birds mexican-ish recipes

Duck carnitas on NYE

I’m compelled to blog tonight’s dinner, not only because it was quite tasty, but primarily because if I do so I will have blogged at least one meal a year for 10 years and I hate breaking that kind of streak.  So let me tell you about how, after spending the afternoon in 35°C heat thinking that a salad for dinner would be perfect, I ended up eating at 11 pm after pot-roasting duck legs in half a kilo of lard for three hours.

A couple of years ago, when we were in Dublin, we had a fantastic dinner at Carolin and Dave’s place, of soft tacos with duck, black beans, feta and pomegranate seeds.  It was the kind of meal that sticks in your memory and I’ve always wanted to recreate it.  They made duck carnitas by cooking confit duck legs on the stovetop until they were falling apart, and although this involved slightly more cooking than the salad I’d initially been thinking about, I figured I could deal with it with the help of an electric fan and two or three cold margaritas.

That of course required me to be able to find duck confit in Toowong or New Farm at 4.30 pm on new year’s eve.  Not a chance.  Even Rayner’s butcher, with their cabinet full of a dozen different cuts of duck, couldn’t provide. In that insane state that I sometimes get into when food is concerned and the shops are on the verge of closing, I decided that I would just buy fresh duck legs and semi-confit the bastards myself before making the tacos.  Naturally!  After all, it was only 30°C by then.

Despite this somewhat snarly lead-up, it actually worked out pretty well.  Pot-roasting doesn’t require you to be in the same room as the oven, which is a big plus, and the long cooking time meant that we could sit on the couch drinking the aforementioned margaritas and chatting for a good chunk of time.   I modified a recipe for duck carnitas and roasted peach salsita from the book Mod Mex by Scott Linquist and Joanna Pruess, which I found on Google Books (bless them).

The carnitas were great – the flavours of the roasting liquid really permeated the meat, and it was very tender.  I changed a couple of things in the recipe: I only used a tablespoon of condensed milk rather than the cup called for, which struck me as a weird addition; I used half duck fat and half lard because I am moderately skint at the moment; I also cooked the meat for a bit over two hours and reckon it would be even better cooked for three, rather than the one and a half they say).  If I’d had the time and energy I would have cooked the mole they suggest to go with it, but since I had neither I just made the peach salsita, though using yellow-fleshed nectarines because I couldn’t find any ripe peaches.  When I make this again (and it will be when, not if, because it was great) I won’t add the orange juice and honey they call for at the end – it tasted superb before they were added, and was much too sweet (and too soupy) after they went in.

So, for future reference and tweaking, here’s the version I would start with next time:

Duck carnitas
Preheat the oven to 150°C . Take 4 duck legs, salt them liberally, and place in a bowl for 1 hour to remove excess moisture.  Pat them dry (and brush off any obvious salt clumps) and place them in a lidded ovenproof dish. Add 500 g of duck fat and/or lard, 12 black peppercorns, 6 bay leaves, 6 peeled cloves of garlic, 6 allspice berries, 2-3 arbol chillies, 1 stick of cinnamon, 1 cup fresh orange juice, 1 cup of light Mexican beer, and 1-2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk.  Heat on the stove until the fat has melted, then cover with the lid and place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the flesh is very tender and almost falling off the bones.  Remove the duck legs, let them cool, then pull off the skin and throw it away, pull out the bones and put them in the stock bag of fowl bits in the freezer, and shred the meat.

They say to then cook the duck in a skillet with some oil for 2-3 minutes until it’s browning and crisping.  All I managed to do during this stage was make the duck stick horribly to the frypan – I really wish I had the faintest idea how to deal with meat – so I’m not sure I would do this part again.  The duck looked and tasted pretty damn good even before this step.

Peach salsita
Fry a finely chopped small onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes over low-medium heat, until translucent.  Add two finely chopped garlic cloves and half a finely chopped serrano chili (or to taste), and saute for 1 minute more.  Add 3 ripe peaches (or 6 ripe nectarines), pitted and chopped into medium dice.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes or so, until the fruit is soft but still holding its shape.  Remove from heat and let cool. Taste the salsa, and if it needs sweetening add a squeeze of orange juice and/or honey (it may well not need either if the fruit started off sweet).  Add a pinch of salt to taste. Fold in a good handfulof chopped coriander leaves.

Use small tortillas to make soft tacos with the carnitas and salsita, together with whatever other ingredients take your fancy.  I think you need something a little moist and sticky to hold it all together – we used guacamole but sour cream or mole sauce would also work.

Ta-da, made it by midnight!  Happy new year chaps!