We have taken to eating duck eggs for breakfast these last few weeks. I find the pale blue shells very pretty and the yolks thicker than the ones you find in chicken eggs. Of course, they are also larger in size and richer in flavour. Desi duck eggs, by contrast, have a slightly fishy smell.

The world’s duck temple is La Tour d’Argent in Paris, the 17th century restaurant that has been cooking the birds with great flair and skill for generations. Each portion is numbered, and when the millionth duck was served a few years ago, there was much fanfare in the gastronomic world.

Although I haven’t been cooking much of late, I watched a Rick Stein cookery programme on TV the other day that inspired me to get into the kitchen. The recipe was for Vietnamese duck in orange sauce, and it seemed simple enough. I have cooked many duck breasts in orange sauce in the French style and it has always worked out well. But the Vietnamese version seemed to have greater subtlety. Stein is my favourite TV chef. He has gathered many great recipes on his culinary travels.

The Vietnamese version of duck in orange sauce has greater subtlety, is easy to make and is delicious

The thing with cooking duck breasts is that one side has a thick layer of fat that needs to be rendered and removed by heating it for several minutes. Once you have reduced it substantially, remove the breasts and season. Pour most of the fat into a bowl. It’s good to fry eggs with, or you can drizzle some of it over a few quartered and boiled potatoes before sliding them into a hot oven. The crust that forms is delicious.

You will need juice from about a dozen oranges (around two cups) for two duck breasts, thinly sliced ginger, 1.5 cups of fish sauce, three star anise, a few stalks of lemongrass (crushed), three hot chillies, some cornflour and some brown palm sugar. Brown the duck breasts on both sides and remove from the pan. Fry the ginger, lemongrass and chillies in the pan, and then pour in the orange juice and fish sauce and simmer for around 20 minutes. Add the star anise and palm sugar. Now place the duck breasts in the pan for 10 minutes. Thicken sauce by adding a couple of teaspoons of cornflour after removing the duck breasts.

Slice the duck into pieces, place on a large platter, pour the thickened sauce on top and serve with plain rice. Although I had to substitute nectarines for oranges, the recipe worked out well. Oh yes, another problem with cooking duck in Pakistan is that you can’t get the right kind. Our desi birds are too tough and scrawny to get the kind of pink interior you need. The best you can do is a slow-cooked curry that is still a bit too chewy. But the flavour is gamy. However, as these birds forage in all kinds of stuff, the meat smells a bit fishy, as do the eggs.

The only solution is to order duck from Agha’s in Karachi which imports them from Dubai. They aren’t cheap, but will let you indulge your craving. Buying chinese birds that are used to make Beijing duck is another possibility, although I haven’t tried that route yet. Served with plum sauce on small rice flour pancakes, this is a dish that has drawn thousands to specialist restaurants around the world.

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 23rd, 2020

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