Duck à la ficelle

Duck à la ficelle

By
From
Finding Fire
Serves
4

'À la ficelle' (quite literally hanging ‘by the string’) is a traditional French method used for cooking legs of lamb, beef and poultry such as duck. The benefits are space-saving as the bird is suspended near the fire to cook slowly, leaving the embers free for cooking other dishes. It is also self-revolving, requiring only the occasional turn as it spins slowly by the fire. The dry heat of the fire gently renders the fat of the duck, leaving the skin to turn golden and crispy. In this recipe, the reduction of the kombu stock provides a salty umami kick to the sweet and sour glaze.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 x 2kg duck, head on (see notes)

For the marinade

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 star anise
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon sea salt

For the blanching liquid

Quantity Ingredient
1 litre filtered water
110g dried kombu
1 star anise
1 teaspoon fennel seed
peel and juice of 1 orange

For the glaze

Quantity Ingredient
100g maltose
100ml pedro ximénez vinegar or sherry vinegar

Method

  1. 1. Prepare the duck, trimming the tips from the wings and removing any feathers and excess fat. Sliding your fingers under the skin, carefully separate the skin from the flesh. String your duck by the neck using butcher’s twine.
  2. 2. Prepare the marinade. Lightly toast the fennel seeds and star anise in a medium saucepan and heat gently for 2–3 minutes until fragrant. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the spices to a fine powder.
  3. 3. Rub the duck cavity with the spices, orange zest and salt. Place the hay in the cavity and close the opening with a skewer.
  4. 4. Prepare the blanching liquid. Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Hold the duck by the neck above the pan and ladle the boiling liquid over the duck 5 times. This will open up the pores of the skin, allowing it to firm up and dry. Transfer the duck to a cooling rack and cool completely.
  5. 5. Prepare the glaze. Boil the blanching liquid until it has reduced to 50 ml (1¾ floz), then add the maltose and the vinegar. Boil, reducing to a thick glaze. Brush a layer of the glaze onto the duck’s skin and allow to dry – the glaze will form a tacky layer. Repeat the glazing process to build up a bronzed layer. Leave to dry, uncovered, overnight on a rack in the refrigerator.
  6. 6. Prepare an offset fire (see note).
  7. 7. Suspend the duck so that it is hanging by the neck 20 cm (8 in) in front of the fire and approximately 15 cm (6 in) above the ground, placing a pan below the duck to catch the fat as it renders.
  8. 8. Twist the string and release, allowing the duck to rotate evenly. Tend the fire as the duck cooks, moving the burning embers closer or further away as necessary.
  9. 9. Continue to spin the duck slowly for 2–3 hours, after which time the duck should be a rich mahogany colour and cooked through.
  10. 10. Once cooked, unhook the duck and rest for 10 minutes before serving.

NOTES

  • The duck needs time to dry after being glazed, so begin this recipe a day ahead of time.

    Ask your butcher for a duck with its head on, to make it easier to hang by the neck.

PREPARING AN OFFSET FIRE

  • Indirect methods work via conduction, radiation or convection. These can occur through physical mediums such as a cast-iron pan or a griddle placed on top of the fire. Salt baking and clay baking also fall into this category.

    Food can also be placed adjacent to the heat source; I refer to this as indirect offset cooking. This form of cooking over fire is useful for long slow rendering of fats, as it avoids excessive fat dripping directly onto the coals and creating a flare up.

    Sometimes you may choose to combine both methods, cooking by direct means followed by indirect means or vice-versa. Equally, you may require both methods for cooking more than one ingredient at the same time. This can be achieved by establishing two zones. One zone is for burning wood, which can be used for indirect cooking. This also creates embers, which can then be moved to a second zone for direct or indirect cooking.

    For your first time, gather some simple ingredients, light the fire, let it develop and wait for the flames to die down to burning embers. Hold the back of your hand 30 cm (12 in) above the heat source. How long can you hold your hand over the embers? You’ll feel hotter spots and cooler areas within the embers. The intensity should give you an indication of when the embers are ready for cooking.
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