Duck Molee: This festive season give the duck a try

This classic dish from Kerala was adapted to suit the tastebuds of the Portuguese.

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Lamb or seafood is often the protein of choice when it comes to Christmas feasts. But, this festive season, why not try a different protein – duck!

Most people think duck is a difficult meat to prepare and cook; that’s a misconception. It’s just the unfamiliarity that stops most people from trying it out. We are lucky to get excellent quality duck grown right here in Australia, so there’s nothing really stopping you from trying it out.

Here’s a delicious recipe to get you started.

Today’s dish is inspired by a traditional and famous seafood preparation from Kerala known as Fish or Meen Molee/Moilee (pronounced ‘Molly’), more popular in the central regions of the state.

The Molee is essentially a coconut milk-based curry spiced with green chillies and black peppercorns in which fish pieces are cooked. The medley of coconut with chillies and peppercorns is a classic in Kerala’s cuisine, and several dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, are made using this flavour profile. Surprisingly, each dish, if cooked this way, would taste completely different from the other despite having similar core ingredients.

There are quite a few stories about the history of this dish, the most popular being that Fish Molee was invented during the Portuguese reign in Kerala. Legend has it that the curries made by local cooks were too spicy for the Portuguese officials, so coconut milk was added to tone down the heat. This version was first made by a woman called Molly, hence the name.

The veracity of this story can be contested, but since then, the Molee has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike.
I have tasted or read about all kinds of seafood Molees; the traditional choices being karimeen (pearl spot), and pomfret, among others. But you can find variations with kingfish, prawns and lobsters too.
The first time I heard of a Duck Molee was when I came across a recipe by Ajeeth Janardhanan (I have no clue who he is!). I am glad I decided to give it a try. Oh boy, it was a totally delicious affair.
Now even though the base is same, you really can’t compare this to a Meen Molee as the flavours imparted by the duck makes it different. But it’s enjoyable nonetheless especially if you love duck meat.

What I found most interesting was the contrast of the flavours; the robust meatiness of the duck accentuated by the creamy sweetness of the coconut. The quantity of the chillies and pepper has to be amped up as the duck meat would absorb more than seafood. I
used Duck Maryland for this recipe, but you can use any cut that you prefer. Do leave the bones in as they add more flavour to the final dish.

You can also use the recipe to make a Fish Molee instead, adjust the spices accordingly. Also, tomatoes are a must; another signature ingredient added for that mild sourness.
So let’s get this lip-smacking Duck Molee cooking. It is best paired with steamed rice or appams (Kerala style fermented rice pancakes).

Duck Molee

Ingredients

 4 Duck Maryland; skin on, but excess fat and skin trimmed
 3 tbsp coconut oil
 1 tsp mustard seeds
 ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
 3 sprigs curry leaves (reserve some for garnish)
 2 medium onion; finely sliced
 3 medium garlic cloves; finely chopped
 1 inch ginger; finely chopped
 6-7 green chillies, slit in half (medium heat); adjust
according to heat preferences
 1 tsp turmeric powder
 1 – 1.5 tsp freshly milled black pepper (adjust to heat preferences)
 Salt, to season
 400ml coconut milk (if using fresh, 2 nd extract)
 ½ cup coconut cream (or thick 1 st extract)
 1 large tomato; cut into quarters

Method
 In a heavy bottom pan, heat half of the coconut oil and sear the duck pieces on both sides in batches. Keep aside.
 In the same pan, add the remaining coconut oil and add the mustard seeds. Allow the seeds to splutter and then add the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, green chillies, ginger and garlic.
 Cook on medium heat for a minute and then add the onions. Mix and sauté till the onions are light brown and then add the turmeric powder and black pepper powder. Mix well and add the duck pieces. Season with salt and add 400ml coconut milk.

 Mix well to combine, cover partially and cook on low heat till the duck pieces are tender. Check occasionally and if the gravy feels thick, add some water (not too much though).
 Add the coconut cream and the tomato pieces; check and adjust the seasoning. Simmer for another 2 minutes and remove.
 Garnish with curry leaves.