Back in the mid-Nineties, when the World Wide Web was not so wide or worldly, my old friend Chris and I had a phrase we would use as a shorthand any time we happened upon a website set up by a private user. You may recall in those heady, innocent days that there were no dedicated blogging sites such as the one you are reading this on — certainly nothing like this, for sure. If you wanted to post something online, a smattering of HTML knowledge and a startup disc could provide you with the means to create your very own website, replete with personal information and photos of your loved ones. Plus ça change, eh? These sites distinguished themselves from corporate, business websites by being crudely laid out, with the barest mininum of graphics or design; just text in a generic font with occasional hyperlinks and, of course, the odd photo or two. These websites would lay out their stall in much the same way every time:
“Hi! I’m Brad Fleischmeier,” the opening page would announce, with a picture of Brad smiling steadily in his regular guy’s shirt and glasses,“and here’s my wife Karen and our kids Greg and Kimmy!!” it would continue, with appropriate images of Brad’s nice, smiling wife and regular, happy kids.
“I work as a realtor and at weekends I like to take the kids and go see Demolition Derby!!” Brad ventured further.
“CLICK HERE to see us at Demolition Derby!!”
“CLICK HERE to see our dog, Snappy!!”
Oh, come on, you know where this is going.
The phrase Chris and I used was, inevitably, “Click Here To See My Wife Naked!”, indeed. It was almost as if the entire Reader’s Wives-buying generation had gone online simultaneously. I’m not even sure if people had Guestbooks on their sites in those days, but I suspect they would largely consist of variations on the theme of “YOUR WIFE IS FRIKIN HOT”, “i wud hammer this chick” and the rest.
One time, we found the website of Chris’ tutor at College. He was a photographer, so we expected a little bit of art-house laissez-faire on the visuals side of things, sure, but we didn’t expect to see, among the tasteful nudes, some pictures of his tutor’s hairy, naked arse looming over a rather pleased young lady. It really conflicted with the bespectacled, bland — and crucially, fully clothed — demeanour his tutor reserved for Film Studies seminars. It really seemed like everyone who had Internet access was at it. Which of course we now know is not true at all.
Right, that said — it’s time to appall you with a facet of the minutiae of day-to-day living as we maintain it in the Murphy household.
The first week of January largely consisted of working through leftover party foods from the Festive Season: we had filled a large hamper full of crisps, peanuts and other nibbles, not to mention the festive booze staples. We’ve still got a jar of cornichons, those tiny gherkins that go so nicely on crackers with a bit of cheese; some pickled walnuts I bought in Canterbury last summer for the winter months and oh, look — there’s still a bit of Port in that bottle. The Pringles have all gone tho’. The end cannot be far.
After a week of culinary desuetude and a dearth of imagination, my kitchen saw an innovation: last Sunday saw me cook my first whole roast duck. Sure, I’d cooked various bits of duck before, but this was the whole beastie, complete with giblets. I was rather pleased with it, having both a crisp and even skin and moist, lean meat (not me — the duck, silly). I’ll tell you how I did it — please bear in mind I won’t say anything that can’t be found in most cookbooks on the subject of duck, but since you’re here and all that, I’ll talk you through it.
But first, a drink.
My duck was a frozen one, with giblets inside, so I defrosted it in a large tray in the fridge. The instructions suggested I cook it from chilled, although as you’ll see it was not entirely cold when it went in the oven...
• Preheat the oven to about 150-180°C. This sounds a little lower than usual, but I tend to cook meats on low heat for a longer time — in this case about 2½ - 3 hours instead of 1½ - 2 hours. I find cooking it this way ensures well-cooked, but juicy meat — but obviously you have to think ahead and have the oven on not long after breakfast! It’s fine by me; Sunday mornings at home are mainly devoted to pottering about anyway.
• Take your duck and make sure you prick its skin all over. Then place it in the sink and pour boiling water over the entire thing, letting it drain away. This apparent necro-sadism serves a twofold purpose: first, it tightens the skin up, which lifts the limbs and generally pulls the duck into a more presentable shape for even roasting. Furthermore, it melts the subcutaneous fat nearest the surface, loosening and lifting the skin from the carcass and rendering it more susceptible to crisping up a treat. How forensic of me.
• I then rubbed salt and white pepper lightly and evenly into the skin. My favourite salt is Maldon salt. Seriously, it matters. It’s the greatest salt in the world, not least because it has such a natural, non-chemical flavour that you can almost eat it by itself. You’ll find you don’t need a lot when rubbing it into the skin of roasting joints — the distinctive, pyramidal texture of the salt crystal flakes cover the meat with more delicacy and subtlety than your average table salt. I swear I’m not being paid to advertise for these guys!
• I peeled three tangerines, separated the segments out somewhat and pierced their skins a little. These I placed loosely and evenly inside the duck’s ribcage. No stuffing: I confess I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I’m not a fan of stuffing cooked inside birds, unless they’ve been fully boned. That said, it’s a good idea to place something moist inside the cavity (hrrmph!) as it prevents the bird from drying out on the inside. Good advice under any circumstances, I’m sure. An onion or lemon works best for chicken, and oranges or tangerines work with duck.
• Suitably seasoned and stuffed, place the duck in a roasting tin and then in the oven. You’re going to turn it over halfway through the cooking time, which for me is unusual; I tend with most roasts to place the thing in the oven and not touch it until it is done. I leave it up to you which way up you wish to start. Me, I placed it breast side down to begin with, so the wings would be crispy and the bird would turn out ‘right way up’ at the end, but if you want to ensure a moister (but fattier!) breast, do it the other way. Just make sure you do turn it over halfway whatever you choose! You can baste it a little occasionally if you wish, although since you turn it over, both sides should have get ample coverage, so there may not be any need.
• Cook, as mentioned earlier, for 2½ - 3 hours on around 150-180°C. You may want to turn it up for the last twenty minutes to ensure thoroughly crispy skin. Et voila! One moist, yet crunchy, quacker.
Meanwhile, the matter of vegetables and gravy:
• Roast potatoes: I use smallish potatoes, cleaned and with skins left on, then cut in half. Place them loosely in an airtight container such as a lunchbox or anything similar, ensuring they have room to move. Add a sprinkling of salt, ground black pepper and oregano and close the lid securely. Next, live out all your Tom-Cruise-in-Cocktail fantasies by agitating the container up and down, round and about or indeed hither and yon, if need be. Once the potatoes are evenly coated in the seasoning, open the lid carefully and slip in a large tablespoon of olive oil. Relive that special Tom Cruise moment one more time and ensure the taters are evenly coated in the oil. Take them out, shake off any excess oil and place them in a dry, preheated baking tin and in the oven. Roast for 45mins up to an hour while the duck is cooking, and turn them over halfway through.
• Steamed sprouts. Never boil a vegetable if you can steam it. Save the any remaining liquid, too — it will become the basis of your gravy.
• Yorkshire puddings. Er, I bought ones from the supermarket. Four mins in the oven. I could’ve made some myself, but I can live with that.
• Gravy: I removed the now-sorry, sagging tangerine segments from inside the duck, but cruelly, their work was not yet done: they formed the star ingredient of an orangey gravy made additionally with a basic gravy powder mix simmered together with some juice from the cooked vegetables and a modicum of the juice I obtained from the giblets. Which brings me onto…
• The giblets: they didn’t form a specific part of this meal, but the neck and gizzard were slow-cooked on a lowish heat in a half-filled saucepan of water after lightly frying them in a little butter. They were left to simmer for about two hours and the juice from the pan reserved for gravy. The cooked giblets were left to cool and then, using a pointy knife and my blunt fingers, the meat was separated easily from the bones, shredded and set aside in a bowl with a dash of dark soy sauce. The giblets yielded sufficient meat for a meal in itself, to which end I added some steamed rice and edamame some time later. It’s a smart idea if you’re not squeamish about the less attractive parts of the animal, and besides, the meat is shredded sufficiently as to no longer resemble anything off-putting!
And there you have it — all duck, no waste. Fantastic. Next, a drink.
Ah, you thought I was going to show you a picture of my wife in the nip.
Tsk, shame on you — that would be so 1996. But now I come to think about it, where did I leave my naked hairy arse shots?