I’m a big fan of any cuisine that uses cilantro—Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican. I know that there are people out there that taste soap when they eat cilantro, and if you’re one of those people, you have my heartfelt condolences. I’m so so sorry. Apparently there’s some enzyme that this section of the populous lacks that causes the cilantro-soap conundrum. I must say that I’m glad I’m not one of them. I heart cilantro. I really, really do.
Now, traditional pho doesn’t necessarily feature cilantro, so I’ll get back on track here. I’m not even sure if you can go to a pho restaurant and get a version with duck. Well, in my house you can. Clearly I’m just making it up as I go along. BTW, my first cookbook will be proudly titled: “Cooking By the Seat of My Pants” and the working subtitle is: “Was That the Oven Timer? And Why Is My Martini Glass Empty?”
Remember back when I posted this pork belly? Of course you do. Probably more for the description of a small stripper at the dinner table rather than the recipe, but I’ll take whatever I can get. (If you didn’t read that post, I’ll just thank my adorable 2-year-old neighbor Zack again for his table dance!)
I did say to keep the cooking liquid, as it may come in handy elsewhere. And guess what? You just landed in Elsewhere! (Not St. Elsewhere, for any readers old enough to understand that reference. The Brat Pack, et al. Where are they now?) If you didn’t make the first dish (I’ll try not to be hurt about that), then just use your favorite beef or chicken stock. But homemade stock is what makes this pho amazing, and I’m lucky to have a freezer shelf dedicated to it. I don’t know why I hoard it so much. I can make more whenever I want! Maybe I’m a survivalist at heart? I just finished reading World War Z, so maybe I’m preparing for the apocalypse. And if so, chicken stock is probably not the wisest thing to have a ton of. C’mon Jennifer, think smarter!
And I would be very remiss to not mention my lovely friend Chau who introduced me to the deliciousness of pho while she was first my intern, then my employee. She taught me that the word pho rhymes with “duh”, which is easy to remember, but I never did get her mom’s recipe out of her. Chau is awesome, and if I could, I’d still have her on my business team, but she’s gone on to bigger and better things. And hey, if you want to share that recipe, Chau, I’ll be all for it!
So this is probably not a true pho, but it is tasty and warming, and The Husband and I gave it a thumbs up. He was skeptical that the spaghetti squash would work instead of rice noodles, but he trusted me. And it worked really well!
++Vegans/Vegetarians: Why not try this with vegetable or mushroom stock, and use seitan or tofu instead of the duck? I think it would be delicious!
Paleo Pho with Seared Spiced Duck
**If you don’t have the broth from the pork recipe, make your broth using this recipe, or whatever pho recipe you like best.
Broth from pork belly (approx. 3 cups)
3 cups chicken stock
3 star anise pods (whole)
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 red chilis or jalapeños, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
1-inch stick cinnamon
8 oz. cremini mushrooms
1 medium spaghetti squash
4 duck breasts
1 tsp Chinese five spice
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Mung bean sprouts
First get the spaghetti squash in the oven at 350° F, and bake it until the “noodles” inside are still a little al dente. Then rub the duck breasts with almond oil and season with the five-spice, salt and pepper.
Heat the broth and stock with the star anise, peppercorns, chilis, garlic, cinnamon and mushrooms. If you’re smart, you’ll put the spices and chilis in a little muslin bag so that you don’t have to fish them out later. I hope that next time I take my own advice, as there’s nothing that kills your pho buzz like biting into a star anise. Ai yi yi.
Let simmer. Prep your garnishes and set out for the table.
Now you can sear your duck. Don’t do it too early so that your soup and spaghetti squash isn’t ready when the duck is, otherwise it will go cold and everyone will be sad. Heat a non-stick pan to smoking hot. I’m using these Scanpans at the moment, and they’re amazing. Thanks to the Danish, the makers of this fine product, the non-stick stuff won’t kill you even if you use metal utensils. Plus, you don’t have to use any fat in the pan, and I didn’t with these duck breasts, because they created quite a puddle of their own.
Sear the duck fat side down for three minutes, or until very brown. Flip over, and continue cooking for another three minutes. Hopefully this is the time you take your spaghetti squash out of the oven, because you can turn the oven off and set your duck breasts in to finish cooking through.
Pull the spaghetti squash away from the sides of the outer skin and portion out into bowls. Add the broth on top of the squash. Remove the duck from the oven (being quite sure that you use a hot pad to grab the frying pan handle, unlike me) and check to make sure they’re cooked through. Slice each breast on the diagonal.
Place bowl on a dinner plate and add the duck breast to the plate. Serve with garnishes, chopsticks and a spoon.