Wednesday 30 January 2013

An Experiment With Duck Sausage

I get along well with the staff of the butcher shop that I normally frequent. When I was there last Sunday to pick up the chicken wings for my last post, they threw in a few duck sausages for me to try. Though I have had duck a number of times before, I'd never tried duck sausages. I wasn't sure what to expect so I decided to use them in a basic method with familiar flavours. I thought duck sausage might be nice in a light, creamy pasta dish with vegetables and mushrooms. I was right. If you prefer, you could slice the sausages into discs. I chose to remove the duck meat from the sausage casing, gave it a quick mince and then browned the meat so that it would crumble and go all throughout the dish. Making smaller pieces like that massively increases the total surface area of meat, meaning more flavour.

I understand that duck sausage may not be something handy in your home or even something you can find. Luckily, you could use turkey or pork sausage instead and it will still be fantastic. I also used farfalle (or "bow tie pasta") but you could use any pasta you like. Orecchiette, penne, fusilli or seashells would triumph in this application.

Let's talk about cream, for a moment. Every country has their own regulations for grades of cream. Varieties of cream are determined by their fat content. In the United States and the UK, 'heavy cream' is standard in most supermarkets and grocery venues. Heavy cream is normally 36% fat (or more). In Australia, cream that is at least 35% fat is referred to as "pure cream". I live in Canada where we call our 35% fat cream 'whipping cream'. So whether you call it heavy cream, pure cream or whipping cream, you want to use a cream that is about 35% fat. 

You will need to use three burners for three vessels on your stove. A pot for the pasta, a saucepan for the sauce and a pan for the meat and veg. There's a bit of clean up but this is a very fast and simple dish. It's perfect for a weeknight meal with several mouths to feed. This recipe yields a dinner for 4-6 people.


4 duck sausages
250 grams of dry farfalle pasta
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 large white onion, diced
2 small zucchinis, chopped
250 grams of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups of cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup of whipping cream
3/4 cup of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2-3 tbsp of canola oil (or any neutral, frying oil)
A pinch of red chili flakes
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Fresh ground salt & pepper

Cook the pasta as per the package instructions. I recommend salting the water or else your pasta will turn out bland. Many people also add a swig of olive oil in their pasta water. If you're one of those people go right ahead. I skip it as I don't find it necessary. Either way, the very first thing you do is get your pot of water on high heat.

Next, remove the sausage meat from the casings. Discard the casings and mince the meat with a sharp knife. This will help it to break up in the pan.

Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil to a pan over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the sausage meat to the pan. If it doesn't sizzle, your pan's not hot enough yet. Brown the meat in the pan until it is cooked through. 

When the sausage meat is cooked, remove from the pan but leave the liquid. Add the mushrooms to the duck juices. Mushrooms are like sponges and will soak up quite a bit of the liquid in the pan. If it soaks up too much, just add another tablespoon or two or canola oil. Sautée the mushrooms for about 3-4 minutes.

Then, add the onion and garlic to the pan and sautée for an additional 3-4 minutes or until the onion is translucent. 

At this point, add the zucchini and bell pepper. Give everything a good stir and then turn the heat down to medium. Let the vegetables cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the tomatoes and let them cook for about a minute. Then reintroduce the sausage meat to the pan and stir to combine.Add a pinch of red chili flakes. Then take a ladle of the starchy water from the pasta and pour it into the pan. We're going to add the drained pasta and the sauce to the pan in the end. The pasta water will help everything adhere to the thin sauce. It will also stop the frying process.

Speaking of the sauce, this is nothing more than a very simple alfredo sauce. It takes mere minutes to make so this will be the last thing you start. You should start the sauce when the pasta goes into the boiling water. The pasta and the sauce will then be ready about the same time. All you need for the sauce is butter, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. 

(Ugh, note to self: Get nicer looking cookware)

Once the butter is melted, add the cream and whisk thoroughly. When the butter and cream are incorporated, add the Parmigiano. The cheese will melt into the sauce and help to bind the butter and cream together. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. As soon as it starts to boil, lower the heat to the lowest setting and let it simmer until time to incorporate to the pasta. It will thicken a bit during this time. 

If you follow these steps, then it should time up so that once you add the ladle oh pasta water to the meat and veggies, your alfredo sauce will already be simmering. Then you can add the drained pasta to the pan, stir, add the cream sauce and stir again. Notice how we haven't seasoned anything yet? Now it's time to add salt and pepper. These of course are to your personal taste, but keep in mind that the Parmigiano and the sausage will already have quite a bit of salt already. Sprinkle more Parmigiano and fresh thyme leaves right before serving.

Sausages are almost always flavoured with spices and herbs. The flavours in the duck sausages were left as a surprise for me. From what I could gather, there was chives, garlic and some mustard seeds. So the sausages had a French profile and it ended up in an Italian inspired dish. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but it is definitely why fresh thyme is the herb for this. Its earthy hum ties in all of the flavours so well. 

Give this recipe a shot. It's a great winter dish and you, your family and friends are sure to love it.

Be happy and stay fed,


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