It’s snowing outside here in Shankill – well just a flurry but it is real snow. In Urumqi it’s -19 degrees C, too cold for Dermot to venture out but Shan tells me he loves to play with the texture of a snowball gathered from the window ledge and stares in intense concentration as it dissolves in his warm fingers. Shane is already back working in Beijing where it is a mere -7. The Spring Festival is drawing to a close this weekend and China is grinding back to it’s normal winter rhythm.
I’ve had many Chinese meals over the past two weeks including the superb New Year’s Banquet at China Sichuan Dublin where we celebrated both the Chinese New Year and, in his absence, Dermot’s first birthday on 5th February. But I had this notion that I wanted to create a Chinese Pizza to mark the arrival of the Year of the Horse, one that I could cook on the Big Green Egg.
I love making pizza dough and normally use the recipe in this post for the base but, thanks to my Italian friend Solange, I’ve recently discovered Pizza da Piero by the Artisan Pizza company whose products are hand made in Rathmines. These thin, light bases short-circuit the work of preparing a pizza, especially on a stormy Monday night when the rain is teeming down outside. They come in resealable packs of three and cook in about 10 minutes to crisp perfection.
I had decided to build my topping around confit duck and I had consulted Twitter about what else to include in it. I got lots of interesting suggestions and my favourite came from Tom Walsh, head chef at Samphire@theWaterside. And so Confit Duck Pizza with Chilli Jam, Sweet Pickled Peppers, Goats Cheese and Rocket was born.
For ease of reference, I’ve set out all the steps in the recipe below. But in practice I make this pizza the day after I’ve cooked a batch of confit duck legs. I roast some off in the oven that day and serve them with puy lentils or duck fat roast potatoes and pickled red cabbage. I save the rest to make confit duck hash and pizzas.
Tom Chef’s chilli jam and sweet pickled peppers can also be made well in advance and these days I always have some of each in the fridge in kilner jars. You will find you can put them to all sorts of uses in Asian and western dishes.
With these ingredients to hand it takes just moments to make up the pizza and you can relax while your oven heats to temperature. In my case the most challenging bit of preparing the pizza was the dash outside to the Big Green Egg in the lashing rain. But then I delegated that… and proved, once again, that the Big Green Egg can cope with any extremes of weather, even if I can’t! Confit Duck Pizza with Chilli Jam , Sweet Pickled Peppers, Goats Cheese and Rocket
(makes 3 pizzas) Ingredients
3 Pizza da Piero bases
2 confit duck legs
Tom Chef”s Chilli Jam
Tom Chef’s sweet pickled peppers
1 log of soft goat’s cheese
a large red onion thinly sliced
3 large handfuls of rocket
If using a Big Green Egg, place your pizza stone on stainless steel grill over the plate setter legs up and heat to about 220 degrees c. Alternatively heat your oven to 250 degrees c.
Shred your duck legs including some of the crispy skin.
Spread a thin layer of chilli jam on each base.
Scatter over pickled peppers, confit duck and sliced onion.
Break up some goats cheese and dot over the top of the pizza.
Bake for 7 to 12 minutes depending on your oven temperature until the base is crispy and the goats cheese just melting.
Scatter with rocket and serve.
Confit Duck Legs Ingredients
6 duck legs
Enough duck fat to cover the duck legs when melted (about 4 jars)
About 6 cloves garlic
about 4 Star anise
Some springs of rosemary and thyme
A few bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Dry out the duck legs at room temperature. Tuck the cloves of garlic, star anise, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves around them, season with salt and pepper and cover with melted duck fat.
Slow-roast them in the oven at 120 to 130 degrees for 3 to 4 hours until the meat is melting off the bone. Allow them to cool until the duck fat has set.
When ready to use, gently prise the duck legs out of the fat, saving the infused fat for glorious duck roast potatoes. Reheated the confit duck legs in the oven for about 15 minutes by starting them at 170 degrees C and crisping off the skin at 230 degrees C.
Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam Ingredients
6-8 red chilli peppers chopped roughly
300g castor sugar
300g white wine vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook gently to reduce to a syrupy, jam-like consistency being careful not to burn.
Blend with a stick blender.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
Tom Chef’s Sweet Pickled Peppers Ingredients
4 to 6 long pointy red peppers
400g white wine vinegar
400g castor sugar
6 star anise
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Slice the peppers into thin strips.
Pace the vinegar, sugar and star anise in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, add the pepper strips. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slowly.
When cool add a drizzle of olive oil to taste and store in a sealed container in the fridge.
The birthday boy
On Dermot’s first birthday he fulfilled the Chinese tradition of choosing his “destiny” from an array of objects – a ritual remarkably similar to the Romanian one we witnessed for twins Oli and Fredi at their first birthday party and which I wrote about in Images and Flavours of Tuscany last August.
From the array of items on display, Dermot first chose a golden pig (wealth), a statue (power) and then a jade bracelet. So much for literary pursuits (sigh). Ah sure go on Dermot… at this stage of your young life, you may as well aim to rule the world.
Moments don’t come much sweeter.
Throughout the 18 hour journey from Dublin I quelled my nervous anticipation about meeting Dermot again. I practised my “happy face” to mask my disappointment when he reacted warily to me. I warned myself to hold back, not crowd him or drown him in slobbery kisses while he connected the face and the voice with a pixellating image he is vaguely aware of once a week on an iPad and perhaps some tiny memory of his visit to Ireland nearly five months ago.
Shane was at Beijing International Airport to greet me with a hug. MaMa, my quin jia, had a bowl of noodle soup on the table when I was barely in the door of their 21st floor apartment. Shan was waiting to show me my room (Dermot’s room really) . More hugs and smiles. I felt a swooshing release of tension at arriving at my Beijing home. Dermot was having his afternoon nap.
So I waited some more, weary after the journey and with the surreal sense that I had come all this way and perhaps my beloved grandson was a figment of my imagination despite the baby paraphernalia all about. I snuck a look at his sleeping form to reassure myself . He was indeed real.
An hour later a sleepy whimper… I held back as Shane went in to release him from his sleeping bag and lift him over the bars of his cot. Surfacing out of sleep he turned to me, frowned for a moment as the wheels whirred in his little brain and then broke into excited burbles and giggles of pleasure, reaching into my arms.
Moments don’t come much sweeter and Shane had an iPhone in hand to capture it.
What is it with an eight month old baby? a familiar voice, a memory of touch and smell, of me crooning to him out of tune in the early hours in Duncannon last June, a recognition of his father in me? All I know is that when our eyes locked we were connected again as if by an invisible thread. For the next hour he examined me closely, my face, my hands, my finger nails painted a suitable Chinese red “ooh, tasty…”, my rings, my watch, as if he too wanted to confirm that I was real.
And now we are pals again, getting to know the Gruffalo and a noisy toy guitar, him careering around the apartment in his walker for nai nai hugs – our very own “Derminator”, plopped on the floor of his play room with my quin jia and a neighbouring nai nai with her one year old grandson PePe, swapping words using Google Translate so that his grannies can tell him the names of animals and numbers in Mandarin and English. And when we are on Skype to his Grandad in Dublin, he cranes his neck to look back up at me and stares intently at the iPad screen as if to say “ah, now I’m beginning to get this Skype lark.”
Shan’s MaMa, my quin jia, is a special woman, warm, generous and with an engaging sense of fun. We have found a way of making sense to one another when alone and then Shan and Shane fill the gaps when they are at home. She has been trying out pizzas in their tiny electric oven since Shane introduced her to the concept at a local Italian here in Beijing and she is very enthusiastic about helping me make them in Duncannon at Christmas.
So here, as promised, are the three other toppings I tried with the Pizza Stone on the Big Green Egg recently. Continue reading Happy reunions and three more ways with Pizza on the Big Green Egg
I’m in Dubai Airport waiting to board a flight for Beijing. As I sit here between two worlds in the surreal environment that is the transit area of a major international airport, the temperature is a sauna-like 30 degrees at 2 in the morning and a half moon is sitting like a smiley in the sky, glowing red from the dessert sands. In this part of the world I can’t be too far from the old silk road along which travellers took many moons to reach their destination in places like Xinjiang province in remote, northwest China where my daughter in law Shan was born.
Here the camels have been replaced by A380 planes. Big, lumbering beasts of burden that become suddenly graceful when they soar into the air.
Would you look at who’s waiting for me when I get to my destination – Dermot, camping in the living room so that his Nai Nai can take over his room.
Over the next two weeks I will get to spend lots of time with him, Shane, Shan and MaMa. I’m travelling to Beijing to speak at the Beijing Forum at Peking University next weekend but, of course, I’m adding on lots of extra days to have time with them.
I also hope to take some more Chinese cooking lessons, including spending whole days with Shan’s MaMa. She and I don’t yet have language in common but we can communicate through a mutual love of food and cooking. I’ve been thinking about how I can return the favour when she and her sisters in law and nieces visit Ireland for Shane and Shan’s wedding in December.
MaMa enjoyed showing me how to make noodles and dumplings the last time I was in Beijing so I thought that it could be fun to spend a day making pizza with her and the other ladies of the family. Although, come to think of it, with nine Chinese girls and women, ranging from age 3 upwards in our little house in Duncannon, none of whom speak English except Shan, it might have to be a demo rather than a hands on lesson!
Right down to the youngest girl, Chinese women are naturals at working with dough – flatbread, noodles and dumplings get whipped up from scratch every day – but they don’t have access to ovens and don’t use yeast. I think they would love the rhythm of working with yeast dough and stretching it to make a perfect thin, pizza round.
So cue experiment time. What happens if you take a very Italian pizza base, a topping with the flavours of Xinjiang province loved by Shan’s family and a Big Green Egg and put them together? Magic is the answer. Even if cooked outside in the dark in Duncannon, during a lightning storm, on a wild Autumn evening. Continue reading When East Meets West on the Old Silk Road – Lamb and Aubergine Pizza