Autumn 2009 - A Ducks Tale

12/10/2009 10:10
Investing in higher welfare and NPD has proved to be a winning formula for leading duck supplier Cherry Valley in achieving a better end product for chefs to use.

In July a group of development chefs escaped the kitchen to spend a day with Cherry Valley to find out more about the duck it rears and understand more about its culinary value on menus.

Knowledge ranging from origins, breeding and flavour profiles to welfare and free range versus standard, were covered in the visit to the company’s facilities in Rothwell, in Lincolnshire.

Cherry Valley, as its duck museum’s memorabilia will testify, has an eventful history from its early beginnings when its flamboyant owner, the late Sir Joseph Nickerson, was at the helm, to the present, and a milestone will be its 50th birthday in November.

The company says it is the largest supplier to the Chinese restaurant sector and breeds eight million of its own Pekin style ducks a year for the UK market on its own farms plus 43 contracted farmers’ sites across Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. It supplies retailers such as Marks & Spencer, which will soon be reintroducing easy carve boned and filled duck under its own label that Cherry Valley supplies, as well as caterers. It also has a thriving global market.

The company’s commercial operation is here in the UK but it is a prime breeding area as well and its birds are sold around the world – Australia, Canada, China and Thailand, to name just a few. Agricultural operations manager Brian Kenyon says that in China it has a prime production line with its breeds plus joint ventures for the Chinese domestic market. In China where 2.8 billion ducks are consumed annually, Cherry Valley has 60% of the market and the Chinese talk of the Cherry duck, he says.

The company tries to utilise everything out of the round shape of the bird and there are small and large birds in its duck population, however this can be difficult when customers, particularly retail, ask for specific weights, says Kenyon, as it has to find ways of using the surplus.

The chefs were given a whirlwind tour of the sites at Rothwell where the birds reared range from the naturally inquisitive chicks exploring their environment and foraging for food in their compound and free range birds that dabble around in the open air, to the duck destined for its latest Farm Fresh label that has the freedom of an open veranda system.

At the processing plant, everything that can be used is removed from the duck. Tongue, for example, is harvested as a delicacy for the Chinese market. Feathers too have a value. Cherry Valley has its own plant in Rothwell where they are washed, dried and bundled for export all over the world.

The factory handles fresh and frozen products but the bulk is frozen. The cold store holds 500 pallets of birds and the turnover means a week’s kill will be gone by the end of the week.

In the development kitchen, Cherry Valley chefs Andrew Farren and Chris Musgrave demonstrated the versatility of duck and showed how different parts of the duck can be used. Dishes such as pastrami made from the fillet, rilletes made from the leg meat, parfait from the livers and ‘boxing’ duck made from the wings were innovative starters.

National account manager Kris Wade says: “It’s about adding value to different cuts of meat. Most people buy the prime joint but the wing joint is two bones with the meat in the middle and it is a good value item.”

Farm Fresh birds were used for pan fried duck breasts. Wade says the fat ratio is lower, and the meat has a slightly gamier flavour because of the running around that the ducks do. The dish was served with two sauces – a Japanese style gari sauce made from pickled ginger and plums and a traditional one made from sour cherry and sloe gin.

Still with the Japanese theme, schichimi duck ramen consisted of a noodle soup made with duck and vegetable stock seasoned with sesame oil and duck fillets seasoned with schichimi – a spice mix of chilli pepper, black pepper, dried orange, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nori seaweed and hemp seeds – and pan fried until pink and then sliced. Wade says a bowl would hold some ramen noodles, spring onions and pak choi and two slices of duck over which the stock is poured.

He says one of the company’s concerns over duck is that if it is over cooked it tastes “livery”, which is particularly so when consumers buy from supermarkets. “Our worry is that people are getting used to that flavour as the flavour of duck and it isn’t. Duck is classed as poultry and so it’s thought you have to cook it well. But it’s best pink and then it has a lovely flavour.”

Two versions of the popular shredded roast duck and pancakes were demonstrated by Farren. With the authentic aromatic duck he says the company is “almost there in achieving and selling an aromatic duck to appeal to Chinese restaurants”. Boiled slowly in a blend of 15 spices and then deep fried, it was served in traditional Chinese style – in pancakes with cucumber, spring onions and hoi sin sauce.

Honey and maple was a twist on the theme. The duck was injected with acacia honey, maple syrup and vinegar before being steam cooked and then baked off in a domestic oven.

This was also served in pancakes but with an orange and Jack Daniels sauce with pepper strips, cucumber and chopped coriander.

Farren showed how confit duck could be produced without the need to cook in fat with a salad of vegetables julienne dressed with Chinese black rice vinegar. Here the duck legs were marinated overnight in thyme, black and white pepper, salt and garlic and then steam cooked for two hours until the meat fell from the bones.

Duck balti Zheera demonstrated the use of duck in Indian cuisine. The light fresh curry was made using skinless diced duck fillet cooked in duck stock, tomato, coriander, onion and served with mandarin segments and chopped mint.

It used to be popular in Indian menus but it isn’t seen as much now, says Wade, adding that in India it is still used a lot. “It’s an area we are starting to develop with the Indian trade here. This dish was an Indian dish that came over here and was then anglicised using chicken.”

Cherry Valley, which sponsored the Craft Guild’s New Restaurant of the Year award that was won by the Cinnamon Kitchen, has been working on recipe development with its executive chef Vivek Singh, who also heads the kitchens of the Cinnamon Club.

But it wasn’t just duck meat that came under the spotlight. Roasted vegetables in seasoned duck fat were finished off with pieces of duck skin that had been roasted until very crisp.

“We produce the fat from ducks reared in Lincolnshire so it’s the only British duck fat available as most comes from France,” says Wade. “We produce it by rendering down the skin, collecting the liquor and sieving.” He adds that the duck fat will be sold under the Farm Fresh brand from October.

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