Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics

It has been a while since I completed a recipe, much longer than I like, but it’s not for lack of effort. I’ve actually tried to tackle two other recipes this past month. One failed each time I tried and I ultimately decided I needed better tools and will try again next year. The other had a super elusive ingredient that I simply couldn’t find.

Before moving on to this recipe, I must confess that I’m simply not happy with the quality of pictures that I got for the final product of this one. This has never been a photography blog but it certainly does suck when I’m struggling to grab a decent, non-blurry picture of what I made. The photo above is perhaps the best pic I took out of 20. In addition, I did not get a lot of photos of the intermediate steps because I forgot most of the time.

On the fork is piece of marinated duck paired with banana pudding, cayenne glazed peanuts, curry-salted fried pumpkin deed, red chili, and candied lime zest. (The recipe also includes micro cilantro and micro lemongrass, but I forgot about the former and couldn’t find the latter.) In the bowl is a butternut squash soup topped with banana foam.

I started out a couple weeks ago by making the cayenne glazed peanuts. All this involves is mixing cayenne pepper, salt, sugar, a little water, and peanuts together and then baking the peanuts until the glaze melts. On the duck itself, the peanuts are crushed. I doubled the recipe so that I could snack on the extra peanuts. Here they are pre-baked:

A couple days before finishing this recipes, I baked a few bananas to use in the banana pudding and banana froth…

For the froth, the innards were mixed with dried banana chips, water, sugar, salt, and citric acid and set to steep for two days. Just before serving, I strained, heated this mixture up and added some soy lecithin so that it would foam up. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier that you can find at most health food stores. I highly recommend getting the powdered kind for recipes in this book. Granules do not dissolve as easily.

For the pudding, the innards were mixed with half-and-half, agar agar, salt and sugar….Wait, what the hell is agar agar? It’s a gelling agent made from seaweed that is commonly used in Asian candies and desserts. It can be found in Asian grocery stores, but if you’re using it for a recipe in this book, I caution you to make sure that your agar agar isn’t also mixed with sugar as many of the Asian grocery store varieties are. Pure agar agar can be found easily online or at spice shops.

Many of the puddings in the Alinea cookbook are made by mixing Something-Something with agar agar, letting it set, and then pureeing the solidified mass into a pudding, which is what I did with this banana pudding.

The recipe calls for duck tenderloin, which I couldn’t find despite inquiring with several online sources and several local butchers. I did find duck breast though and decided to use that instead. The duck is marinated in a brine of jalapeno, lemongrass, ginger, soy sauce, cinnamon (Note: not ground cinnamon as the book states. This was an error that hasn’t been fixed in the most current editions yet.), pineapple juice, brown sugar, salt and water. Just before serving, I grilled the breasts and cut them up into bite size pieces.

The soup is made with butternut squash. First I cut the squash in half and took out the seeds. Then I filled the hollows with butter and baked the squash. (My squash had a couple brown bits that were created by moisture which I cut out.) Once the flesh was soft but not yet colored, I scoped into a pot with heavy cream, water, sugar, and salt. I heated the soup, pureed it, and strained it through my chinois.

The duck has many garnishes. A couple days ahead of time, I had fried some pumpkin seeds and mixed them with curry powder and salt. I would recommend doing this step the day you’re planning to eat because my seeds lost their crispiness by the time I ended up using them. Another garnish is the candied lime zest. This involves zesting a lime, heating it up briefly, shocking it in cold water, and reserving it in simple syrup. I also crushed up those cayenne peanuts for a garnish. Ginger slices and red thai chili completed the picture for me.

Ultimately, the final product turned out very well. The two other people that got to try it both commented on how well the duck paired with the soup. For myself, I wish that the individual components, especially the banana, stood out some more. But I can’t truly complain about the taste on that front because everything did blend well together.

And just for fun, check out how messy my kitchen gets in the middle of everything.

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