“18 hours, are you mad?” is the response everyone gave when they knew what I was cooking for the starter of my St. Valentines Dinner. Maybe, just maybe. Duck legs cooked for 18 hours, this was going to take some planning.
Duck was always going to feature in my menu, as it is my girlfriends favourite. It took me a while to decide whether I would use duck in the starter or main and even considered having it for both. But I when I looked through Heston Blumenthal at home, and came across this, my mind was made up.
This isn’t a dish that you can create quickly, it takes time, planning and patience. For one, the duck legs take 18 hours to cook not including the marinating and smoking. Then the potting and the setting. Not a dish you can whip up in a few moments or at the last minute.
I am not a fan of aniseed flavouring. I blame it on a bad experience was I was younger drinking Pastis in France. Always makes me a little bit queasy whenever the aroma hits you from opening a packet of star anise. When I realised how many I needed for the marinade, I suddenly had doubts and that I had made the wrong choice. Then when I took the spices from the over after roasting them, I was pretty certain I had made the wrong choice. It was the morning after drinking Pastis in France all over again. The spices of star anise, cinnamon, juniper berries, black peppercorns and bay leaves were then whizzed up and thyme leaves, orange zest and salt added. This is then rubbed all over the duck legs and left for 24 hours. I’m still not sure about the strong aroma of the star anise – too late to change now!
Once the duck has had 24 hours getting to know the flavours, you then need to rinse off the spices and pat dry. The duck legs then go into a large ovenproof pot, along with plenty of delicious melted duck fat and a few sprigs of rosemary. This is then placed into the oven at 75C, and the timer set for 18 hours. It probably took me about an hour to get the pot in the right place in the oven for 75C. I ended up placing the pot at the very bottom of the oven, with the oven set to the lowest temperature. Handy tip – have an oven thermometer, you don’t want it to be at the wrong temperature for that long.
It smells amazing, the aroma of duck in the house is sensational. If they sold plug-in air fresheners with that scent, I would buy them. Leave to come to room temperature, then remove the duck legs, discard the rosemary sprigs and using a stick blender whizz up the remaining fat.
Time to get smoking. When planning this I went online to buy some wood chips and I hit a problem. There were so many different varieties, I didn’t know which to get. In the end I went for cherry wood, only as cherries and duck go well together. I realised I didn’t have a wire rack that would fit into my stockpot, so I improvised with a foil dish punctured with holes. I got the woodchips smoking, put foil over the top of the pot and put a lid on so nothing was escaping. Took off the heat and left for 30 minutes. And I never set the smoke alarm off, amazing!
Once the duck has been engulfed in smoke, shred it with two forks and pack into sterilised kilner jars. Then pour over a little of the melted fat, and put in the fridge to set.
To go with the Potted Duck, I also made Date, Fig and Apple Chutney that was also in Heston Blumenthal at home. This was the perfect accompaniment to go with the duck. It was slightly sweet and sharp, and cut through the richness of the duck perfectly. It was also fruity and spicy. The flavours a little more complex and smoother than your normal chutney. I also made some of my favourite bread, malted grain bread, which I chargrilled. I then added some cornichons and caper berries to the side as well.
Despite the amount of time, and the number of processes, it is fairly easy to make. Totally worth all the effort, as the flavour was amazing. The subtle hint of smoke was intriguing. The starter was a hit. This I have been ordered, will be made again.