Until some years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find duck-based dishes on menus in the country. At the most, such dishes would be limited to Chinese restaurants where you could be sure of savouring a crispy Peking duck, or roast duck for that matter. Fast forward to today and whether it’s Indian cuisine or Western, duck is being used innovatively, in curries and doughnuts, seekh kebabs, galoutis and everything in between.
Chefs are willing to experiment, consumer palates are changing—and the meat is more readily available. Duck remains, in fact, a speciality in Kerala and some other parts of the south.
At the award-winning Delhi restaurant Indian Accent helmed by chef Manish Mehrotra, for instance, smoked duck shami has become a fixture, while the chef’s tasting menu features tawa duck. At the Chennai-based restaurant chain Kappa Chakka Kandhari, chef Regi Mathew’s menu offers traditional Kerala fare, which includes dishes like duck mappas—slow-cooked duck in a coriander and coconut milk curry with fermented rice cake.
At the new modern south Indian restaurant in Goa, HOSA, duck is featured in the form of a classic kottu parotta with sous vide duck breast as well as duck lukhmi, a local Hyderabadi samosa that typically features mutton mince.
Suresh D.C., brand chef, HOSA Goa, says: “Duck is quite famous in the south and you are likely to find some of the best duck curries along the rustic backwaters of Alleppey. With HOSA, I didn’t want to limit this versatile meat to just curries and decided to draw inspiration from some of the street food I have tried in Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu. Hence the kottu parotta”.
Another newly-opened restaurant in Goa, Juju-Reimagined Indian, features duck khurchan bonda. Bonda is typically found in parts of the country as a round deep-fried snack “It’s a spin on the classic murg khurchan but in a bite-size format. We have paired it with sriracha plum compote, taking inspiration from the classic plum sauce,” says chef Avinash Martins, principal culinary artist, Juju.
Clearly, duck meat is gaining popularity.
“Duck is versatile from a cooking perspective but it also has a unique flavour, unlike, say, chicken,” says chef Manu Chandra, chef partner at the Bengaluru-based Manu Chandra Ventures. “People have started appreciating it a lot more and realising that it can be so much more gratifying than having meat that largely tastes of the masala or marinade used. That has helped, along with a willingness to have more diversity on menus,” he says.
Others point to the greater availability of locally farmed varieties of duck, apart from imported ones, depending on the dish in question, and the fact that chefs are experimenting with the bird and making an effort to mask its gamey taste.
Chandra recently teamed up with Hakkasan Mumbai for the restaurant’s third edition of the “Only At” collection (a global culinary concept by Hakkasan). The collection showcases ingredients and flavours that are inherent to India but with an Asian twist. On the menu are confit duck doughnuts, where crisp, bite-sized doughnuts yield delicate duck confit with hoisin and five-spice powder, topped with a coriander plum sauce glaze.
Chandra says that working with a classic cooking style like confit allows for the extraction of more flavour. “What’s remarkable about duck meat is that if you know how to treat it well, its applications become manifold, irrespective of the cuisine.” In fact, the special cocktail menu for this limited-edition collection features Peking martini—a duck fat-washed cocktail with rum and vermouth.
All about the flavour
At Mumbai’s Goan-inspired restaurant O Pedro, executive chef Hussain Shahzad is busy prepping for the Christmas season. Duck is central to his menu, with the restaurant doing a special Saligaon dry-aged duck roast that’s served with a charred chilli and tamarind gravy, roasted potatoes, duck fat fried rice and winter greens foogath comprising radish, kohlrabi greens and morning glory. The roast duck itself is aged for over 14 days, leading to a crispy texture, and is rubbed with jaggery and a blend of spices. O Pedro uses duck sourced from Thailand for its roast duck.
“We sell nearly 40 birds per season and most of our sales happen between the 22nd and 25th of the month,” notes Shahzad. The duck is usually roasted whole, the fat that remains goes into the rice, while the rest goes into making sauces and gravies, he adds.
Shahzad maintains that one of the reasons Indians have been a bit averse to duck meat is because it can taste quite gamey. “The reason a Peking duck does well is because of the crispiness and fat that masks the gamey flavour.” What can also be cumbersome for some restaurants is that unlike chicken, which you can get in different cuts, you have to buy the whole duck. So, if you are only using some parts of the bird, the rest may end up going waste, he points out.
Chandra says they are doing many more iterations with duck—right from duck galouti with duck fat to duck parfaits, empanadas, curries and terrines. Shahzad says the fact that chefs are doing more to offer duck in crowd-pleasing avatars like kebabs, curries and more is just an indication of the growing acceptance of it.
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Arzoo Dina is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.