How to Cook a Duck – a Chef’s Manifesto for Cooking From Scratch
Chapter One: Duck Soup for the Soul
The price of food has been constantly going up over the past years. And as we get busier than ever, we rarely find time to cook something from scratch. We search for convenience. We want fresh, nutritious and tasty food ready in minutes, with minimum effort.
We look to buy our potatoes ready peeled, our onions ready chopped, our courgettes already spiralised for us and packed in small sized bags – just enough for a dinner for two. Convenience has become our saviour. And most of the times it serves a purpose. Although I still can’t get to terms with getting ready peeled potatoes or ready chopped onions, I do have quite a long list of ready-to-eat favourites. Not once have I found myself exhausted after a long working day, strolling through supermarkets and searching for a quick and easy dinner: a ready meal or some quick microwaveable (is this a word?) greens, some trimmed fillets of fish or pieces of meat just ready to be chucked in a pan. But convenience is expensive. Yet, we are so busy and sometimes even a bit ignorant, so we are willingly paying the price.
A pack of two pieces of ready-to-cook, trimmed, and filleted duck breasts is far more expensive than a whole duck. Yet, in a world where convenience is queen, we’re happy to pay the price.
A whole duck is cheaper than two pieces of ready-to-cook, trimmed, deboned and filleted duck breast. But cooking the whole duck is messy, one might think. It takes time, a lot of dirty pots, carving skills and all the fuss. While the ready carved and trimmed meat is so handy. You just have to take it out of the packaging, season, cook, eat. No mess, no waste, no no fuss. No carving skills required. No sky high mountains of dirty pots to be washed afterwards.
We spend more time reading food labels and less time peeling, chopping, mixing and stirring.
But while convenience food does indeed solve our big ‘time’ & ‘mess’ problems, it appears to create an even bigger one. Our primal, basic relationship with food is fading into disconnection. We spend more time reading food labels and less time peeling, chopping, mixing and stirring. We’re willingly spending more than one hour/day aimlessly scrolling through our highly curated social media feeds. But how often do we even begin to read a recipe if it states that it’s going to take us more than one hour to prepare?
How often do we even begin to read a recipe if it requires more than one hour to prepare?
I’m well aware that cooking from scratch every single day, breakfast lunch and dinner, is now a thing of the past. It is just not possible in our days. Not if you’re juggling one or even two jobs, a hobby and a busy family life, while spending more than 2 hours on your daily commute. That may have been viable in a place and time when 9 to 5 working hours were the norm, and the longest daily commute was less than 30 minutes. That may have been viable in an age and place where a family of four would have still been able to make a decent living on just one main income. But in our times and for the vast majority of us this is simply not the case anymore.
My pledge is for taking one cooking-from-scratch day each month, to rekindle our deep, primal connection with food.
So my pledge is not for going back in time and cook everything from scratch every single day. My pledge is for one day, every now and then. One day maybe once a month – or once every couple of weeks, if that suits you. One no convenience, no cutting corners – just plain, simple cooking-from-scratch day. A day to read recipes, not labels. To carve, peel, chop and stir. To sniff and taste and season, and wait. But most importantly, a time to rekindle our incredibly powerful connection with food. And find the pure joy of cooking something from scratch.
With this series, I want to inspire you to get creative and find ways of making the most of your cooking-from-scratch day.
And I’m starting with one of my favourite things to cook: duck. There are two recipes below: one for a basic duck soup, and another for a simply delicious duck pilau, that can be served as a main course. Both recipes are inspired by my mother’s Sunday family lunches, where this type of clear soup (usually made of chicken, duck or goose, and served with noodles or dumplings) is always a central element. The pilau is a great way of using the meat and carrots left over from the duck soup. It is simple, but filling and comforting at the same time. And a great example of no fuss home cooking.
Duck Soup with Vermicelli and Carrots
For the duck soup
- 1 whole duck breasts removed
- 4 carrots peeled, roughly chopped
- 2 onions peeled, cut in half
- 1 celery stick roughly chopped
- 1 parsnip peeled, roughly chopped
- 100 g fine vermicelli noodles
For the duck pilau
- 10 ml sunflower oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 50 g rice round grain
- 250 ml duck soup see above
- duck meat from the soup
- 2 carrots from the soup
To season and garnish
- black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tsp black peppercorns whole, for the soup
- fresh parsley finely chopped, stems reserved for the soup
For the duck soup
- Carve the duck by carefully removing the breasts and legs. Break up the duck carcass in 3-4 pieces. Reserve the duck breasts (wrap in cling film and refrigerate).
- Place the duck carcasse and legs into a 5 l pot, the add the onions, carrots, celery and parsnip. Add water just enough to fill more than 2/3 of the pot. Add salt, one teaspoon of black peppercorns and the parsley stems.Cover with a lid and let it simmer on low heat for about 2 hours. Use a slotted spoon to skim all the impurities that are formed at the surface during cooking.
- Strain the soup through a chinois lined with a cheesecloth. Reserve the duck legs and carrots. Discard the rest of the vegetables.
- Pick the meat from the duck carcasse and legs.Dice the boiled carrots. Reserve half of the quantity for pilau, and the other half to serve with the soup.
- To serve, reheat the soup upt to the boiling point. Add a few bundles of fine vermicelli noodles, continue boiling for 1 minute, and then turn off the heat. Cover with a lid and let it rest for 5 minutes.Place a hadful of diced carrots and a bundle of vermicelli noodles on each plate. Add the soup and garnish withchopped parsley. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
For the duck pilau
- Sweat the chopped onion in an oiled pan on low heat. Add the rice, diced carrots and picked meat, and top with enough duck soup to cover it all. Simmer on low heat and keep adding a ladle of soup at a time, until the rice is well cooked. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Serve warm, as a main course, garnished with freshly chopped parsley.
Soups and broths are an important staple of Romanian cuisine. My gem lettuce soup is a traditional recipe with multiple variations across the country. Find the recipe here.
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