smoke point of duck fat.
- After removing from the over, move to a warm place and cover in foil for 6-8 minutes to let it rest.
There are methods of using a sous vide to cook a duck breast to medium rare, however that produces two issues:
- Studying the ideal time for cooking a breast, it'll have to be kept at 58˚C for 2hr 17mins (Modernist Cuisine Vol.3). 'Ain't nobody got time for that'.
- The sauté method was chosen to extract as much oil as possible, as well as juice from the meat, which will become useful in the next step.
Step 5: Caramelised Onions
Onions are about 89% water, and so after this is mostly evaporated, their structure allows for absorption of certain oils and/or fluids and take on their flavours. At 100˚C, pyrolysis occurs; a type of non-enzymatic browning in which the complex sugars in the onions are broken down into simple sugars by heat without the use of a protein to speed up the reaction. This process brings out the natural sweetness of the onions, and adding clear honey to this stage can meld together to emphasise this sweetness as well as accelerating the caramelisation process. n.b. the crystallisation would affect this result which is why clear honey must be used.
The soy sauce, usually said to be a 'concentration of umami', further accentuates the umami in the onions from it's high content of glutamic acid, all combining together to create a perfect component for this dish. As a technique that's used a lot in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, I thought, why not use it?
- Finely dice the onions and fry at a gentle heat in the pan that the duck breasts were cooked in.
- When they start turning a pale golden, add the honey and continuously stir till they become a darker golden.
- Finally, drizzle the soy sauce and stir in till you can see no liquid left if the pan.
- Remove from heat. Your kitchen should smell wonderful after this.
Step 6: Assembly
- Take a large spoonful of the mash and place it along the centre of the dimmed plate.
- Splice the Duck breast and lie along the top of the mash.
- Spoon small amounts of the caramelised onions along the top of the duck.
- Pour a reasonable amount of sauce around the dish (whilst minimising the amount of oil that goes in).
- Dice the pickled beetroot into small cubes and arrange 6-8 around the plate.
- Optional - arrange the watercress on top of each cube.
With the medium starch and low fluid content of the mash, it should be able to comfortably support the duck without getting soggy from the sauce. The vinegary sourness provides the perfect balance to the sweetness and umami in the sauce/onions and cuts through the tartiness of the meat. The watercress provides some green to simply brighten the dish.
If you can't find any pickled beetroot, here provides a good recipe for it.
Step 7: Design
From here on out, this is only to add aesthetic to the dish. Since the duck is meant to represent the Phoenix in this analogy, I thought I'd add a little flash and flamboyancy to the dish - Dumbledore style.
This only takes a handful of 1.5mm steel rod I found in a skip, a pair of pliers and some wirecutters.
- Firstly, I bent the rod into a 2D profile of a peacock which I linked together with another rod section.To attach the rods, I bend the ends around the section I want to attach them to and stamp them together with pliers.
- Made two more rods follow the back profile of the peacock and attached them in the same way on each side at 3 different points along the body.
- For the base, I followed the profile of the plate I was using so the phoenix would comfortably sit atop. I made two ring, the one above slightly smaller, and attached them in the same way with curved pieces of rod. Each rod piece that created the body, was then attached to around the top ring at approximately spaces to make it more stable.
- The wings followed the profile of a dragon's wing. I tried to create a reasonably regular mesh so it would be easier to weave the paper through it without the need to adhesives.
- The paper itself is red flash paper, commonly used in conjuring magic to create drama and distraction. Surprisingly not that expensive and incinerates with minimal residue.
- To connect the paper, I used a small amount of blue-tac in some areas. This kept things together without actually burning when the whole thing was set alight.
- When actually igniting it above the dish, I decided to put a smaller place on top to protect the food just in case.
Step 8: The Order of the Duck
The final assembly.
Step 9: Thank You
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