Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vanilla and rose tea smoked duck

If Delhi was lacking in clean water and fresh vegetables, it was also lacking in another equally taken-for-granted commodity: clean, fresh air. It is possible my lungs will never forgive me for breathing in the dirty smog, a mixture of burning coal and exhaust fumes and kerosene and wood fires servicing the needs of a city of 14 million people in 1500 square kilometres*.

Breathing in air that felt dirty, oily, tainted: it did not make for much of an appetite.

There is no doubt that there is a link between taste and smell**. We eat with all our senses. Ferran Adria, the mad genius behind El Bulli, is reported to on occasion serve dishes that are accompanied by recordings, (for example, of the sound of the sea) and to spray diners with specially concocted fragrances (like pine wood or autumn earth or sea spray) to enhance their dining experience. But nothing tastes as sweet as clean air.

It’s no wonder that every crowded Delhi corner hosts a chai wallah, dispensing milk-rich and sweetened spiced tea, a steamy aromatic remedy against the encroaching smog.

And no wonder too, that my usually endless craving for smoked and smoky food was also on holiday while I was in Delhi. The smoky, peaty notes in a good single malt whiskey are to be treasured only when the air is crisp and clear and cold. So too the flavour of wok tossed tofu, the incredible heat in combination with sweet soy sauce sending delicate curls of burning sugars around everything. The taste of barbequed spare -ribs, sticky with sweet-hot-sour sauce and infused with smouldering hickory wood chips. Smoked salmon and kippers and bacon and ham and muscles and chipotle chillies and paprika. Bonfires and toasting marshmallows and billy tea and damper and open fireplaces in winter and hot chocolates.

While cold smoking a ham is a) my dream, and b) beyond me in my current location (including our overly sensitive smoke alarm which is deeply committed to the saying that where there’s smoke there’s a fire); hot smoking small portions of this and that is as easy as steaming. In fact, the method is nearly exactly the same.

* At the end of the nineteenth century London was famous for her yellow smog, that gentle pollution which turned the great city golden and allowed her visitors to view her as if through a Vaseline smeared lens. Delhi, taking her turn at industrialisation on a truly epic scale, imitates – and I believe exceeds – the capital of her former colonial occupiers. India has its own path to follow, but I do hope it involves some version of the Clean Air Act.

** This is probably why, whenever I have a head cold, and therefore cannot smell, I attempt to exist on nothing but olives and chillies. Chilli marinated olives for preference, because the salt and heat at least registers on my tastebuds.

Vanilla and rose tea smoked duck

Serves two

1 large wok, with lid
Lots of tin foil
2 duck breasts, skin on
1 cup long grain rice
1 cup rose tea (black tea with rose petals)
1 vanilla pod, cut into 3 pieces
1 cup course sugar
Vanilla salt, optional

Gently score the skin of the duck breast fillets, taking care not to slice all the way through the fat. Rub a little of the vanilla salt if using. Place the duck fillets skin side up on a piece of foil.

Line the wok with four to five layers of tin foil. This is very important, otherwise you will destroy your wok.

Place the tea, rice, sugar and vanilla pod into the wok and stir to combine. Lightly place another piece of foil over the mixture. Cover the wok with the lid and place over a high heat. After about 5 minutes, the wok will be filled with smoke.

Remove lid and place the foil with the duck into the wok, directly on top of the rice and tea mixture. Replace the lid and smoke for about ten minutes (no more).

Heat a grill pan to very hot.

Remove duck from wok, and place skin side down in the grill pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes, until the skin is very crispy.

Remove from pan and rest for 5-10 minutes before serving and rest.

Toss through a salad of citrus and rose petals and shaved fennel, or serve with char-grilled broccoli and mashed parsnips.

1 comment:

  1. I never ate vanilla and rose tea smoked duck but I have to admit it looks incredible. The photo is just so mouth-watering and I guess I will try your recipe sometime soon. Thanks for sharing it.