There’s something wonderful about this dish; it’s not just that it tastes fantastic and looks great, but it also highlights the history of food and, more importantly, that cooks are the true scientists and heroes of the human race. A bold statement I know, but bare with me a while and I’ll explain….
In the late 19th century Louis Pasteur (the man who gave us safe milk and beer) explained the problem of bacteria and started the science of microbiology – ground breaking stuff I’m sure you’ll agree? The thing is the cooks of France had discovered the answer a few hundred years earlier; they just hadn’t bothered to name it. Bacteria have always been the sworn enemy of the cook for the food spoilage that they can cause and when we go back to the times before refrigeration this problem was way worse. The big question was how to make food last longer? The cooks realised that there was something getting into the food that made it spoil and that boiling it for a set time would sterilise it.
All good; unfortunately when the air came back in contact with the food it was reinfected, so the cook’s simple answer was to keep the food covered and only uncover at the time of eating. Job done! And only a few hundred years before science caught up. I can only imagine how many unwanted relatives were sacrificed on the taste- testing altar to work this out!
Thankfully, work it out they did and now we can enjoy this unbelievable taste. So follow the recipe and while you’re eating it just take a moment to reflect on the history of our food. Just remember that if you make confit of duck for a dinner party, make more than you need. The spares will keep in a box covered with duck fat in the fridge for weeks and will be there for that surprise occasion.
Duck legs are widely available in the Bay with my favourite being Quack a Duck from Cambridge (admittedly mostly because the name makes me smile but also because they are very good). Duck or goose fat is slightly harder to find and usually comes in tins, try Bel Mondo, The Good Food Trading Company or Culinary Council. The rest of the ingredients will be in every supermarket, your pantry and garden.
For me, the perfect wine for this dish comes from that amazing Bay of Plenty winemaker, Steve Bird. His Big Barrel Pinot Noir is one of the best I’ve ever tasted and a true match to the complex flavours of the duck.
Confit of Duck with Braised Butter Beans
10 duck legs, marinated
Marinade for Confit:
A few sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
12 fresh basil leaves
20 black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
3cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
20ml Worcestershire sauce
20ml soy sauce
20ml balsamic vinegar
30ml white wine vinegar
30ml The Grove horopito infused Avocado oil
2 tablespoons sea salt
2-3kg goose, duck or pork fat to cover
75ml clear honey
Mix all marinade ingredients together and marinate duck legs for up to 3-4 days.
Melt fat in a deep tray. Add marinated meat and cook in a pre-heated oven at 170˚C for 2 hours. Check that legs are cooked, and then allow to cool in the fat. At this stage, the confit will last weeks in the fridge, if kept covered in fat, ensuring a total air seal forms. When needed, simply remove from fat and cook under a HIGH grill for about 8-10 minutes, or until the skin goes crispy.
Braised Butter Beans
2 onions, chopped
4 rashers smoked bacon, cut into strips
2 tablespoons Avocado oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
16 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
300g dried butter beans
1 – 2 litres chicken stock
4 Roma tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced
Sweat the onions and bacon in the olive oil and butter for a few minutes, then add the basil, bay leaves, garlic and butter beans. Cover with 1.25 litres stock and bring to the boil. Cover and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C for 1 – 1½ hours until the beans are tender and have created a thick sauce. (You may need to add a little more stock during the cooking process.) Add tomatoes, season and serve with duck legs.
Ok, time to get back on my high horse and give my side swipe at the food industry. Today’s topic is what have we done to our food supply and is there any hope?
In the words of Winston Churchill, To understand our future first we must first understand our past, which where food is concerned is a long and illustrious past. Throughout history control over our food supply has been the foundation that built economies and empires, the moving fortunes of our societies have been directly linked to their ability to control not only their but also their enemies food supplies. It’s sexy to believe that power and wealth lay in control of diamonds and precious metals, however the reality was that real power came from the control of salt, spices and food in general. The ability to produce salt led to the early empires in Venice and Rome, while the spice trade was fundamental to the rise and fall of the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and English. Even the most despicable parts of our history are linked to the ability to increase our food supply and therefor our power, take slavery for example, the need for cheap labour in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean facilitated the exploitation of an entire continent in the name of wealth and power. So as you can see food and human beings are connected in the most fundamental ways possible.
You’d think that this would make people like farmers the most important on earth wouldn’t you, after all they do the growing thing. Well in the past that might have been true and in New Zealand you see an economy that is still rooted in agriculture, however that has changed throughout the so called western world where the focus has moved over the last 30 to 40 years from food production to that house of cards, making money. We’ve forgotten our most basic needs in the pursuit of the mighty dollar.
I’ve waffled on enough about the past, lets look at today and a real example. Ireland, the land of green green grass and generations of farmers until the 1990’s when it jumped on the finance and property merry go round. Life was very rich indeed, there was money to be made but not in farming, the financial and property sectors sucked the brightest and best away from the land, the agricultural colleges could no longer get students but so what? life was great and surely the bubble wouldn’t burst? Unfortunately burst it did, a couple of years ago as the world was forced into recession, Irelands society was proved to be as unsustainable as many had feared.
So what now for poor old Ireland? they’ve been through it before so they accept the loss of a generation as they leave the country in search of a better life. Well actually maybe not this time, you see the Irish people are trying something a bit off the wall. They figure that they can pin their economic survival on the one thing that can’t be taken away from them, that being the land. This means that they need to outperform all previous models with an aging workforce and a land limit, so how do you raise revenue per acre when the area of mass production is probably closed to you? The maths is simple if you can’t produce more then you need to make more for what you produce. This beautiful country is staking its future on producing high quality, high value food product with the aim of being the aspirational product on the export shelves. Suddenly the colleges are full as the people return to the land and its starting to work with their food exports increasing in monetary value by over 3 billion euros in a year and some of the biggest companies in the world starting to take interest, Danone one of the biggest in global dairy corporations have raised their investment rate in Ireland on the back of the raise in quality.
Ireland you are my heroes, you’ve abandoned the American economic of model make more/cost less and replaced it with make better/charge more. Please let this be the sign of things to come.
So what about New Zealand, we too are a country that is small with a limited land supply and an economy that relies heavily on exports. Do we carry on with the American model and hope that nobody notices that it’s not sustainable or do we grab the bull by the horns and exploit the one true competitive advantage that we have on the global market place. We have probably the most perfect growing conditions of anywhere and rather than producing more for less we should be following our clean green image and creating a niche market for the highest quality and most sustainable. As the Irish are proving there is a need.
I realise that I’ve been doing a lot of talking on this blog over the last few months and not, as I promised I would, adding some recipes for you to try. So here goes….we’re in the middle of BBQ season here in New Zealand so why not fire up a good steak. Most people seem to destroy food on a BBQ rather than cook it so here are a few quick rules. Black is bad, golden brown is good, turn down the heat after the initial searing or move to a cooler part of the grill and don’t overcrowd.
We’re lucky enough to live on a life style block (some would say life sentence) in the Bay of Plenty which means we have a couple of small paddocks next to the house. What this really means is we can have a few animals and in the smallest way possible pretend to be farmers. So we keep a couple of steers that after a couple of years of tender loving care end up in the freezer. I realise that it’s not good farming practice to name the animals but these two became part of the family and it seemed odd to shout ” COW”. So between us we named them, let me introduce you to “LUNCH” and “DINNER.” Cute aren’t they?
The idea is that I can experiment with their maturing and also their feeding. The major side benefit is that the kids learn where their food comes from and the simple fact that the better an animal is cared for the better it tastes. Surprisingly we’ve not all become vegetarians but have learned to appreciate the process.
Rump Steak with Polenta and Kiwifruit Salsa
Kiwifruit can be used to marinate meat or octopus, as it contains the enzyme ‘actinidin’ which is a natural and very effective tenderiser. Spread a ‘mash’ of kiwifruit over the meat and leave for 30 minutes, before scraping off and grilling. The same enzyme also prevents gelatine from setting so that, like pineapple, kiwifruit in a dessert will not ‘set’ unless poached first.
2 x 200 g rump steak
110 g instant polenta
60 g parmesan cheese
60 g unsalted butter
75 ml beef stock
2 tablespoons dry sherry or madeira
salt and pepper
avocado oil for frying and greasing
2 firm kiwi fruit, diced
1 de-seeded and finely chopped Birds Eye red (hot) chilli
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
4 tomatoes de-skinned, de-seeded and diced
1 dash Thai fish sauce
Zest & juice 1 lime
Place all ingredients for salsa in a bowl, mix well and leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to let the flavours develop.
Allow steaks to come to room temperature in their marinade of mashed kiwi fruit.
Meanwhile, cook the polenta, stir in the grated parmesan cheese and half the butter, and season liberally. Pour out 1-cm thick onto an oiled baking tray. Refrigerate until set firm and then, using a pastry cutter slightly larger than the tournedos, cut 4 rounds from the sheet of polenta.
Preheat oven to 220°C. Melt half the remaining butter in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Lightly season polenta rounds and fry for 1 minute each side, then transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, carefully turn over using a spatula and bake for a further 5 minutes until crisp.
Heat the BBQ until very hot. Add a tablespoon of avocado oil to the meat and cook both rump steaks over a high heat for 3 minutes on each side for rare and 4 minutes for medium. Transfer to a warm plate, cover and keep warm.
Pour beef stock and sherry or madeira into a frying pan and stir, Cook quickly till the liquid has reduced and thickened to a syrupy consistency. Add remaining butter, a small piece at a time, swirling pan until incorporated; this will finish the texture of the sauce and give a beautiful gloss.
To serve, put a crisp polenta round on each warmed plate and top with the rump steak. Stir into the sauce any juices that have exuded from meat while resting, then spoon the sauce over each steak before spreading the kiwifruit salsa on top.