I probably shocked my friend Florence once by telling her I hate to handle raw meat, especially chicken. It's not difficult to chop up a chicken but I would prefer not to do it because my cleaver cannot cut cleanly through the bone. Fortunately my regular vollailer, or poultry stall at the market, understand what I want. The owner and his son, as well as some of their more experienced workers, can strip a chicken from its bony skeleton, although this is a pretty unusual request because most French people nowadays don't know what to do with the carcass. They will obligingly cut up a whole chicken, or even chicken or duck thighs, into small pieces that is typically called for in Asian dishes. My mother would probably not approve but I really appreciate the convenience, it cuts down a lot of prep and washing-up time.
So, three juicy duck legs all cut up ready for the pot; what does one do with them? A stew, perfect for the cold weather. In any case, I always make some sort of a stew or braise once a week; it gives the impression that I am dedicated housewife and fills the apartment with tantalising smells.
I thought of the block of assam, or tamarind paste, languishing away on the bottom of my fridge; it would give a mellow sourness which is great for such a fatty meat. Rounded off with sweetness from dark sugar, kicap manis (sweet Indonesian soya sauce) and carrots. I used a cube of the dark ginger sugar that Andrew gave me last year- the mahjong tile-sized cube has fresh ginger preserved in between sticky black pressed sugar, the ginger added a welcome warmth. When my stash is used up I will probably substitute with fresh ginger and unprocessed soft brown sugar or even palm sugar.
The result was gratifying, neither an adobo nor an itek sio, but something in between, with lots of velvety soupy sauce that husband gleefully poured over his steamed rice. The child liked it too, the ginger spiciness not too overwhelming for her, in any case she was distracted by the tender duck meat and carrots cooked to an almost candylike state.
3 duck legs, cut into small pieces, bone in. Peel off/remove as much fat and skin as possible.
2 carrots, peeled, cut into chunks
4 tbsp assam paste, made into slurry with 6 tbsp hot water, strained to discard seeds.
2 tbsp kicap manis
2 tbsp dark soya sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 cube ginger sugar (or 1 tbsp soft brown sugar and a thumb-sized piece of ginger smashed up)
Black pepper (optional)
1. Put duck pieces into a pot. Add cold water to cover the duck. Bring to boil and discard the water, along with the scum that would have risen to the top.
2. Return duck to pot. This time, with just enough water to cover 70% of the duck.
3. Add all the flavouring ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a slow simmer. Let it cook, covered but allowing a little steam to escape, for 30 minutes.
4. Carrots go in and the stew cooks a further 45 minutes. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Remove surface oil if there is a lot of it. If is not sour enough, or is too sweet, finish with some lime juice or a few dashes of good vinegar.