Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cypriot Fusion Soup, or Duck-anas

My Best Beloved decided on roast duck for dinner last night – Saturday, and at about five in the evening, called me over to the table where he was looking through Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course.

“What does this mean?” he asked, pointing to the paragraph in the recipe that called for changing roasting pans after an hour's cooking, degreasing the original roaster, and then deglazing it with chicken stock.
“What it says,” was my unsympathetic reply.
“I'm not very good with birds...”
“Shall I do it?” I asked.

We have had previous encounters with ducks. My Mother-in-Law raises them, and from time to time a plucked, eviscerated corpse arrives in a plastic bag on my table. Invariably, despite extended cooking, they have had the consistency of a child's bath toy.

“I'm not very good with birds,” he said again.
“Well, I'll try,” I answered. “But be prepared for another rubber duck.”
“Oh no!” he said. “This one won't be rubber at all. I felt it before I bought it, and knew at once. It's a Dutch duck. Nice and soft. Young.”

So I roasted the duck with honey and garlic and herbs (deglazing the pan with chicken stock en route), and it was good. Nary a hint of bath toy texture.

Sunday lunch is commonly leftovers in our house, eaten – as and when – to fit with different people's schedules and needs. Soup time! I made my stock and took the remaining meat off theduck's carcass, and because the weather has finally turned grey and chilly, turned to the Cypriot winter standby, trachanas.

Trachanas is not unique to Cyprus. The Greeks, Turks, and Arabs all have some version of cracked wheat soaked in sheeps' milk, fermented, then left to dry. The smell used to nauseate me during pregnancy, but the finished product makes an unbeatable comfort food when cooked with chicken stock and pieces into something between a thick soup and a thin, savoury paste.

Best Beloved's auntie has a flock of goats and sheep in a 'mandra' or coral at a nearby village. In true Cypriot fashion, she loads us with bounty when we see her, and from every visit we return with earthenware pots of fresh yoghurt crusty with cream; blocks of soft anari, Cyprus' answer to ricotta; and, in the autumn when she makes it, trachanas – not the crunchy supermarket kind, but the real McCoy, pale gold, crumbly and emanating a fresh-sour smell. It goes straight into the freezer.

So, to the freezer I turned when my stock was ready. Into the saucepan plopped three frozen lumps of trachanas, and half an hour later, lunch was ready: Dutch Duck revisited with a Cypriot winter twist.

Put that in your bowl, and sup it.

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