Category Archives: Food

Apple Mille Feuille with Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle

The fourth and final course of our Valentine’s Day dinner is one I am very proud of. It worked so well and was a delight to make, look at and eat that I could not have been happier with how it turned out. Well, like everything, it can be improved upon and perfected some more, but really it was a lovely ending to a delicious meal. It’s a take on the traditional French dessert known as Mille Feuille meaning a thousand sheets, a reference to the many layers of flaky puff pastry. Another name for this type of dessert is a Napoleon.

The inspiration of this recipe is from both Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal. Heston has recipes for a dessert with candied apple and puff pastry in at least two of his books and they look spectacular with layers of caramelized apples, cream, apple confits, ice cream and such. Auldo prepared the version from The Fat Duck Cookbook, simply called Cox’s Apple, on his blog a while ago. More recently I saw a simpler but also very refined version in Daniel Boulud’s  latest book Daniel: My French Cuisine. Boulud’s version is a layer of candied apple confit sandwiched between puff pastry and a layer of whipped calvados cream topped with caramelized puff pastry (aka an arlette).

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle4

The apple confit layer is simple to make following Boulud’s instructions. Thinly sliced apples are layered with raw sugar to almost fill a small loaf pan. This is then covered in foil and baked until the apples are deep mahogany caramel color. The confit is then cooled and frozen to make slicing it easier. This process works very well, but next time around I’d rather put a layer of parchment in the bottom of the pan or at least butter the pan. This would’ve made removing the block of apple confit much easier.

Apple Confit2

Apple Confit3

I was hoping to make my own puff pastry but really got tight on time with the other dishes I needed to prepare. So, I opted to buy some good quality all-butter puff pastry. The key here is to buy the puff pastry made with only butter, not the Pepperidge Farm crap. I cut the pastry into large portions and baked some on a baking sheet weighed down with another baking sheet to control how much the pastry rises. These were then cut into even rectangles and formed the first two layers of the plated dessert. The third (top) layer was the arlette, the caramelized thin puff pastry. I used Blumenthal’s instructions to help with this one. The pastry is rolled thin while constantly being dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Then it is baked with additional weights on top to keep it on the thin side as it cooks and caramelizes.

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The ice cream that went with the mille feuille is my own recipe. I wanted something with a tart flavor and almost a bit savory. I knew it would include homemade buttermilk and was thinking of maybe using some yeasted cream as well similar to what I used with this waffle dessert. That’s what brought waffles to mind, specifically yeast waffles, not the quick baking powder ones. I love a recipe for yeast risen waffles from Shirley Corriher’s classic book CookWise that she aptly labels “Crisp-crusted, feather-light raised waffle”. So I made some of that and as usual I used oat flour for about a quarter of the flour in there and used buttermilk instead of milk. I then allowed the waffles to completely dry and crisp in a warm oven eventually ending up with about 100 gr of waffles, crumbled. I soaked these in a mixture of cream and whole milk overnight and then strained them out. Then I proceeded to make the ice cream using my go to method per Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream book. When the ice cream base was cool I stirred in a 100 gr of buttermilk, allowed the mixture to cool in the fridge and then churned it into the most amazing buttermilk waffle ice cream.

Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

The cream under the top caramelized puff pastry layer is simple sweetened whipped cream flavored with Laird’s apple brandy. That goes on the plate in a few dots first to anchor the first layer of pastry, then goes a rectangle of apple confit, then more pastry, the Laird’s cream and the caramelized pastry. The green-ish sauce around the dessert is just Granny Smith apple juice thickened lightly with Xanthan gum and it gives the dish a nice fresh apple flavor.

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Dry-Aged Strip Steak, Carrot and Sour Onions

Steak-Carrots-Onions3On more than one occasion I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “Oh what’s the big deal with dry-aged beef…I got a couple of steaks and they are not that different that the run of the mill steak from Costco”. Well, these guys are either not really buying dry-aged steak or have some taste buds missing. A proper dry-aged steak is a thing of beauty, expensive but worth every penny for a special occasion like a Valentines Day dinner for two.

Dry aging beef is a process where large primals (like a whole side of strip loin) is left at a controlled temperature in an aging room uncovered. The meat usually hangs from hooks and is left anywhere from a couple of weeks and sometimes up to  months! During that time the meat loses a lot of moisture. This translates to water weight loss (one reason why it starts getting expensive) and concentrating of flavor and minerals in the meat. Another thing that happens is that the enzymes in the meat start breaking down the flesh making it very tender. That is why the meat has to be kept at a specific temperature (again that costs money), too warm and the meat would just rapidly spoil, too cold and the enzymes would not function. Last, but not least is that the aging process is basically a controlled “spoilage” in a way. The meat develops a lovely flavor as it matures and for really long aged beef it is sometimes describes as funky or similar to cheese! I have not had any of the latter, but I can certainly tell that the steak we had was tender and superbly flavorful with a brilliant savory taste due to the aging process.

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Hopefully my cursory summary of the dry-aging process as I understand it was helpful, but if not there are a lot of good resources out on the interwebs and many books on the subject. So what did we do with this nice steak? The meat was cooked very simply. I cooked it sous vide to medium rare and then finished it off in a very hot cast iron pan with some butter.

The onions are my attempt to try the sour onions from Magnus Nielssen’s Faviken. Magnus gently cooks thinly sliced onions in a mixture of whey and butter until the liquid evaporates and the onions are soft. The onions end up wonderfully tart and very deeply flavored with the whey (I used some from a cheese batch I was making) and butter. Unfortunately I could not manage to keep the onions intact in their original shape of thin rounds. I have no idea how the chef at Faviken manages to do that but I could not.

The other two items on the plate were marble potatoes and pureed carrots with vadouvan (an Indian spice mix heavy on coriander and citrus notes). The potatoes were just steamed and then crisped up in olive oil and herbs. The carrots were cooked sous vide with plenty of butter and a good pinch of the vadouvan spice mixture. When fully tender, I pureed them and passed them through a sieve. I prepared a sauce with reduced beef stock and red wine and finished it off with a bit of butter.

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Fettuccine, Lobster and Marjoram

Fettuccine-Lobster

I wish I have more time to post these in a more expeditious manner. For now, I have to get them up as time permits. Anyways, for Valentines Day this year I planned a four course meal for Diana. Actually I had a fifth course “option” that I was hoping to get to. Four courses though, as good as these were with wine and lovely company is nothing short of a perfect evening.

This was the first course. I stopped by Whole foods with the intention of getting a good dry aged steak (that would be the next post) and scallops for the first course. As luck would have it, due to the rough cold weather hitting much of the US recently, scallops were in short supply. What they did have was frozen and carried a very hefty price tag. However, Whole Foods was apparently running a special for Valentine’s Day. If you buy a dry aged steak you get a lobster tail for free! A quick change of plans and instead of scallops with butternut squash and chestnuts we ended up with this delicious dish.

I first set about making the pasta. This is a classic fresh Italian noodle with nothing but flour and egg. I rolled it thin and cut it into ribbons using the pasta machine. While the noodles were drying a bit I set about working on the lobster.

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I had three tails total (one free with the steak and I bought two more…still cheaper than the damn scallops). I removed the tails from the shell and bagged them in aFoodsaver bag with plenty of butter and some fresh marjoram. I cooked them sous vide for around 15 minutes at 59.5 C per Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure. At that point the tails were perfectly cooked and juicy. To finish them off I seared them briefly in a mixture of butter, garlic, lemon zest and juice and another dose for chopped fresh marjoram.

The sauce for the pasta was built around the same flavors of the lobster. So, I melted butter with lemon zest, lemon juice and marjoram leaves. At the last moment I boiled the noodles and tossed them in the butter mixture. To give the pasta a neat presentation I rolled the noodles on the tines of a long skinny bamboo set of tongs and slid them onto rectangular plates. On top went the sliced lobster and a few leaves of marjoram. I am glad I portion-controlled the both of us. Fresh springy pasta, tender juice lobster seasoned perfectly with herbs, lemon and butter would’ve alone made for a royal dinner.

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Course number two following the pasta was a very nice salad that for some reason I failed to take a picture of! It had a mix of baby greens including red kale and arugula. I used my mandoline to make paper-thin slices of persimmon. The whole thing was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with shavings of Pecorino Romano.

Braised Short Ribs in Cepe-Prune Sauce and Cornmeal Cakes

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The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert is really one of my favorite books in my collection. It’s a book I’ve used so much over the years and have never been disappointed (like this Cassoulet). Another reason I love it is that I helped test some of the recipe in there for the revised edition and it is the book that made Paula a friend of mine who loves to discuss food over email and certainly enjoys a conversation about a new clay pot I acquired or the recipes of my grandmother. Now, this recipe was the first recipe I tested for Paula and it is a marvelous dish for this time of year where even in Houston, it is cold and a bit dreary.

Short Ribs Marinade

Short Ribs Marinade2

Sometimes I try to modernize recipes and maybe find more efficient methods to cooking certain dishes. Not this time. I love this dish and I love the process from start to finish. So, I chose to apply Paula’s meticulous instructions to the letter.

This is a classic  no frills French dish that delivers a ton of flavor. The beef short ribs (using boneless ones here) are marinated in plenty of red wine and aromatics including a good dose of dried Porcini (Cepes in French) mushrooms. After 12 hours or so, the meat is browned in duck fat. the marinated veggies; carrots, leeks,onions and celery; also get browned after meat. The meat and vegetables go in a nice clay pot and then get gently braised in stock and plenty of red wine for a few hours.

Short Ribs

When the meat is cooked it is reserved separately from the cooking liquid and the vegetables are discarded. To finish, the meat is combined with the reduced de-greased cooking liquid and sautéed mushrooms, pearl onions, glazed carrots and halved pitted prunes. The mixture is allowed to simmer for 10 -15 minutes while I prepared the cornmeal cakes.

Short Ribs 2

The cornmeal cakes are what Wolfert recommends to serve with this. My kids love those ever since I made similar ones to accompany the pork cheek recipe from The French Laundry. So it was a no brainer that I would make them. Just cooked and set polenta, cut into rounds and coated in flour before being pan-fried in duck fat.

This really is a sublime dish that is rich but not cloying. It is perfectly balanced with meaty flavors and jolts of sweetness from the prunes and acid from the large quantity of wine in the braising liquid.  The polenta cakes are the ideal accompaniment. they are mild, a bit crispy and fluffy enough to sop up the cooking juices. This recipe is but one of many superb recipes in this classic of a book.

Short Rib-Corn Cakes

Alinea: PERSIMMON, Aroma Strip, Carrot, Red Curry

Persimmon-Aroma Strip

Persimmons are one of my favorite fruit. I bet one does not hear that too often, but these orange fruits really are one of my favorites. To be specific I am talking about the acorn shaped Hachiya persimmon not the squat round Fuyu one. The Hachiya persimmon is very astringent and really inedible unless very soft and ripe. The flesh turns to a sort of honey flavored fruity jelly when that happens. That’s when they are perfect and sublime. I remember eating dozens of them in Lebanon during their season, usually autumn through winter.

Hachiya on the left and a Fuyu on the right

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That was my excuse to make this recipe, even though Hachiya persimmons are a bit tough to find. Another reason to make this was the various techniques in there that I’ve not tried before from the complex (making carrot curry raisins using reverse spherification) to the simple (“steaming” a cake in a bag in a heat controlled water bath).

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What we have here is a crumbly mix (pistachio brittle, dehydrated carrot foam, tapioca maltodextrin, pistachio shortbread) that covers a very interesting caramelized milk ice cream and a cake/pudding of persimmon. Around those main components we have glazed carrot, ginger sphere, carrot curry “raisin”, date puree, braised pistachios and two types of “films” (a spiced strip and a fennel-mint film).

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I first got to making the ice cream. Most ice creams in the Alinea book are not traditional in that they use less sugar than normal, little or no eggs and are designed to be used with a PacoJet machine that finely “shaves” the frozen ice cream cylinder into perfectly smooth servings. Lacking a PacoJet, I usually adapt the ice cream recipes into something more appropriate for my ice cream maker and freezer like the buckwheat ice cream that I prepared a couple of times. This time though I decided to try the recipe as proscribed to see what I come up with. I figured I had a couple of weeks before I need to serve this and if the ice cream comes out too crappy, I’ll scrap it and make another batch.

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The ice cream is based on caramelized milk. A combination of milk, some half and half, dried milk, very little sugar and honey go in a Foodsaver bag and are cooked for several hours. The idea is to caramelize the natural sugars in the milk turning the mixture a tan color. I was very curious how this would come up and indeed the mixture turned a light tan color but a bit lighter than I would’ve expected. After cooling, the ice cream gets churned and frozen till service time. Now, as expected from such a low sugar and relatively low fat ice cream, the texture right out of the freezer was not great. It was frozen solid and a little bit grainy. After a few minutes on the counter though the texture improved a lot. The flavor was very interesting. It is not an ice cream I would ever serve by itself. It is not sweet, very milky and has a flavor that reminded me of evaporated milk.

Persimmon Puree Persimmon Cake

Making The persimmon cake is pretty simple. Just puree the persimmon flesh with flour, pistachio flour, sugar, eggs, butter, spices and citrus zest. The mixture then goes in a Foodsaver bag and is cooked for a few hours in hot water. The cake is then cooled and re-warmed before serving. The taste is delicious, sweet and rich with spice and butter.The texture is a lovely mix of pudding and cake. I will certainly be borrowing this technique possibly with other flavors to make tender cakes or puddings.

Carrots

There are several pistachio preparations in this dish. The braised pistachios are the simplest. Just cook some pistachios with water, sugar and pistachio oil. Reserve them in some of the cooled cooking liquid.

Braised Pistachios

Pistachio Shortbread1

The pistachio shortbread is part of the “crumble” mixture and uses pulverized pistachios, butter, vanilla and eggs. It is then cooled in the fridge to make it manageable (it has lots of butter) and then rolled into a block and baked. The shortbread is delicious on its own and leftovers made for great coffee accompaniments for a week or two. It had a lovely pistachio flavor and a tender texture.

Pistachio Shortbrread3

Pistachio Brittle

Another pistachio crumble component is the brittle. Again this makes for an addictive and tasty stand-alone recipe. To make it, I brought sugar to the caramel brown stage and tossed in toasted pistachios and baking soda. The soda reacts with the acidic environment causing the caramel to bubble vigorously creating lots of bubbles. The mixture – like pistachio lava- gets dumped on a Silpat to set and harden.

Carrot Mousse Crumble Mixture

Those orange specs in the crumble mixture are pieces of carrot foam – dehydrated carrot foam. Carrot juice is mixed with sugar and Methocel F50 and cooled. The mixture is then whipped to form a fluffy mixture very similar to a light mousse but has the pure flavor of carrots. Very tasty stuff. The mousse is spread on an acetate sheet and dehydrated for much longer than the recipe specifies until I got a cracker-crispy sheet of carrot mousse.

Crumble

To bring the crumble mixture together I mixed pistachio oil with N-Zorbit Tapioca Maltodextrin (I’ve mentioned this product that makes powders out of oils a few times before like here and here). Then I added coarsely crumbled portions of the pistachio shortbread, pistachio brittle and the crispy carrot mousse. I reserved that in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Components2

Speaking of reserving these various components for service I’ve always thought the book should do a better job informing us of the shelf-life or fridge stability of these various components. This is especially critical for someone like me who is making recipes like these over a period of weeks! I did find out that most of these items do last at least a few days if properly stored. The crumble mixture in an airtight container was still perfectly fine a week or more after I originally served the dessert.

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A hydrocolloid that I have never worked with before and yet another reason I wanted to check out this recipe is Pure-Cote B790. The space-age name aside this is basically a modified corn starch that is used in small quantities to help in making really cool paper thin film. Think of those Listerine strips that melt on the tongue. Yeap, using Pure-Cote one could make these films flavored with anything. In this recipe it is used to make a spice aroma strip as well as a green tinted “glass” flavored with an herb called anise hyssop.

Persimmon-Aroma Strip14

The process for both glass and spice strip is similar. Steep the flavor in a sugar water syrup and mix in the hydrocolloid. Allow that to dry out on acetate sheets overnight and peel off. In the case of the green glass a dehydration step follows making those films into amazingly brittle and fragile “glass”. The spice aroma strip is flavored with cloves, mace, nutmeg and allspice. The green glass is supposed to be flavored with anise hyssop but that is nowhere to be found. It is supposed to taste like a mixture of mint and anise, so what I did was use half mint and half fennel fronds. I think that worked great, had a lovely green tint and a nice burst of flavor. There has to be a typo in both of these components’ instructions in the book though. After mixing the Pure-Cote into the liquid base we are simply instructed to pour it in a thin layer on sheets. This does not work because the Pure-Cote is not hydrated or gelled! and what you end up with is a mixture that separates into starch and liquid like the mixture towards the front of this picture.

Film2

After doing some research and looking through my Modernist Cuisine books I confirmed my suspicion that indeed the Pure-Cote mixture needs to be heated up in order to gelatinize the starch. That worked much better (see the mixture towards the back in the above picture). Another reasoning for the book’s instructions might be that at Alinea they use a VitaMix blender and they whip the mixture for a long time at a very high speed which indeed heats it up and hydrates the starch. I do not have one of those yet so I will be gently warming my Pure-Cote mixtures to hydrate them.

film

To emphasize the warm autumnal flavors and add punches of sweet and sour we have two sauces based on dried fruit. The first is a date puree made from softened dates and ruby Port. It is very sweet as expected and used very sparingly as a dollop to top with the braised pistachios. The other sauce is made from golden raisins and verjus, the mildly tart juice of the sour unripened grapes that works great as a gentle substitute to vinegar in dressings and sauces. Verjus has a fancy French name and is mostly associated with western cuisine but actually -in addition to pomegranate molasses (Dibs Ruman)- it is a traditional sour ingredient in Lebanese cuisine. Many families would make Houssrom, as it is known there, during the summer months when the vines are full of unripened grapes that needed to be culled.

Sauces

Spherification is something I’ve played with before here and a technique that produces an aesthetically pleasing product as well as a flavor burst. This recipe has two such preparations. The first is the straight-forward ginger sphere. This is a ginger infused sugar syrup that is blended with Calcium Lactate and frozen in small cubes. It is then dropped into an Alginate water bath to form perfect liquid orbs of sugary ginger encased with a thin  film of itself. I reserved these guys in more of the ginger-sugar liquid in the fridge and they lasted perfectly for several days.

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The second sphere is where the Alinea team take this preparation past the “cool trick” stage and transform it into something unique. Since the spheres are orbs of liquid (think grape) why not make raisins out of them? That’s what they do. So, I got carrot juice and blended in some sugar, a small amount of red Thai curry and Xanthan into it. Then I mixed the Calcium Lactate and froze the mixture in hemisphere ice cubes. After dropping those just like the ginger ones into an Alginate bath they went into a small pan covered with a layer of white sugar. More sugar went on top and the spheres were allowed to cure for an hour. During that time the sugar draws a lot of the moisture out of them and firms them up a bit. Lastly, the cured orbs were dehydrated in a very low oven until shriveled and wrinkly, just like raisins. They were delicious with a spice flavor and sweetness that worked great in this fall dish. Their interior was moist and jam-like.

1-Persimmon

Components-Raisins

A few more items garnish the plate. One is cubes of Fuyu persimmon that are supposed to be marinated in a type of fortified wine called Pineau des Charentes. I had none and did not really want to seek it out. I decided to pick a liqueur that I think would work in the dish. The crumble mixture is supposed to include a small proportion of honey granIules – another item I did not have. So, I decided to include the honey flavor in the marinated fruit. I vaccum marinated the cubed Fuyu in a Foodsaver canister with homemade honey liqueur instead of the Pineau des Charentes. That turned out well and the fruit gave a burst of sweet honey flavor to the plated dish. Another item was glazed baby carrots. These were thin small sweet carrots, peeled and cooked sous vide with a pinch of sugar. The carrots are warmed right before serving.

ComponentsThe dessert was a perfect fall-winter plate of sweetness with perfect textures and amazing flavors. I loved how the ice cream, very subtle and muted on it’s own, worked perfectly as a cool milky canvas for the strong flavors and textures in the composed dish. It really amazes me how the Alinea team pulls off multitudes of dishes like this during service night after night. Hopefully one day I’ll get to snag a table there and try it out for myself.

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Red Wine Pappardelle with Oxtails and Carrots

Pappardelle-Oxtail5

It’s been a while since I posted about a homemade pasta on these pages. Not because I have not made any but the majority is stuff I’ve posted about before or similar to what I’ve posted about before. Well, here comes something I made recently and was so sublime that I had to post about.

Pappardelle2

The blue print is really a traditional dish of fresh pasta and braised meat. The emphasis is on bold flavors with a recipe courtesy of the book Collards and Carbonara from Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. It’s a perfect title for a book where the authors put their American south spin on Italian flavors. This is a hearty dish with lots of red wine. It is everywhere. The pasta is actually made from eggs with a good helping of red wine – almost half egg and half red wine. The end result is not so much red as brownish. What I really loved about the pasta is the thickness. Instead of rolling them relatively thin as usual, the authors instruct us to roll them to the 4 setting on the pasta machine. This results in noodles that are relatively thick. I honestly had my doubts here but I figured I’ll give them a go and see what happens.

Pappardelle

I should not have worried. The cooked noodles were the perfect foil to the rich hearty oxtail stew.  They had a lovely texture to them that is equally soft, substantial and chewy. I started the oxtails basically a week before by making a beef demi glace. I prepared a big batch of beef stock in my pressure cooker and allowed it to sit in the fridge until the fat solidified. I removed that and reduced the stock with more aromatics (shallots, thyme, black pepper) and red wine until I got about a pint of the most amazing beef reduction.

Oxtail-Carrots

The stew is pretty straightforward. Brown the meat and cook it for a long time with some garlic, mirepoix, a whole bottle of red wine, the demi glace and water. When the meat is fall off the bone tender it is removed and picked from the bone. The cooking liquid is reduced and strained. The meat and cooking liquid are stored separately. Again, this is an important detail that I think makes the recipe much better during the finishing steps. Meanwhile I prepared a mix of small purple and orange carrots by cooking them sous vide bagged with butter at 85 C. They were cooked till tender but remained firm and retained a nice color.

Pappardelle-Oxtail

To bring it all together while the water came to a boil for the pasta, I sautéed the halved carrots in oil until slightly charred. To that I added the oxtail meat and browned slightly, then a whole lot  of chopped herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme) and more red wine and allowed that to reduce. In went the reserved braising liquid and the whole thing reduced slightly to get a nice consistency. I tossed in the freshly cooked pasta and some splashes of the boiling water and served. It was a really comforting, rich and beautiful bowl of pasta. The handfuls of fresh herbs in there brought a fresh and bright note to the bold flavors. That whole was perfect for the cold weather we had been getting and the leftovers were just as good.

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Honey and Spice Roasted Pintail Duck, Beets and Fennel

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To be perfectly honest, I am not a 100% sure this guy was a Pintail, more like 90% sure. We shot several Pintail ducks during a hunt this season. We hunted in a flooded marsh next to large rice fields and almost all of the ducks, including the Pintails, where covered in a thin layer of lovely white fat. According to Hank Shaw and his wonderful new book Duck, Duck Goose “Pins” make for fantastic eating and those covered in white (not yellow or orange) fat are almost guaranteed to be delicious. He is right on both counts.

Pintail

The inspiration for the flavor of this recipe is a famous dish from the Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Chef Humm from EMP serves a fantastic roasted duck, served whole and then carved table-side. I’ve never had the dish but I’ve been pining to try it out ever since I saw it online a while back (just Google Eleven Madison Park duck). The bird is coated with lavender, honey and spices and then roasted in a hot oven until golden brown and crackly. This seemed like a great way to try on my Pintail using the Hank Shaw method of roasting a whole small duck in a hot oven.

Pintail-Beets-Fennel

I patted the duck dry well salted it and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours. Before cooking, I dried it well again and coated it with honey then sprinkled it with a mixture of toasted and coarsely crushed coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and salt. I put the duck on a few branches of fennel in a cast iron pan and then baked it in a very hot oven (about 500 F) until the breasts registered 135 F on a meat thermometer. Following Hank Shaw’s method, I carved the breasts off the bird at that point and let them rest on more pieces of fennel. The rest of the duck went back in the oven at a lower temperature so the legs can finish cooking completely and tenderize a bit. Right when the legs are cooked, I returned the breasts to a hot pan, skin side down to crisp them up really well without overcooking.

Pintail2

The cooking method worked exceptionally well. I ended up with a lovely pink breast meat and tender well cooked duck legs. To serve I paired the bird with roasted beets -I always seem to end up with beets and duck somehow- sauteed beet greens and a fennel salad coated with a lemon dressing. I finished the dish with a pan sauce made by quickly cooking down some shallots in the fat in the roasting pan and de-glazing the whole thing with some  white wine and water. I adjusted the flavor of the sauce with a little apple balsamic vinegar, mounted it with butter and drizzled over the plate. The duck was fantastic with sweet caramelized flavors, crispy skin and wonderful fragrant spices. This really is the best wild duck I’ve cooked so far.

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I did serve this with a simple side dish of Puy lentils. I used the smallest tenderest beet leaves raw. These got tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and went on top of the lentils. As good as these lentils were, they really were not needed. The duck plate was satisfying and filling enough and required not extra starch.

Duck Stuffed with Farro, Figs, and Hazelnuts

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From the minute I read the title of this lovely recipe I knew I had to give it a shot. It’s a whole de-boned duck stuffed with a hearty mixture of grains (Farro), dried figs, herbs and nuts. Then The bird is roasted and basted till succulent and crispy. A bit labor intensive? Yes. Just take a look at this beauty and you should know that it is so worth it.

FattedCalf-Porchetta

In the Charcuterie is the book by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller, these folks are the people behind Napa’s amazing butcher shop The Fatted Calf. Back in March when we were in Napa for a wedding and a dinner at the French Laundry we also enjoyed a fat plate of the most delicious porchetta at The Fatted Calf. The place is a lovely butcher shop with everything from duck to lamb, beef, pork, goose, goat and veal. The proprietors also sell a variety of prepared foods and lots of charcuterie (confits, terrines, sausages, cured meats…) . Even though we had planned on having burgers that day for lunch we just could not resist grabbing a plate of the porchetta with the crackly skin that the butcher was slicing. It was sublime. Fatty, heavily flavored with garlic and herbs it was a memorable meal. When the book was announced, my friend quickly pre-ordered a copy for each of us. Thanks Sev!

Duck

Duck-Deboned

To make this dish I had too completely debone the duck. I did this by cutting down the spine of the duck and then gently and carefully detached the meat from the bone all around. The key is to do this without damaging the skin. That took about 30 minutes or so, but it’s a process I really do enjoy  and a very cool skill to master.

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For the filling I first prepared the dried figs. I simmered a variety of warm spices and herbs with sugar and red wine to infuse the liquid. That was poured over dried Black Mission figs and the whole thing was allowed to macerate overnight. The figs get plump as they absorb the spiced wine and when I am ready to finish the filling I drained them and cut them into quarters.  I mixed the figs with parsley, breakfast sausage, cooked farro and toasted hazelnuts.

Fig-Farro Filling

I laid the boneless duck on a cutting board skin side down. Then I formed the filling into a thick log and put that on top. I rolled the meat around the filling and basically reformed the duck as best as I could into it’s original shape. I tied the duck with twine to secure everything in place. I scored the skin and then roasted the bird at 375 F, basting it occasionally with its drippings, until a thermometer read 140 F in the center and the skin turned a crispy golden brown.

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Now how to serve this delicious roast? In the recipe we are simply instructed to slice and serve. That really works since the duck and the stuffing make for a nicely complementary meal, but I wanted to add a bit more to it. We had this for two dinners so I played around a bit. The first time around I served it with a bit of blanched broccolini , some leftover farro and a tart mustard vinaigrette.

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For the second meal, I pan seared the sliced roast not to just heat it up but also to add another layer of flavor and texture. I served it with a bit more of the same greens and added sweet and sour pumpkin. The recipe for the pumpkin is a simple but really tasty one from Mario Batali where pumpkin cubes are cooked in a mixture of garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar and garnished with mint. I also prepared a sauce to go with this dish that is pretty much the same one I served with the Teal dish last year, a reduced spiced red wine sauce to echo the spice and the flavor of the figs.

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