Monday, February 6, 2012

Paddock to plate

One of my wishes in embarking on this new life in the country is to appreciate where our food is grown and nurtured. We had decided early on that we would keep chooks for eggs and meat. However, the meat part was probably more of an idealistic dream. The egg part is easy. We have been collecting eggs (varying degrees of production) since early September. However, we’ve not ventured to act on our second goal yet. So enter the ducks. As I have written before, we had three ducklings that Sara and Stephen in their kindness brought to us when we first arrived on the farm! We fed them and cleaned their box till they were ready to go into their own cage outdoors. We had hoped that we would have two females and a drake. But…. There were three drakes. From a production point of view they were not much good to us. They couldn’t give us any eggs.

So our neighbour Graham suggested a swap. We gave him one of our Pekin drakes and he gave us three of his Muscovy females. It was a pretty good swap as far as we were concerned. We put the new girls with the two remaining drakes and left them to it. A few days after the newcomers joined the males we noticed that the girls spent most of their time on top of their cage where the boys couldn’t reach them. (the girls could fly and the drakes couldn’t as we’d clipped their wings). Every time they needed to get down for water or food the drakes would attack them with gusto. It was horrible. The poor girls were getting battered from all sides. We separated the ducks from the drakes and put them with the chickens in the chicken pen. There a new pecking order had to be established too, but the ducks could at least fend for themselves a little better.

This left us with a dilemma. What to do with the drakes. We decided that we would have to do away with one. The drakes were too old to roast so I chose a Chinese recipe and created a soupy type of dish. My brother Lionel, Frans and Stephen had the unpleasant task of despatching the drake. A big pot of water was put on to boil while the bird was sent to duck heaven. After allowing the bird to bleed for a while, it was dunked in hot water and then plucked. There was only one way to do this. Get comfortable on some cane chairs in the wood pile shed with a glass of wine. The feathers flew everywhere. Finally the bird was cleaned and gutted. The liver was the only offal we saved. I created a divine duck liver and mushroom pate’ with brandy and sage a few days later. The bird was left to rest for 24 hours before it was skinned (didn’t need the fat) and cut into portions. Note: Stray duck feathers are sharp and can cut your finger!

I cooked the duck according to the recipe I had used once before very successfully on a chicken and hoped for the best. I had no idea if the meat would be tender or tough as the bird was a good 5 months old. The result was sensational There is something decidedly special about caring for your food and then eating it. . Would I do it again? Well yes.

Chinese Chicken with soupy rice, ginger and spring onion dressing (I used our own home grown organic duck)
Serves 4
400g (2cups) jasmine rice, rinse well
Chicken in broth
1 chicken (1.5kg) or chicken pieces
500ml Shaoxing wine (you get this at Asian shops. It’s about $2 for a big bottle)

20g (4cm) piece ginger1 piece dried orange peel (or I just slice some skin from a fresh orange)
1 cinnamon quill
2 star anise
20g sugar
Sauce to serve on top
4 long red chillies, finely chopped (seeds included if you like it firey)

¼ cup thinly sliced spring onion finely sliced, plus extra to serve
½ cup chopped coriander
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons Vietnamese dipping sauce

1cm piece ginger shredded

(taste test. Add a little more soy sauce or fish sauce if it’s not salty enough)
1.   Put chicken in big pot. Add broth ingredients. Top up with water till chicken is covered. Bring to boil.
2.   Cook for around 45 mins or until chicken is cooked. Season with extra soy if needed.
3.   Remove the chicken from the broth and shred the meat from the bones. Return the meat to the broth.
4.   Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the ‘sauce’
5.   Cook the rice. (750ml water. Boil. Then simmer and reduce heat. Cook covered till rice is tender and fluffy. 10 – 12 mins. Remove from heat. Cover with a tea towel and allow to stand.
6.   To serve, put rice into bowls. Add chicken and stock. Then drizzle with the chilli/sauce dressing.
7.   Scatter with thin slices of spring onion.

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