Hello to you on a gorgeously sunny Sunday! It’s lovely to be able to get outside more and meet up with a few friends (observing strict social distancing of course) in the sun, and I hope you’re enjoying it too. And welcome to the second in our Summer Larder series, this week looking at birds other than chicken. Why not chicken? I hear you ask; well it is such a popular bird, and I thought it would be interesting to look at the alternatives. Not that duck, turkey et al are not also popular, but they don’t seem to get the press chicken does! Our recipe section below includes one for turkey, one for duck and one for pigeon so you have a chance to spread your wings in the kitchen.
Could I just point out to everyone that our online shop is still very busy (thank you all for that!), and orders will take a while to be with you. I am doing everything I can to keep things moving as fast as possible, thanks in advance for your patience.
Enjoy the sunshine and until next time, stay safe!
Spice of the Week
This is the Chinese bouquet garni, the Oriental garam masala, a signature seasoning for Chinese food. It is characterised by a good balance of all five flavours – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Contrary to the conception that this blend was named after its five ingredients, it was actually originally named after the five elements with the belief that this blend brought balance to the human body through the medicinal benefits it provides. The combination of cinnamon, fennel, star anise, cloves and Szechuan peppercorn is delicious in roasted and braised meat dishes and in stir fries. It makes a great spice rub for greasy meats like pork and duck, and also makes a delicious marinade when mixed with honey and soy sauce.
This Week's Recipes
Straight from the Backwaters, this delicious curry contains all the classic elements of Keralan cooking, from curry leaves through to coconut milk. It works best using duck legs, as they will stand up well to the long cooking process. Roasting the duck before cooking it in the sauce removes the excess fat from the duck, and also the spice coating goes nice and crispy on the skin, which fortifies the gravy once the duck is added. It is not generally a hot curry, but of course if you like it spicy adding a little (or a lot) of chilli will do it no harm at all.
Moroccan Pigeon Pastilla
This is a lovely version of the classic Moroccan Pigeon Pastilla, a pastry which is half sweet, half savoury. It is made with filo pastry, stuffed with tender pigeon and lightly scrambled egg, and the finished dish is sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon, almost as if it were a cake! But combined with the aromatic spices and rich pigeon meat, the whole thing does work. A very, very luxurious pie, in fact! Be warned, this recipe is not for people on a health kick as it involves a lot of butter, along with eggs and sugar being involved too.
This is a really lovely spicy, slow-cooked stew, taking advantage of the fact that turkey can take plenty of cooking and plenty of spice. Unusually for a Mexican recipe there is no chilli involved, but that can be rectified by adding some chipotles en adobo if you prefer a hotter dish. Mexicans often cook with lard, but olive oil works just as well if you prefer. Use turkey drumsticks for the best results. The annatto paste in the recipe gives it a lovely colour and flavour. This dish is very good served with some warm tortillas and a side salad.
Spread Your Wings!
We know everyone loves chicken, but what would we do if it wasn’t there any more? It is such a staple food, farmed and eaten on an industrial scale. We shouldn’t forget that other birds do exist, and lots of them make very good eating indeed. Turkey and duck for example are popular meats in many places, finding their place in some famous dishes. Here we look at some of these other treats, the ways in which they are cooked around the world, and how you can give them the Spice Mountain touch. A couple of them are easily found in the supermarket, and the rest will be available at good butchers. It is always good to try something different, and hopefully this feature will help you to spread your wings a little in the kitchen!
From the duck a l’orange of classic French cuisine to the glistening birds hanging from hooks in Chinatown restaurants, duck is a very popular meat, prized for its rich and luxurious flavour. The vast majority of duck eaten is farmed, and a well raised duck will have plenty of meat with a good layer of fat. As you would expect from such a commonly eaten food, there are a multitude of ways to prepare it, and as a meat with a strong flavour many of these ways include spice. It is probably easiest to take another of our little trips around the world to have a look at these, so let’s begin in Europe.
As mentioned, Duck a l’Orange is a French classic. Ingredients with a bit of acid to them always work with duck, cutting through the rich fat, so citrus is perfect. Orange Zest is perfect for this dish, and a way of making it even more flash is to season the finished dish with our Sicilian Orange Salt. The orange works perfectly both with the duck and with the brandy involved in the dish. A similar but less boozy recipe uses cherries rather than orange for the sauce, again showing the European predilection for combining duck and fruit. Another classy French way is to serve magret de canard (duck breast fillet) with a Green Peppercorn, brandy and cream sauce, a truly sinful dish!
In Portugal and Spain duck is often cooked with rice, the famous Portuguese Arroz de Pato being the flag bearer. The dish will usually include pork products such as chorizo sausage, meaning there is plenty of smoked paprika involved, and is seasoned also with thyme. In the north of Italy they make a ragu with minced duck, and this recipe interestingly includes juniper berries and rosemary for seasoning.
Things obviously get decidedly spicier when we move east, although in the Middle East fruit is usually still a player. One famous duck dish from the area is Fesenjun, where the duck is cooked with pomegranate molasses, walnuts and aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric. You could make a good version of this with our Advieh spice blend. There are also one blend and one spice typical of the area which both work amazingly well with the duck. The blend is Zatar, from Lebanon, the nuttiness and herbiness of which balances duck’s rich flavour. Zatar of course includes Sumac, which is the spice. Its sour, tangy and zingy character matches duck perfectly. There is a lovely duck recipe using sumac which is finished with another local blend, Dukkah, a mix of roasted spices and nuts.
If you’re lucky enough to have been to the backwaters of Kerala, India’s Deep South, you may have seen that the canals and creeks which make them up have a healthy number of ducks around. The Keralans know what to do with them too, making a lovely curry which involves first frying the duck and then cooking it in a rich gravy involving plenty of aromatic spice and curry leaves. Our version of this is featured in this week’s recipe section, made with our Kerala curry blend. Duck is also eaten up in the northeast, in Bengal and Bangladesh, where they use it to make a pretty hot curry featuring methi leaf, black pepper and a whole-spice garam masala.
Our next stop is Asia. As we said earlier, duck is farmed on a very large scale in China, making it a very commonly eaten food. The most famous (and popular) duck recipe worldwide, Peking Duck, is of course Chinese. So delicious with its crispy skin and tender meat, it is unfortunately impossible to cook properly at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a pretty good impression with a couple of duck legs and some 5 spice powder! The other Chinese way of roasting duck produces the ones you see hanging in Chinatown restaurant windows, cooked in a similar way to that Spice Mountain favourite Char Siu roast pork (the two are often served together in restaurants). Our recipe for char siu here can be used with duck, but do bear in mind there is a lot more fat on a duck. From the Chinese restaurants and takeaways of the UK comes another favourite, Duck with Pineapple. This is basically very similar to Sweet & Sour Pork, but usually a bit spicier with more ginger and chilli involved.
In Thailand there is a large Chinese influence in some areas of food, so Chinese-style roast duck is found everywhere. Duck is also cooked in a Red Curry, which as its name suggests features plenty of chilli along with pineapple and coconut milk. We see here again that so often, duck is prepared with fruit; one of those natural balances that certain foods can give each other. A last popular way of doing duck in Thailand is to stir-fry the bird with sweet basil, chilli and lime leaves. This is a really tasty dish, with lots of contrasting flavours bouncing off each other.
Malaysia and particularly Singapore have an even bigger Chinese diaspora so again we meet our Chinese roast duck and variations on it, but on the Indonesian island of Bali they have a unique way of preparing duck. They rub the bird with a paste made from spices (exactly the same spices as for a Rendang), plus shallots, galangal, tamarind extract and shrimp paste, then wrap it in a banana leaf and steam roast it. This is one we have yet to try, but it sounds fantastic!
Over to America, and while we didn’t find many Mexican recipes for duck they do make a confit-style dish, as in Europe using only the legs, which they season with classic Mexican spices such as cumin and cinnamon along with orange. The meat is then used to fill tacos. We have a feeling making this with our Holy Trinity blend, thus adding some warm, smoky chilli to the equation, would be a very good idea.
Interestingly, turkey is one of those things like tobacco, potato and the chilli that have come from the Americas. Turkey is native to Mexico, and was brought back by the Spanish to become the Christmas favourite it is today. It is the closest to chicken of the birds in our list, the meat having a similar but slightly stronger, gamier flavour, especially the legs. In Western cuisine turkey is usually served as a ‘roast dinner’ type meal, so spice isn’t a massive factor save for using good quality salt and pepper. Otherwise it is much used in processed products such as ‘turkey drummers’ and their ilk, none of which we need concern ourselves with here. However in its native Mexico, where it is also a festive food, the classic turkey preparation is a positive kaleidoscope of spice and seasoning! This is Mole Poblano, which is as complex to prepare as it is to spice. Spices will include various chillies (guajillo, ancho and pasilla, the Mexican Holy Trinity), all the Mexican aromatics from allspice to cinnamon, and crucially chocolate in the form of Cocoa Nibs. The turkey is cooked separately at first, poached gently, and after that cooked again for a while in the mole sauce, which is where we find all the spice. This luxurious dish goes all the way back to the Aztecs, so must be one of the oldest recipes still in use. Luckily you don’t have to set aside the three days it takes to make properly, as Spice Mountain stocks a very good ready made Mole sauce!
In Israel turkey schnitzel is very popular, the breaded and fried turkey served in a baguette with pickles.
Due to its similarity turkey can be interchangeable with chicken, and the same seasonings work well with both. For example a turkey curry made with the Christmas leftovers is very popular in the UK. Turkey breast meat is good for stir-frying, as it holds its texture very well, and a good blend to use here is our Szechuan Stirfry, which is a great combination of sesame nuttiness and medium chilli heat. Another nice idea is to use turkey legs for Jamaican Jerk, the dark leg meat standing up well to the herby, spicy jerk seasoning. Remember that as turkey is a fairly neutral meat taste-wise, you can really use your imagination when it comes to spicing it – actually there aren’t too many blends which won’t work with your turkey!
The goose is often looked at like a giant duck, and it is true they are similar birds when it comes to eating. Goose however has less fat than a duck (although there is still plenty of it), and also has a stronger, richer flavour. A roast goose makes a great centrepiece for a celebration meal, and in countries such as Germany and Poland it is part of the Christmas festivities rather than turkey. Not much is done to the goose, it is seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and usually served with red cabbage cooked with apple. We like to cook red cabbage with our Beetroot & Apple salt, which intensifies the red colour and provides just the right amount of fruity sweetness.
Goose fat becomes an ingredient on its own, ideal for roasting potatoes, and also a common component of the French Cassoulet (the dish is often made with duck confit too). The rich flavour of the fat seeps into the beans over the long cooking time, mingling with the garlic to produce a truly satisfying dish.
The Chinese treat goose the same way as they do duck, seasoning it with 5 Spice and then roasting it at a high temperature, ideally in a charcoal oven. A good-quality goose will give juicy, tender meat and a lovely crisp skin. You will see these geese hanging in the Chinatown restaurant window along with the ducks and the pork, and the roast goose will often be served cold along with a tangy plum sauce similar to that served with Peking Duck.
A very tasty meat, whether it is wild wood pigeon or the more domesticated squab. The most interesting meeting between the pigeon and spice has to be the Moroccan Pastilla. This is a pie made with filo-type pastry, and is a fascinating mix of sweet and savoury. The pigeon is cooked with aromatic spices like cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and saffron (ras el hanout is a handy blend to have in the pantry here), along with sugar for sweetening, then the meat is removed from the bone and mixed with scrambled egg before being wrapped in pastry. The finished pastilla is sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon powder and garnished with almond slices.
Pigeon also works well with Asian flavours, and there is a nice recipe using wild pigeon marinated in ginger, garlic, black salt, tamarind paste and malt vinegar, then quickly griddled or pan-fried. Pigeon is great cooked tandoori-style too, the gamey flavour working well with the strong spices.
Unsurprisingly the Chinese are fond of a pigeon too, and they like either to fry them or braise them. One lovely method of braising uses star anise and Szechuan peppercorns along with cinnamon and cloves, a mix which only intensifies the taste of the bird.
Perhaps the ultimate finger food, few pleasures can match picking up the crispy roast quail by a leg and then just diving in, eating them bones and all! Quail are easy to cook, although they are fragile and it is important not to overcook them. The easiest method is roasting, and this is the most common way to cook them. Quail gets on well with mild, aromatic spice so roasting them with Chinese 5 Spice and honey is a winner. North African Ras el Hanout also works very well for this method, and if you want to give your quail an Indian flavour try using Garam Masala with a bit of added ground coriander. Also quail is another bird which is delicious prepared tandoori style. The Mexicans make a soup of quail, cooked with plenty of epazote (a Mexican herb similar to thyme and oregano) and chipotles en adobo (canned chipotles in adobo sauce, which are a wonderful pantry standby).The soup can be bulked out with chickpeas or beans for a more hearty dish.
This is a strong, gamey meat with a delicious flavour, bold enough to stand up well to spicing. Again it works very well roasted or grilled tandoori-style, but it is even better cooked with the aromatic spices known to suit game such as juniper berries, allspice and cloves. This way is best done as a braised dish, with some red wine or Madeira. For a braise with a difference, using a mixture of ground mixed spice and Poudre de Colombo curry blend will give the bird a typically Caribbean flavour. Pheasant curry is made, but it is best done with mild spices – there is a nice recipe which uses lots of mild paprika, nigella seeds and garam masala to produce a gentle but very full flavoured curry.
Just to be contrary, we’re going to throw in a vegetarian food to end with. There aren’t too many Chinese vegetarians, but that hasn’t stopped them producing quite a few meat imitations. Mock duck is one of the most well-known, and it is basically gluten-based, seasoned with sugar and soy sauce, which gives it a very similar colour to cooked duck. It is used as a substitute for meat in stir fries, and is also good braised with Chinese mushrooms, and its appearance and texture are not a million miles away from the real thing.