Ugh, this weather is really no friend to the cyclist. Last night I cycled to my yoga class with the wind blowing sleet down my hood and into my face, torn between the desire to keep my eyes shut against the onslaught of pointy ice and the need to see where I was going. This is why people hate February.
Even I struggle with February, and for me it’s birthday month, which means a lot of eating out and celebrating and presents. That just about pulls me through and drags me into March. I can’t imagine how everyone else manages.
This is a recipe for one of those February days. It’s not just soup, it’s broth, which is infinitely more restorative. It has chunks of tender duck meat, bright green watercress, and lots of mushrooms. I added noodles too, because soup is comforting and pasta is comforting, so therefore soup and pasta is comfort squared.
The flavour is all from the cooking of the duck and the stock it creates, a lovely soft cushion for the other ingredients to nestle against – what I’m trying to say is, this is easy to eat; it will pacify rather than wake up your tastebuds. You need a couple of hours to roast the duck and let it cool, but that’s the only time-consuming bit.
Duck, mushroom and watercress broth Makes 4 huge bowlfuls
The recipe calls for duck legs, but failing those I got a pretty good deal on a Gressingham duck crown. Which, I know, is everything except the legs, but it worked. Also, technically the mushrooms should be shitake, but I used a combination of soaked dried wild mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms from the veg box.
1 duck crown or 2 large duck legs
10g wild mushrooms, soaked in hot water
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced (or the same weight shitake mushrooms)
bag of watercress, mine was 100g but you might want to use more
200g vermicelli noodles, or whatever noodles you like
few handfuls beansprouts
1 tbsp or more soy sauce
1 lime or 2 tbsp lime juice
Heat the oven to 160c. Put your duck legs or crown in a very big roasting tray, if you have one – it should be big enough to also contain the 2 litres of water you’re going to add at the next step. Being not so well equipped, I used our big Ikea stockpot. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
Take out the tray/pot and pour out any duck fat that has collected in the bottom. You can keep this for roasting potatoes and that sort of thing. Pour in the water. Put the duck back in the oven for another hour, or until it’s properly cooked through, clear juices etc. Take the duck out of the stock and set it aside until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, skim the fat from the top of the stock and strain it into a big saucepan.
Discard the skin from the duck and separate the meat into chunks. It may just pull away from the bones, but since ours was a bit more stubborn we sliced it into manageable pieces. Put the meat back into the stock and bring to the boil. Cook your noodles in a separate pan according to packet instructions.
Once the soup is boiling, throw in the mushrooms (you can put the dried mushrooms in soaking liquid and all) and add the soy sauce. Bring back to the boil and add the watercress and noodles, then turn off the heat. The watercress should be added right at the end so that it stays fresh and green looking, so if you want to save portions of soup for later hold off on adding all the watercress. You can even, as we did, just put a big handful of watercress in each soup bowl and ladle the soup over the top. The heat of the soup is enough to wilt the watercress.
Strew a big handful of beansprouts over each portion and squeeze over lime juice. Add more soy sauce to taste at the table.
Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’.