My Obsession Continues

by Marina Chotzinoff

I can’t think of any food pairing that has had more stiction for me than smoked tea and orange peel. And I have now also learned the real meaning of the word “stiction” which I think still fits, but any linguists out there should feel free to set me straight. From savory, decadent duck to complex, creamy, sweet ice cream to my latest daydream that pulls all that together, this combination has never let me down. And that is why every time an idea illuminates in the outer reaches of my mind, I reel it in and toss it around until it makes sense and I make it happen. And so it was with today’s Spiced Orange Bars with Black Bean Duck (I do intend to work through the recipe name as I write and really hope to come up with something better by the end….).

This latest journey began with a Food & Wine recipe for Earl Grey Lemon Bars. As I had just made our Thanksgiving turkey by modifying a tea and lemon brine into a smoked tea, orange and spice brine, this substitution was almost automatic. Yes, I would make smoked tea orange bars instead. But, not really being a fan of the standard lemon bar, or ever eating more than a serving or two of sweet baked goods cooked at home, I started to tweak that idea bit by bit. The best pairing for the tea, by far, is fatty pork. Cooked slowly. Laquered. Served with sweet potatoes and shiitake mayo and something green to cut through all the rich love. But the best pairing for orange is usually a braised lamb shank or maybe some duck. So two things became apparent to me. One, I needed to up the orange oomph flavor while decreasing the super sweet and two, find a slow-cooked, glazed meat or possibly a slightly funky “charcoot” to top it.

On Sunday, my daughter was going to my mom’s so I had a few hours to pull our lives together for the coming week and maybe also sneak in what I hoped would be the Smoked Tea Shortbread with Gingered Orange Jam base for this appetizer idea. The original recipe is pretty straight forward with flour, butter, tea, powdered sugar (weird) and salt. The tea substitute was easy and I swapped brown sugar for powdered. I then decided to toast some coriander seed, szechuan and black peppercorns and cloves. I ground those up, mixed them with the rest, pressed it all into a baking dish and put it in the oven.

Next came the Orange Ginger Custard. It also had a lot of sugar which I halved. I replaced the lemon juice with about quadruple fresh orange juice that I reduced with a few chunks of ginger and steeped with more smoked tea. It was whisked with eggs, orange and lemon zest and a pinch more salt and poured onto the hot crust and baked until golden. The smells in the kitchen were pretty fantastic by now and I was eager to taste it. To my delight they were delicious. Almost too good on their own to proceed pondering the topping. I aimed to punch up the tangy orange next time and considered maybe mixing in a little cherry or pomegranate juice to boost the color of the orange, but otherwise found them to be just what I imagined. And then, suddenly, it was time to pick up my daughter and I got into the car still pondering toppings.

Now I have yet to accomplish one of my cooking bucket list items of breaking down a whole pig and turning all its bits into various edible delectables. I also have a day job, a custom furniture business I am helping my husband grow and a preschooler. So despite the fact that I had ample time Sunday to piece together what I imagined as the flavorful base, I had little to zero time to, say, marinate and smoke a duck breast or even slow-cook some pork love. As I considered this, I decided that there must be plenty of items out in the world that would be ready to go or require very little doing to accomplish what I want. And with that I turned into the parking lot of Tony’s.

Tony’s. The place that used to only be miles and miles away. The only place that would do when my dad was looking for certain specialty items. The place that I want to love more, but is usually so pricey I wander around its bigger-city-than-Denver low-ceiling-inside-with-no-windows atmosphere and then leave empty handed. But when you need to eat what you want, sometimes you have to just suck it up. So I wandered all the various areas that might have the right meat. And I ended up in the section one butcher called “the charcoot.” A very helpful woman who clearly loves her charcoot informed me that she can order smoked duck breast, but only had confit at the moment. I considered this. I have never actually purchased ready made confit. It is certainly not something the average whos-i-whatsit has on hand or could even get in hand. But it was a beautiful shortcut and there was no real way it could fail. So I left with two small, but meaty confit duck legs.

Mid-day Monday I took the duck out to warm up a bit. Then, after work, I quickly prepped my mis-en-place: shallot, garlic, fermented black bean, smoked tea. I removed the duck skin and rendered it slowly until it released some beautiful fat. I cooked the shallot, garlic, black bean and some grated ginger in the fat until it was super fragrant, then hit it with the tea, some soy, maple syrup and the juice and zest from half an orange. I let it simmer a bit while I removed the meat from the bones and then added those to the mix. There is a particular moment when the sauce will come to a sticky glaze and you have to stop right then before anything burns and gets bitter. I tasted it. At least one of my eyes rolled back in my head. I assembled a complete appetizer, topped with a leaf of cilantro and tried it. It was exactly what my inner brain had said it would be. I would not be surprised if other people did not feel this way. I may, in fact, be brainwashed by the lapsang souchong by now. But to me, this was unexpected, crunchy, tangy, creamy, punchy, salty and wonderful. And if you remove all the time the recipe spent swirling around my head, (and the confit shortcut) it was really rather quick to come together. (And here is my photo I tried to take in the waning daylight which Ryan rightfully pointed out had a ‘messed up crumb.’ Oh well. It was tasty crumb and he had earlier expressed what I felt by coining of the titles below).

And here is the recipe for …..

Spiced Smoked Tea Shortbread with Gingered Orange and Black Bean Confit Duck
or
30 Flavor Duck

Orange Bars
1 1/4 c. AP flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 t. lapsang souchong tea leaves
1/2 t salt
4 peppercorns
1/4 t szechuan peppercorns
1/4 t whole coriander
2 cloves
8 oz. butter

1 cup fresh orange juice (zest first)
2 t grated ginger
2 t orange zest
1 t lemon zest
1/2 c sugar
1 t. lapsang souchong (or 1 teabag)
3 eggs
1/2 t baking powder
2 T flour
1/4 t salt

Duck
1/2 c water
1 teabag
2 T shallot
1 T garlic
1 T black beans
2 t ginger
1 T soy
1 t maple syrup
half orange zest and juice
5 oz confit duck
cilantro

Heat oven to 350˚. Line an 8″ baking dish with foil and grease with butter or cooking spray. Mix flour, sugar, tea and salt in a bowl. Toast spices briefly in a pan until fragrant then grind to a powder. Stir into flour. Cut butter into flour and mix until it resembles a medium crumb. Press into baking dish and bake about 18 minutes or until brown.

Meanwhile, heat orange juice and ginger in a small pot and reduce to 1/4 c. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and zest, then stir in eggs. Strain juice into egg mixture and mix until smooth. Pour over hot crust and return to oven until set and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Gently peel off foil and cut into small squares.

Boil water and steep teabag for about 5 minutes. If using confit duck legs, remove skins and render with any fat you can scrape off in a pan. You can save the crispy skin for garnish (or snacking). Cook shallots, ginger, garlic and black beans in fat for a few minutes until beginning to brown and very fragrant. Add tea, soy, syrup, juice and zest and simmer a bit while you pull meat off the bone into 1″ or so chunks. Add meat to sauce and cook, stirring until sauce has just turned into a glaze. Remove from heat.

Place a small piece of duck on an orange square and garnish with cilantro. These are best served right away while they are still warm or room temperature and still a bit crispy, but can also be gently warmed the next day.

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