Mmmh after last week’s Tom Kha I found myself on a roll. With exactly the right weather raging on outside to justify a soup/stew/curry kind of cooking rush and exactly the right temperatures battering the windows to add a bunch of chillies to the mix, I decided to tackle the almost impossible task of kinda-sorta reverse-engineering another dish I’ll sorely miss now that our favorite Thai Restaurant has closed up shop.
As always when tinkering around with ideas and memories rather than a real recipe, I didn’t really try to match the dish as such – I aimed to do the original justice with my version of it instead of breaking my neck trying to copy someone else’s perfectly delicious recipe. In this case, the original used to be a grilled and flambéd pile of crispy duck and juicy lychees, drizzled with their signature red curry, reduced down into a thick and creamy sauce perfectly balancing the sweetness of the fruit and the full-bodied oomph of the duck. Without the right equipment, knowledge and skill – mainly in the “How not to burn the house down when trying to flambé a duck in a tiny little cupboard of a kitchen” department – I decided to turn the whole thing into a heart and soul warming bowl of curry instead. Here’s what you need for 4 servings of my personal take on that particular dish~
The Red Duck & Lotus Root Curry with Green Asparagus and Lychees
600-700g Duck Breasts, deboned but skins on
400g Ready-to-use Sliced Lotus Roots, thoroughly rinsed and patted dry – if you’re using frozen ones, allow them to thaw slowly in a sieve-bowl combo comfortably sitting in the fridge for the occasion. This will take a few hours but it’ll keep the roots from turning mushy in the process.
250g Green Asparagus, woodsy bits trimmed off
Alt: 250g Long-Stemmed Broccoli
200g Lychees, peeled, pitted and quartered – feel free to use tinned ones for this to save a huge amount of time, nerves and fingernails~ Just make sure they’re preserved in their own juice or a sugar-free syrup to keep the curry away from the dessert’y side of things.
500ml Low Fat Coconut Milk
200ml Duck Stock
5 Tbsp of your favorite Red Thai Curry Paste
2 Tbsp Dark, Runny Honey
2 Tbsp Light Soy Sauce
2 Tsp Tamarind Paste
2cm Piece of Fresh Ginger, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
2 Kaffir Limes Leaves
2 Stalks of Lemongrass, white parts finely ground – as usual, this works best if you freeze the stalks before going to town with a very fine grate
2 Limes, Juice and Zest – fry the halves with the lotus roots to caramelize them
1 very generous Pinch each of Sea Salt and Ground Szechuan Pepper
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
1 Tsp Dark Muscovado
1 Tsp Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Sesame Seeds, lightly toasted
1 Large Clove of Garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
To dot the I:
1 Small Bunch of Coriander, Leaves only
2 Limes, quartered
4 Spring Onions, thinly sliced
1) Start by prepping the duck for it’s date with the pan: take it out of the fridge and it’s packaging about 30 mins ahead of schedule.
2) Pat it dry with paper towels and smooth it out on a sheet of clingfilm. Have a closer look and remove any excess pieces of fat/skin and grisly bits still attached to it.
3) Pick up a very sharp knife and score the skin of the duck breast in front of you with crisscrossing lines, creating a diamond pattern in the process. Make sure the blade goes all the way down to but not into the meat itself.
4) Dust the surface of the skin with a very generous pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground Szechuan Pepper and gently rub the seasoning into the cuts.
5) Place the duck breasts, skin-side down, in a heavy-based cold pan.
6) Turn the heat to high and allow the skin and the pan get up to speed at the same time.
7) Once the duck fat starts pooling around the meat, turn the heat down to low heat and allow the skin to crisp up by rendering off the fat completely. Depending on the temperature, thickness and breed of your particular duck, this will take about 6-8 mins total.
8) As soon as the skin’s nicely crispy and golden, turn the heat to medium-high, flip the duck onto its meaty side and allow it to sizzle away for 3-4 mins.
9) Carefully tilt the pan to one side and spoon out the excess fat (into a sterilized jar if you’d like to use it for other frying purposes) – keep about 1 tbsp of it in the pan to finish off the duck, though.
10) Keep the pan at a tilt and the rendered fat in one corner, add the honey, soy sauce and tamarind paste, give the lot a good stir to combine, and proceed to glazing over the duck, skin and all, from all sides.
11) Allow the liquid running off the duck to reduce down into a thick syrup, then turn over the duck once more to add another delicious layer of the glaze.
12) Transfer the duck to a warmed plate and tuck it in beneath a sheet of aluminum foil while you finish off the curry.
13) Keep the duck-pan on, turn the heat down to medium and add the coconut oil.
14) Pop the lotus roots into the remaining liquids and, while flipping them over from time to time, cook them until they’re tender – 4-5 mins should do the trick.
15) Sprinkle them with the sesame seeds and transfer the roots to a plate for the time being.
16) Add the curry paste to the recently vacated pan and have it followed by the ginger, lime leaves, lime zest and garlic.
17) While stirring, fry the lot for 1-2 mins until the paste turns an even deeper red and the aromas wafting up to you are intensifying noticeably.
18) Deglaze the pan with the duck stock and the coconut milk, making sure to stir up and incorporate any and all delicious bits still sticking to the bottom of the pan.
19) Stir in the fish sauce and sprinkle in the brown sugarfore leaving the proto-curry to it’s own devices for a few minutes.
20) Once the curry’s lazily simmering away, add the remaining ingredients – sans the lime juice and the dots on the I – and allow the vegetables of your choice to tenderize.
21) As soon as your veggies have reached your favorite bite, stir in the lime juice and take the pan off the heat.
22) Have a taste-test and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with fish sauce, lime juice, chillies or brown sugar.
23) When you’re satisfied, divvy up the lotus roots and curry into 4 large warmed bowls.
24) Retrieve your duck and slice it into thin slivers.
25) Top off your bowls with the duck slices, any of the liquids that might have gathered on its resting plate.
26) Sprinkle everything with the coriander leaves and spring onion ringlets before tucking two lime wedges into each pile of yum.