Tharavu Mappas is a a traditional duck curry from the Kuttanad. Duck is cooked in a creamy fragrant sauce made with coconut milk and spices. For many this is a must have dish on Christmas dinner menu.
Kuttanad is the waterlogged region in the south Indian state of Kerala where boats and canoes were the main mode of transportation up until a few decades back . This abundance of water makes it an ideal place for water intensive farming. So there is an abundance of rice, water fowls like duck and geese and of course fish. Not surprisingly many of the traditional recipes in this region features these ingredients .
This abundance does not mean that every one ate fish or duck with every meal, though some form of rice was a norm with every meal . My MIL, who hails from from this region, is a lifelong vegetarian. But even she was known to cook fish on occasion.
My first road trip to Kuttnad was with DH. It was a beautiful drive – the highlight being the long narrow strip of road with paddy fields on either side. During the rainy season the fields and parts of the road will be flooded with water. Monsoon or not there will be shops selling duck eggs, duck and fish every few hundred meters along this stretch of road.
Here is my lil guy fishing from the varandah . This was in the thick of monsoon and we were just a few inches above water. Most of the water will be replaced by paddy fields (rice) during summer. One can rent houseboats and spend days on the water here.
Catch your own fresh fish and cook it right on the boat, refill provisions from the store on the banks… it indeed sounds like someone’s dream life 🙂 . One is never too far from civilization, but still able to shut it out at will – there is something to be said for that! Fair warning “Never in rainy season”.
Come to think of it, may be one could even buy a duck from a farmer in one of the tiny islands in the water. Charm one and they might even cook a meal for you! Something to try when we hang up our aprons and go globetrotting.
Usually the duck skin is left on. It makes the curry much thicker and richer. I am not a fan of the skin so I leave it out. It is entirely up to you.
What I would recommend though, is to get a young duck.
I like to crush the spices in my mortar and pestle, as the quantity small. As you crush it the aromas are release and it is a good indicator of the finish dish. If making larger quantities use a blender jar or coffee grinder.
Refrigerate extra spice powder (if making larger quantities) and use within a few days. The leftover spice powder can be sprinkled on on kabobs and or used in other hearty meat curries as well.
One could use canned version or fresh coconut milk. If making the coconut milk from scratch use the thin milk to cook the meat and the thick milk to flavor and thicken the curry towards the end.
Pressure Cooker To The Rescue
I make tharavu Mappas in the pressure cooker, but traditionally these were slow cooked over wood fires. The wood burning stoves add their own nuanced flavors to this dish.
The pressure cooker version is much less time consuming, and the hands on cooking time is also reduced. Discarding the skin and excess fat makes this dish leaner as well. It may be low on fat, but definitely now low on flavors.
- 1 Whole Young Duck ( 4 - 5 lbs or 2 kg )
- 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
- 1 Tsp Turmeric powder
- 1 Tbsp Vinegar
- 1 Inch Cinnamon stick
- 6 Cloves
- 3 Green Cardamom
- 1 Tsp Whole Peppercorns
- 1 Tsp Fennel
- 1 Star Anise
- 2 C Onions, Thinly Sliced
- 1 Inch Fresh Root Ginger
- 3 - 4 Green chilies Serrano or similar
- 1/4 C Garlic Cloves
- Few Curry leaves
- 1 1/2 Salt To Taste
- 1 Tsp Chili powder
- 1 Tbsp Coriander powder
- 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1 Can Coconut Milk See Notes
- 1 C Hot water
- 1 Tsp Pepper Powder
- 1 Tsp Garam Masala Notes
- Clean and skin the duck. Cut into 3 to 4 inch long pieces. Pat dry with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together. Rub the marinade all over the duck and set aside for 20 minutes.
- Dry roast (optional) and powder fennel, star anise, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves.
- Thinly slice the onions, ginger and garlic. Slit the green chilies.
- Heat coconut oil in a pressure cooker and add the curry leaves and green chilies. Keep the heat on medium and fry for a minute and add the sliced onions. Cook for a few minutes, stirring as needed. When the onions turn brown, add sliced ginger and garlic. Saute for a minute or two and add the powdered spices, chili powder, coriander powder and 1 tsp of salt.
Stir and cook for a minute until the spicy aromas fill the air. Add the duck pieces and cook for 5 minutes over medium high heat stirring often. Add the hot water (or thin coconut milk ). Place the lid on and pressure-cook the duck. If on a traditional stove top pressure cooker it takes up to 3 whistles or about 10 to 12 minutes of high pressure in an electric one.
- Let the pressure release naturally. Open the cooker and check if the duck meat has cooked. If needed replace the lid and cook some more.
- Taste and adjust salt. Bring the curry to a boil and add coconut cream ( Or the first extraction of fresh coconut milk) from the can. Turn off the heat and replace the lid.
- Let the curry rest for 30 minutes before serving. It tastes best if allowed to rest overnight.
- Before serving warm the curry and sprinkle a little garam masala and pepper powder on top.
- Skinning the duck is entirely at your discretion.
- Fresh young duck cook in about 10 minutes in the pressure cooker. But with store bough frozen version I have had mixed luck with some needing as much as 3 times the cooking time.
- If fresh coconut milk is available I recommend using it.
- You can use store bough or home made garam masala. Here is my all purpose garam masala
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