Nigel Slater’s Braised Duck with Asian Spices and Sliced Pork Belly (with a little help from David Chang)

Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, pp. 345-47 and David Chang’s Momofuku, p. 49.

If you knew that I had recently bought two Asian cookbooks at full price, you might expect this post to be about something I had cooked from one of them instead of a good ol’ rock-solid stand-by from Nigel Slater’s cookbook. I will indeed make a couple of recipes from Momofuku and Beyond the Great Wall. For the moment, I had to do something with the organic duck I had in the freezer and the new books had nothing that would help. Although Nigel’s recipe appears in the December chapter, the weather at the moment is cool enough to justify making this out of its proper season.

I learned two key point from the meal I prepared.

  • David Chang’s method of roasting a slab of pork belly at 450 degrees for almost an hour and then reducing the temperature to 250 for another hour or hour and a half works better than any other pork belly recipe I’ve tried. The onus is on you to make sure it doesn’t char too much in the first hour.
  • You can never degrease a duck dish too much because there’s always more fat than you think.

A description of how I plated the dish will give you a sense of its virtues. In a shallow pasta bowl, I placed a little mound of blanched kale/swiss chard greens and drizzled over it just a tiny bit of sesame oil. Beside the greens, I put a 1.5-inch by 1.5-inch square of roasted pork belly. A half-cup scoop of sticky rice next to the greens and pork. On top of the rice I placed a portion of duck — a half breast, a leg and thigh — over which I ladled some braising liquid. (I’ll reserve the salads for a subsequent post.) This was enough: a wonderful plate of food. The following recipe will serve four.

So, here’s how I fiddled with Nigel’s basic recipe and David Chang’s pork belly:

2 tablespoons grapeseed or another neutral oil

1 duck, preferably organic, at the very least free range, cut into pieces

2 small or 1 large onion, roughly chopped

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 scant teaspoon high-quality Chinese Five-Spice powder (don’t overdo it)

Shadowcook: Whole Spice in Petaluma, California makes two kinds. Chinese Five-Spice contains cinnamon, fennel, ginger, star anise, and cloves. Chinese Five-Spice North Style has star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan pepper. I used the North Style this time.

8 rounds of sliced, peeled ginger, sliced into matchsticks

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine

2 cups chicken stock

4-6 green onions, cut into 1-inch long pieces

For the roast pork belly:

1 lb pork belly, with or without rind

1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder (see above note)

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Shadowcook: I made the duck the day before my little dinner party.

Set the oven at 350. On the stovetop, warm the oil in a heavy, oven-proof casserole with a lid, then lightly brown the duck pieces in it. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Lift the browned duck out on to a plate. Add the onions to the pan, turn the heat down a little and let them cook, with only the occasional stir, until they are soft and sweet.

Peel the garlic and slice each clove thinly, then stir it into the onion as it cooks. Cut the ginger into matchsticks, stir them in, then cut the spring onions into short lengths and add them to the pot. Leave everything to soften for a few minutes, then stir in the sugar, 1 scant teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder, chicken stock, and rice wine. Season with black pepper and salt and bring to the boil. Let the mixture boil for a good minute, then return the meat to the pot, together with any juices that may have escaped. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven, setting the timer for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Check the duck for tenderness. It should be soft but far from fall off the bone. Season the stew with a little salt. Scoop off as much of the liquid fat from the top as you can — there will be lots — then either lift the pieces of duck on to shallow bowls of rice and spoon over the juices, or let everything cool, then refrigerate overnight. If you take the latter option, the next day scrape off the white fat that has settled on top, reheat the stew and serve with rice.

Shadowcook: I separated the duck pieces from the braising liquid. After both duck and liquid cooled completely, I stored them in plastic containers and put them in the fridge. Next day, about 2 hours before I served the meal, I roasted the pork belly according to David Chang’s simple directions.

Several hours before dinner, combine the teaspoon of Chinese Five-Spice powder with the brown sugar and salt. Score the fat or rind surface of the pork belly. Rub the mixture on the pork, making sure it reaches the crevices of the surface scoring. Put the pork belly a container and marinate for a few hours at room temperature (or overnight in the refrigerator). Two hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 450. David Chang recommends putting the pork belly in a snug roasting pan. Stick the pan in the oven and roast the pork for 40 minutes. From that point on, keep an eye on it. The surface of the meat should be caramelized but should not be charred black. Let it roast at this temperature as long as possible. Then reduce the heat to 250. Roast for another hour or hour and a half, depending on how big a piece of pork belly you have.

While the pork is roasting, about 45 minutes before eating, I scraped off the thick layer of fat from the cold braising liquid and saved it in another container. It will make a good base for sauteing.  Then I put the degreased liquid in a braising pan, brought it to a simmer over medium heat, and let it reduce by almost half. I added the duck pieces, reduced the heat, and warmed the duck pieces. Transfer the duck pieces to a platter. Before you serve, I’ll bet you any amount of money you’ll see another thick film of duck fat on the surface of the braising. I used a metal spoon to skim the fat off and added it to the copious amount of fat I  removed the day before and stored in the fridge.

Assemble the plates as I describe at the beginning of this post. Slice or cut into a squares the pork belly with a very sharp knife (so that it doesn’t fall apart). My guests relished the unctuous combination of pork and duck — but they would not have if I hadn’t take care to remove as much fat as possible.

Paula Wolfert: Red Beans with Pork and Carrots

from The Cooking of Southwest France, pp. 286-87.

Why don’t I cook from Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks more often? I often ask myself that question. Friends are coming over; I have several pounds of Rancho Gordo beans to consume; I’ve barely touched this cookbook in the two years I’ve owned it. And I should mention that a lot of the recipes here are winter food, good rib-sticking grub. Now that I’ve made this recipe, I realize it couldn’t fail. Beans and pork, classic combination. Cinnamon + cloves + duck fat + butter + garlic + brandy + drizzled walnut oil = vanilla ecstasy. It’s the kind of recipe that reminds me again that while I can renounce sugar for life I will never give up fat. The add virtue of this dish is that it’s relatively inexpensive to make for company. Read on.

To begin…

2 cups small red beans or red kidney beans

Shadowcook: Or you order beans from Rancho Gordo. I used their Vallarta beans, which are not red, but of all the RG beans I have in my pantry they were the most suitable. I thought they turned out very well, even if they weren’t as creamy as their red beans. Bear in mind that RG beans don’t need soaking, cook faster, hold their shape better, and taste better than the beans you buy in stores.

1 cup full-bodied red wine, such as Côtes-du-Rhône

1 large onion, halved and stuck with 2 cloves, plus 1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 large carrot, chopped, plus 1/2 pound carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

2 tablespoons rendered goose, duck, or pork fat

Shadowcook: I used duck fat, because I prefer its flavor to the others — although all three are pretty damn good!

1 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

Shadowcook: I cut up the pork into small chunks and it turned out fine.

1/4 pound pancetta

Shadowcook: I bought the pancetta in one slab and diced it myself before putting it in the food processor, as you’ll see the directions call for.

5 peeled garlic cloves: 4 left whole and 1 finely chopped

4 sprigs of parsley plus 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 imported bay leaf

Shadowcook: By “imported,” I think she means Turkish. I used a fresh leaf from my laurel tree. They say I should use half of it to one Turkish leaf, but I don’t think a whole one will overpower the beans.

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy

Shadowcook: Brandy. In fact, as Dick, my wine guy (whose palate I have come to have great confidence in) tells me, a $10 bottle of Korbel’s brandy is indistinguishable from fine Armagnac when you use it in this quantity and heat it. Save yourself some money.

1 tablespoon walnut or olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1. A day in advance, place the beans in a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Add the water to cover by at least 2 inches and let soak overnight.

Shadowcook: Or you can completely skip the soaking part. My Latino friends tell me that no one soaks beans south of the Rio Grande. And if you’re using Rancho Gordo beans, you really can skip that step. In general, you must monitor the pace of cooking when it comes to beans. Not soaking may add a bit of time to the recipe, but not appreciably — unless you have really old beans.

2. Early the following day, rinse and drain the beans. Place them in a 5-quart flameproof earthenware or enameled cast-iron casserole with the wine and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Slowly bring to a boil.

3. When the beans reach the boil, skim thoroughly; add the onion stuck with cloves and the cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer while preparing the vegetables and pork in Steps 5 and 6.

4. In a large skillet, brown the chopped carrots and onions in the fat over moderately high heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pieces of pork and sauté, turning, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the beans.

Shadowcook: Instead of sauteeing the vegetables before the pork, I did it in reverse. It meant using a bit more than 2 tablespoons of duck fat, but I’m not complaining. I seared the pieces of pork in a few batches. Crowding them only elicits water and steams them. So, give the searing pieces room. As each piece finished, I shook excess fat off of the piece and dropped it into the beans, which were still coming to a slow boil on the opposite burner. Then I added a bit more duck fat and the chopped vegetables. I scraped up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Added the whole thing to the beans.

5. In a food processor, combine the pancetta with 4 cloves of the garlic, the parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and thyme. Grind to a puree. Add to the casserole.

6. Cook the beans, covered, over very low heat or in a preheated 275 oven for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, uncover the beans and cook until the liquid is thick, about 1 1/2 hours.

Shadowcook: Even if you don’t use Rancho Gordo beans, check the beans every 20-30 minutes. Be sure not to overcook them. It took 3 hours for my beans to finish.

7. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, cook the sliced carrots with 1 tablespoon of the butter, covered, over moderately low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the carrots take on a little color. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. Mix the carrots into the beans in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper. (The recipe can be prepared to this point at least 4 hours in advance.)

8. About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the beans uncovered until the tops glaze slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Gently stir from bottom to top to keep the surface moist. Bake until a light crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes.

9. Sprinkle the Armagnac on top and let stand until ready to serve. Serve hot, with a light sprinkling of the walnut oil and vinegar and a dusting of the chopped parsley and garlic.

Note to the cook

To avoid drying out and breaking the beans, be sure that they are always covered with the cooking liquid or enrobed in the sauce. If necessary, add boiling water. Cooking beans in wine keeps them from turning mushy. They need longer cooking but are able to absorb more flavor.

NYT’s Herbed Bean and Sausage Stew in Small Slow-cooker

You can find the original recipe here. Suggestions for a vegetarian version appear at the end of this post.

I swore off buying new appliances, sold quite a few of them at a driveway sale last summer, and scaled back on my cooking once I embarked on another long course of Weight Watchers. My appliance abstinence lasted all of two months. Last week, I bought a small Cuisinart three-quart slow cooker. It’s a perfect size for this single-eater household.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published this recipe. It calls for skipping the pre-soaking part of bean cooking. I liked that idea, especially since lately I switched to using Rancho Gordo’s heirloom dried beans, which are much fresher than most store-bought kind. Not only did I not pre-soak the Rancho Gordo beans, but the stew  finished in under 8 hours on the Low setting. The amount of water needed will vary according to the freshness of the beans and your preference for soupy stews or stewy soups. However, the recipe does not call for a slow-cooker, so I’ve had to adapt it. Perhaps it works best on a weekend morning, when you can do the prep cooking without rushing. A vegetarian adaptation appears at the end.

The result is a rich, smoky, and flavorful pot of beans and sausage:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for serving

1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausages, sliced 3/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 medium carrots, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 pound Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked through

Shadowcook: Or canellini or mayacoba bean. In any case, a white bean that holds its shape.

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Shadowcook: Interesting that whoever thought this up has you put kosher salt into the pot with the beans at the beginning of their cooking. Most cooks claim salt retards absorption of water in a hard bean. I suspect the older the bean, the more likely that’s true. But if you’re using recently dried beans, salt may not impede the softening process as much. I followed the directions and the beans cooked quickly.

2 thyme sprigs

1 large rosemary sprig

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, more for serving

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Shadowcook: Don’t crowd the sausage rounds. Insufficient space around anything that is sauteeing creates steam. Food needs room to brown and fry properly.

2. Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if needed to make sure the beans remain submerged.

Shadowcook: For the slow cooker, after you have cooked the tomato paste, cumin, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, transfer it all to a slow cooker. Make bring you all the oil and bits with the vegetables to the ceramic pot. Then add the beans and herbs to the pot. Pour in 6-7 cups of water. The rule of thumb in converting recipes to slow-cookers is to reduce the liquid by half. I began this stew with 4 cups and within 4 hours (the beans still hard) I had to add another 3 cups. Set the temperature to Low for 10 hours. Walk away, but come back in four or five hours to check the beans.

3. When the beans are tender, return the sausage to the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into warm bowls and serve drizzled with additional vinegar and olive oil.

Shadowcook: For a vegetarian version, substitute a bunch of chopped Swiss chard leaves and 2 chopped leeks for the sausage. Sauté the chopped chard and leeks in olive oil, add the remaining ingredients to the sauteed leaves, and proceed with the recipe.

For another meat version, consider adding a ham hock to the beans and water, after you’ve sauteed the vegetables in olive oil.