31 May 2008

Low-fat duck

Chefette is happy to be eating normally again, having being laid low last week by an evil gastrointestinal bug.

After a seemingly endless spell of nothing but dry crackers, vegetable broth and boiled rice for sustenance, I emerged from the culinary depths craving something long on protein, and full of flavour. Duck sounded perfect, and I had a vac-packed breast awaiting in the fridge. But on a hot and humid day, could I really stomach such a fatty meat?

Then I remembered Sally Schneider’s brilliant low-fat method for cooking duck breast as a lean steak. It involves removing the fat from the breast, dry-rubbing the meat with spices (I used ancho chile powder), and letting it sit for several hours or overnight. To flesh it all out, I popped to the store for a bunch of fresh local arugula and some Valencia oranges. The end result was this salad, a light and healthy take on duck a l’orange.

If you decide to make it, be sure not to throw away the skin with all that delicious, flavourful fat. Instead, render the fat down and reserve it for another use. Duck fat keeps ages in the fridge, and makes the most perfect roast potatoes or Yorkshire puddings, due to its high smoke point. And even if you are watching your saturated fats, you can add loads of flavour to a dish by mixing in as little as half a teaspoon of duck fat with a neutral monounsaturated oil like canola.

To render duck fat, cut the skin into small cubes and put them in a heavy-based pan over a very low heat with the lid on. A cast-iron pan is perfect. Stir the bits of fatty skin from time to time to prevent them catching, replacing the lid each time. Do not rush the process, keeping the heat on low will prevent scorching. Once the fat has fully liquefied, strain it through a fine sieve into a glass container with an airtight lid. Refrigerate when cooled.

Duck and orange salad with sesame vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

1 large duck breast
2 tsp ancho chile powder
Olive oil
A bunch of arugula
2 juicy oranges
¼ cup of pine nuts
For the dressing--
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp juice from one of the oranges
Salt and pepper
3-4 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1. Remove the skin from the duck breast (the fat can be rendered for another use). Wipe the duck steak with kitchen paper, and then dry rub it with the ancho chile powder. Leave on a plate in the fridge under clingfilm for several hours, or overnight.
2. On a clean cutting board, peel the oranges ‘to the blood’, by removing all skin and white pith with a sharp knife. Over a small bowl to catch the juices, cut each section away from the membrane. If you need more juice for the dressing, squeeze out the remaining juice from the leftover membrane and the sections of orange peel. (Gerard Hirigoyen has a good demonstration video on YouTube showing how it’s done.) Keep the orange sections separate from their juice.
3. Make the dressing. Start by mixing the sesame paste and the vinegar into the orange juice with a little salt and pepper. Taste the mixture—it should be pleasantly balanced between sweet from the orange juice, tart from the vinegar, and savoury from the tahini. Adjust according to your taste, then add the extra virgin olive oil and whisk.
4. Remove the duck from the fridge around 20 minutes or so before you want to eat. Heat a grill or a ridged griddle pan until very hot.
5. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts by tossing them in a dry sauté pan over a medium heat until they are a uniform golden brown.
6. Once the grill has pre-heated, pat the duck steak with a bit of kitchen paper, then season it well with salt and pepper. Rub it on both sides with a small amount of olive oil. Grill for 5-6 minutes, turning once, for medium rare duck. You could cook it longer, but be warned that without the natural fat, the meat will be tougher than a breast cooked with the skin on. Allow the duck breast to sit for 5 minutes, before slicing it thinly against the grain.
7. Wash and dry the arugula leaves. Season them with S&P, and toss them in some of the dressing.
8. Assemble the salad on each plate with a handful of dressed arugula, several orange sections, a spoonful of toasted pine nuts, and some slices of duck. Top with a bit of extra dressing, and any meat juices that may have fallen from the duck when slicing.

09 May 2008

All topsy-turvy

After almost 20 years of living in Northern Europe, Chefette’s internal culinary calendar was pretty much set in stone. Different months each had their respective treasures to be awaited, craved and devoured. May meant crisp and tender spears of English asparagus. August meant the start of greengage plums and juicy wild blackberries. October meant sweet-fleshed pumpkins and earthy wild mushrooms.

Here in Bermuda, a sub-tropical climate in the middle of the Gulf Stream, it’s all gone topsy-turvy. Loads of vegetables – like the local pumpkins – don’t seem to have a season at all. They’re on some kind of perpetual harvest all year round. Other bits seem to come at completely the “wrong” time, like strawberries in March.

For a while, this mixup of the seasons had me a bit freaked out. But I’ve come to realise that it can be a good thing. I’ve returned to an age of innocence, when everything’s new and unexpected.

New season’s sweetcorn
Imagine my unadorned delight when I saw the first sweetcorn of the season over at the Sea Swept Farm stand at Barnes Corner on Wednesday. I hadn’t been expecting it, but I had to buy it there and then. I cooked it on the grill with an ancho-lime butter, then cut the kernels off the cob to use in a sweetcorn and tomato salsa. Mmmmm.

Grilled sweetcorn with ancho-lime butter

80g unsalted butter
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
½ tsp ancho chile powder *
6 ears of sweetcorn in their husks, freshest possible

* To make ancho chile powder: Dry some ancho chilies thoroughly in a low oven, then allow to cool. Grind them to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or spice mill. This powder keeps well for a couple of months in an airtight jar.

1. Preheat your gas grill on the highest setting (or ignite charcoal if using a charcoal grill).
2. Gently peel back the husks from the ears of corn, but leave them attached to the ears. Remove all the silk. Soak the husks in a bowl of cold water for c. 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the ancho-lime butter. Allow the butter to soften to the point where it is pliable, but not greasy. Cream the butter with a wooden spoon. Add the lime zest, ancho chile powder, and a generous seasoning of S&P juice, and combine thoroughly. Finish by mixing in as much of the lime juice as the butter will absorb.
4. Remove the husks from the soaking water, and lay on a baking tray. Use a bit of kitchen paper to make sure the kernels of corn are dry. Then, using your fingers, smear a generous wodge of butter evenly over each ear of corn. Fold back the husks, and tie into place with bits of string.
5. Grill for around 15 minutes, turning regularly. It may take a bit longer, depending on how thick are the husks. When the outer husks are starting to become charred, the corn should be done.
6. Carefully remove the husks and serve.

17 April 2008

Back in the blogosphere

After the myriad of changes that follow an international move, life in Bermuda has finally settled down enough for Chefette to get back into the blogosphere. In the interests of fair disclosure, I should probably confess that a lot of the changes have been easy to get used to. Sunshine in January, regular walks along the beach, and Dark & Stormy’s can have an impact for the better on one’s attitude to life.

But what about the food?

Chefette wishes she could say that it was all deliciousness and succulence. But it ain’t quite so simple.

Foodie in Bermuda

Well over 90% of the food eaten in Bermuda is imported, mainly from the US. Factor in the shipping costs and import duties, and it doesn’t take long to realise why prices here would induce sticker shock for most shoppers in the US or the UK. Plus, only locally-owned stores are allowed in Bermuda, so it’s no surprise that grocers on an island of around 67,000 inhabitants won’t have the same economies of scale as a Tesco or a Costco. As one local website put it, “What a couple can buy in the USA for a week will be less expensive than buying food in Bermuda for two days.”

As for the quality of the produce in the supermarkets, it can charitably be described as very uneven. ‘Fresh’ herbs are frequently brown and limp. Nor is it unusual to find a bruised or mouldy piece of fruit in among the display bins.

So how does a self-respecting foodie survive? By procuring as much food as possible outside of the supermarkets. And in one way at least, Bermuda positively excels in direct-to-consumer food distribution. Namely, the cooler of fish by the side of the road.

Heavenly fish

Lots of Bermudians buy their fish directly from fishermen at the side of the road (or off the back of a boat). Sometimes there’s a sign out, saying ‘Wahoo’ or ‘Jacks’. More often than not, there’s just a chap sitting next to his parked car with a couple of big white coolers and a set of scales. Some Fridays he’s there early, some Fridays he’s not there at all, and you never quite know what fish he’ll be selling. All of which adds to the thrill when you get a freshly caught bargain.

The local fish are heavenly eating, and amazing value for money compared with London prices. Last Friday morning, for example, I bought a 2.5 kg red snapper from a fisherman on Trimingham Road for $50. It was a beautiful specimen, really firm with sparklingly clear eyes, that could easily have gone for £60 ($120) at a London fishmonger’s. So beautiful, in fact, that I took a picture. Half of it got eaten at a dinner party at Chefette’s that night, pan-fried and garnished with herb butter (recipe below). And the leftovers went into a mouthwateringly bright fish soup.

Not every fish bought from a cooler will be of top quality. Some fisherman will post a sign for ‘Fresh Bermuda fish’, but when you ask them when it was caught, they’ll happily confess that it spent a few days/weeks in their freezer. Others have been known to try to pass off parrotfish as snapper.

Over time, though, you get to know where and when your favourite fishermen are likely to be. And of course, the locals get their best fish for free when a buddy comes back with extras from his latest day out on the boat. Maybe I need to drop more hints with boat-owning friends now that summer is approaching…

Pan-fried red snapper with herb butter

80g unsalted butter
2-3T of mixed finely chopped fresh herbs*
1 small garlic clove, peeled and mashed to a paste with a pinch of kosher salt
Zest from ½ a lemon and a squeeze of the juice
4x fillets of red snapper, 170-200g each
Salt & pepper
Olive oil


1. Make the herb butter ahead of time. Allow the butter to soften to the point where it is pliable, but not greasy. Cream the butter with a wooden spoon. Add the herbs, garlic and lemon zest and juice, and combine thoroughly. It should be pleasantly light green in colour from the herbs.

2. Form the butter into a roughly cylindrical shape, and then roll it up tight in cling film like a sausage. Refrigerate until firm. (It will hold like this in the fridge for a week or so).

3. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, and when the oil is hot but not smoking, add the fish skin-side down. Cook until the fish is just cooked through, turning once. (How long this takes will depend on the thickness of your fillets. If they are very thick, you will get the best results finishing them in a 200C/400F oven after you have turned them over.)

4. While the fish is finishing, cut thin rounds from the chilled stick of herb butter. To serve, garnish each fish fillet with 1 or 2 rounds of the herby butter on the flesh side, so that the mixture melts into the flesh of the fish.

* I used a mixture of chives, parsley, thyme and oregano