Last year was the first year that we had some moorhens breeding on our pond. They did well, producing two broods. Perhaps they felt reassured by the presence of the chickens, French for moorhen being ‘Water Chicken’ or Poule d’eau. I think the constant supply of food in the chicken run was more of a factor and in fact the special grain feed for egg-laying birds proved so effective that two broods were raised. The garden is safe enough too, being patrolled by Cooper, our Jack Russell and the cat, Violette. Both seem to understand that both types of chickens are not food for them and leave them be.
Over the last couple of days a pair of mallards or colverts have tried to take up residence. They will not succeed as Cooper and the chicken alliance chase them away remorselessly. Watching this led me to think about ducks I have eaten…
Years ago, when I lived in Huanchaco, on the north coast of Peru near Trujillo, it was traditional to eat Arroz con Pato for Sunday lunch and there were two famous countryside restaurants called Don Pato and Don Pato 2. Unfortunately the duck was verging on inedible but the rice was fantastic. The main flavour components are black beer, lots of fresh coriander and aji amarillo, the golden-yellow flavouring chilli of Peru. It is not overhot and is one of my favourite cooking chillis. These three may seem like odd bedfellows but It really is a quite magical combination. I hardly ever make it with duck now unless I’ve got some confit du canard to hand, prefering to use a good chicken or better still, a guinea-fowl or pintade.
I remember one day I was having a drink at a friend’s house in Lima when we ran out of beer. No matter we thought, that’s what the corner shop or bodega is for. So we went out and on our way to the shop we remembered that the next day was election day and in Peru there is a ley seca or ‘dry law’ the day before so that people can make their choice in a sober state. Unfortunately that meant that the bodega would not be able to sell us any beer. Nevermind said Clive and he walked up to the shopkeeper and explained that his wife’s family was staying with him from Piura (another northern city, not far from Trujillo) and they were making Arroz con Pato. Satisfied that the dark beer was to be used for cooking, and not drinking purposes, the shop keeper happily sold us a few bottles. A good job family gatherings, when they do occur, are large gatherings and need a lot of beer for the rice.
Cooking rice used to be a real struggle for me, but now I just follow Simon Hopkinson’s advice. Use top quality basmati, never wash the rice, and use the same volume or weight of rice to one and a half of liquid. A steaming method as I have used below should give you beautiful, dry rice.
Arroz Con Pato/Pollo/Gallina de Guinea
Preheat the oven to 150° C You will need a deep pan with a well-fitting lid. I use a piece of foil between pan and lid to ensure the fit.
3 tablespoons of any cooking oil
1 chicken or pintade, cut into serving pieces. If like me you don’t value the white meat just use 4 legs and thighs. Keep the skin on.
1 finely chopped onion
4 crushed garlic cloves
2 fresh Aji Amarillo chillis, finely chopped or 2 from a jar or a tablespoon of paste. You could try soaking a couple of dried chillis in hot water too.
A good bunch, about 50g of fresh coriander, well chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
250g long-grain rice, preferably basmati
375g (yes, I weigh it) of half chicken stock, half black beer. I use Eddie Gadd’s Black Pearl Oyster Stout, if you’re in Belgium it would be worthwhile seeking out Ellezelloise Hercule Stout. The mix should be hot.
125g peas, cooked if fresh, frozen are just fine.
Fry the chicken pieces gently until well coloured and almost cooked. Remove from the pan.
Fry the onion and garlic gently in the remaining oil and fat until softened but not coloured, and then add the chillis and cumin. Cook, stirring for a few moments. Add the coriander and mix well.