Category Archives: Green Vegetables

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.

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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.

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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.

Poached Halibut, Sweet and Sour Beets and Citrus-Coriander Oil Emulsion

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For a 3 star restaurant, the food of Le Bernardin is not complicated. It relies on pristine fish and relatively simple preparation with few grand embellishments. Reading through Eric Ripert’s book On The Line about the NY city restaurant is a fantastic look into how a high caliber restaurant is run. The book deals with everything like history, menu creation, service standards, a typical day in the life of Le Bernardin and how fish is bought and butchered. I find this kinds of stuff fascinating. That was the first half of the book. The second deals with several recipes. Most of them do not have a crazy long list of ingredients but each one, as deceptively simple as it might look, might have taken months from inception through several stages of refinement to finally making it on the menu. The end results are models of elegance, clean plating, classic techniques and clear flavors.

Beets

This dish has two main ingredients, the fish and the beets. They come together with a drizzle of citrus sauce that is a bit Japanese in its flavor. Looks and sounds very simple but it does involve a few steps. First I made the Citrus-Coriander Oil that forms the base of the sauce down the line and also seasons the cooked beets. It’s made from a mixture of lemon and orange zests, chopped tomato, fennel and coriander seeds, basil, cilantro, olive oil and lemon oil. The mixture is allowed to steep for at least 24 hours before straining and using.

The beets, golden and red, are cooked seperately in sherry and red wine vinegars and water until tender. I actually bagged them and cooked them sous vide instead. They are then pealed sliced on a mandolin and, using a round cookie cutter, trimmed to neat rounds. Before serving, the beets are laid on a parchment lined baking sheet, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with the citrus-coriander oil and warmed in a hot oven for a few minutes.

Halibut

To make the sauce for the dish, the emulsion, I heated up a mixture of orange juice, shallots , lemon juice and ponzu (a Japanese sauce of citrus and soy sauce) till simmering. Then I whisked in the citrus-coriander oil. I kept this sauce warm while finishing the fish.

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Chef Ripert poaches the fish in a liquid of water, citrus juice and vermouth thickened with a bit of roux. This is supposed to give the fish a wonderful velvety texture. I was juggling a few things that evening and saw no reason not to cook the fish sous vide. So, I bagged the halibut with the same mixture (used less of it though) minus the roux and cooked it for about 20 minutes till perfectly done. I patted the fish dry and plated the fillets on top of the beet rounds. I sauced with the emulsion and garnished the fish with a julienne of basil.

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Monkfish Piccata


Monk Piccata

Recently I cooked a nice fish dinner for Diana and I. The first course/appetizer was supposed to be some sort of shellfish (oysters maybe) and the main is a lovely halibut recipe from Le Bernardin  taken from Eric Ripert’s book On the Line (post about that is coming up soon). However, as soon as I walked past the fish counter at Whole Foods and saw the brilliantly fresh monkfish that they had just gotten in, the oysters went out the window. I had no idea what I would do with the fillet I bought at the time and certainly was not planning on posting about it. When all was said and done and this first course was plated, it looked so nice and was so tasty that I knew it would get its own post.

The only other item I had bought with the monkfish is a bunch of watercress. When I got home, I flipped through On The Line since I was already cooking the halibut from it to see if there is anything that would be quick and work for monkfish. Unfortunately the recipe in there, while sounding fantastic, was pretty complicated. I would love to make it some other time with its red wine sauce and truffled potato foam but for an impromptu first course it was not going to happen. I did borrow the cooking technique he uses though. More on that in a minute.

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Mario Batali in his The Babbo Cookbook has a recipe for monkfish where he treats it like chicken or veal and makes a piccata. The fish is cut into scaloppine and pan-fried. The dish is finished like a traditional piccata with white wine, lemon and caper berries. That sounded like a perfect first course for our dinner especially served with a nice bunch of light watercress.

Monkfish

Even though the recipe is based on the Batali version, I really liked how the version in Ripert’s book treats the fish – almost like a pork or beef loin. Like no other fish, monkfish can take some longer cooking without drying out. The texture is firm and very pleasant which explains why it is sometimes called “poor man’s lobster”. That’s why Ripert served his with accompaniments normally reserved for red meat (red wine sauce, potatoes, mushrooms,…). So instead of cutting the fish fillet into medallions I left the “loin” whole and rolled it in lightly seasoned Wondra flour (both Ripert and Batali use that). I love using Wondra to get perfectly crispy thin crusts on all kinds of meat, especially fish.  Then I cooked the fish in a pan in some olive oil and butter basting it all the time. After that, just like a small roast, it went into a hot oven to finish cooking through.

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For the sauce, I deglazed the pan with white wine while the fish rested. Then I added turmeric, parsley, chopped preserved lemon, lemon juice, parsley and a good healthy dose of olive oil. This made for a delicious dressing of sorts. I would’ve liked some caper berries in there or small capers, but Diana hates those. So, no capers. The fish was then sliced into medallions. Any other fish would’ve flaked apart. This was juicy and perfectly firm, really very much like lobster tail. I dressed the cress with some of the pan sauce and put a handful on top of the fanned monkfish medallions. More of the sauce was drizzled on and around the fish to finish it up. I really loved the non-traditional addition of the preserved lemon in the sauce as opposed to just lemon juice. It gave the dish a unique and slightly exotic flavor and some more texture.

Le Ratatouille

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Summer is winding down (sure it is October, but this is Houston…summer goes all the way to November sometimes) and the summer produce is really at its peak (and it’s cheapest). Even the run-of-the-mill supermarket tomatoes are very good this time of year. They are sweet and with the right balance of acidity. The red bell peppers are large, plump and -at $0.50 a piece- a bargain. One of my favorite summer dishes that I love to make around this time of year is a good Ratatouille. It’s a simple stew of tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and eggplants (sometimes zucchini goes in there too).

Versions of this delicious Provencal vegetable stew are numerous and they vary from very straightforward (saute all the veggies together) to the more elaborate (cook each vegetable separately, combine afterwards,…). This recipe is decidedly in the more elaborate camp, but it really is a pleasure to make in a few stages and I enjoy the process and love the amazing results. It is so good that I have not made another version in years. Cooking all the vegetables together in one pot really does not give each type a chance to shine. Instead you get a homogeneous mishmash of vegetables. Not necessarily a horrible thing, but usually not what I am after.

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The recipe I use every time is based on one from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens book that she titles “Madame Saucourt’s Fabulous Ratatouille”. I still need to get around to trying Francis Lam’s Weapon Grade Ratatouille just to see if that name is apt! Lam describes his version that takes hours to cook as roasted vegetables bound together by reduced tomato juice/jam and onions. Sounds excellent.

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Ratatouille

To prepare the various vegetables, Ms. Wolfert goes through a few steps:

  • The red peppers get rubbed with oil, broiled till charred then peeled and cut into pieces
  • The onions are sliced into thin strips
  • Tomatoes get pureed in the food processor
  • The zucchini and eggplant are cut into cubes and salted well. Then they are rinsed, dried and deep fried in plenty of olive oil

Onion-Tomato

The only shortcut I take in my version is for the zucchini and eggplant. Instead of deep frying, I cut the eggplant into thick rounds, brush them with oil and broil them or grill them (after salting, draining and drying). To prepare  the zucchini I cut them into large cubes and then pan fry them in olive oil until golden on all sides. The original recipe makes a large amount, something like a gallon or so. I usually make half of that and it is enough for a large meal and several small ones throughout the week.

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To bring it all together the onions are cooked long and slow in plenty of olive oil and some water until soft and golden. Then we add garlic and herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaves, celery leaves) along with a healthy dose of white wine. The mixture is cooked for some more time before adding the pureed tomatoes. The flavor building keeps going for another hour or more with the mixture bubbling and reducing. Now we assemble the Ratatouille.

I use a pretty clay pot I have (one of many) to layer the tomato mixture first then the prepared zucchini, eggplant and peppers. I add in another dose of white wine and the whole thing simmers gently for another hour or two making sure it does not burn or stick. If the Ratatouille has too much liquid, I gently drain as much of it as possible and reduce it separately. A final adjustment of some red wine vinegar if needed and a fresh sprinkling of herbs round out the dish. This is delicious warm or at room temperature. I love it with crusty bread and I’ve been known to enjoy it with steamed burghul or even pita bread.

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Salmon, Sauce Bois Boudran and Crushed Potatoes

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I have a lot of cookbooks. By some measures too many but compared to others really not that much. If a book adds one or two recipes to my rotation that everyone loves in my family then it has done it’s job. Better books add more to the mix like a new technique, ingredient or some tips and tricks. A select few books might not add anything to my general knowledge but are a lot of fun to read or flip through. Any book that does not have any of the above is quickly returned to the bookstore or sold at Half-Price Books. Honestly, I rarely encounter any of that last type because I do a bit of research into what I buy.

Heston Blumenthal at Home is a book that combines many of the criteria above. It is modern, but rooted in many classics (Shrimp Cocktail, liver parfait, chilli con carne). The recipes for the most part are refined but not daunting and are hallmarks of Blumenthal’s perfect technique. More importantly, every chapter opens with a concise and simple to understand introduction of each topic (Sous vide cooking, Frozen desserts). If you ever wanted to know how to make exceptionally smooth ice cream and sorbet using dry ice (and a KitchenAid mixer) then this is the book for you. The reason I decided to post about the book though is that it added at least two awesome recipes to my family rotation and this salmon is one of them – chicken braised with sherry and cream is the other one.  I credit this recipe with opening my two boys’ eyes to how delicious well-prepared salmon can be. Now, when they say they want salmon for dinner they mean Mr. Blumenthal’s recipe, but also they actually order salmon when we are eating out now. I could not ask for more.

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The actual original recipe, as Blumenthal mentions in the intro to the sauce, belongs to Michel Roux a very well-respected Michelin starred chef. Roux’s son and nephew are also high caliber chefs by the way. Anyways, the recipe in the book has three components; salmon cooked sous vide and crisped, smashed potatoes and the lovely sauce. The fish is bagged with the skin on along with a bit of olive oil and cooked in a water bath at 50 C for about 20 minutes. Before serving, the skin side is patted dry and crisped in a pan. The fish is meltingly tender and the skin becomes nicely crisp and brittle. If you skip the crisping step the skin really has to be removed since it is kind of flabby and not pleasant right out of the plastic cooking pouch.

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The crushed potatoes are just boiled yukon gold potatoes that are sqaushed with a fork or large spoon. Then a mixture of sauteed shallots, whole grain mustard, olive oil and herbs (tarragon, parsley, chives) are mixed in. The potatoes are delicious and have an excellent texture. The Bois Boudran sauce is an interesting one. At first I was a bit skeptical with the ingredient list: Ketchup (yeap, plain old ketchup), olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, shallots, tarragon, parsley, Tabasco sauce,… Served with the fish and potatoes though the sauce is damn tasty. It has the sour, sweet, spicy flavors working in harmony along with a nice crunchy texture from a load of shallots that are briefly blanched in boiling water to take the edge from them.

Carrots-Carrot Top Sauce

Usually, I simply serve the plate as is with sauce, potatoes and fish but once in a while if I have some time I might add a salad or maybe a bit more elaborate side. This one is carrots cooked with butter and carrot juice based on a recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. As for the brilliant green sauce it’s made from green carrot tops courtesy of Michel Richard’s Happy in The Kitchen book. The leafy carrot tops that are normally discarded have a ton of flavor. I just blanch them in boiling water and shock them in ice water. Then they are pureed with some water or stock and butter is added along with some lemon juice and salt. After straining it was a bit loose, so I thickened it with a little Ultratex-3. The sauce has a brilliant flavor and of course it works great with those carrots. Really give it a shot next time you buy carrots with the greens still on.

Wild Duck, Cabbage, Fried Hominy and Red Wine Beet Sauce

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I’m still working on my wild duck cooking skill and the best result I’ve gotten so far is through removing the breasts and legs and cooking them separately. I’ve made a “quick salad” for my kids and I recently and I basically sautéed everything for different times and then sliced and served on top of a tart green salad. That was very nice and I achieved the well cooked crispy legs I complained about missing in this post. I also managed to get the breasts to be medium with a crispy skin, but some parts were over-cooked a bit and overcooked wild duck is not a very good thing.

Baked Duck Legs

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For this dish I took it to the next logical level and did what experienced cooks and chefs always instruct us to do: cook the breasts and legs separately each to their optimum doneness. It’s that “optimum doneness” part that can be a bit tricky while shooting for a crisp skin on such lean small birds. The way I tackled it is to cook the breasts sous vide and the legs baked in a very hot oven. The legs were well-done and crisp and the breasts were a lovely medium rare and a nice rosy color, even after a quick sear in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Before cooking the meat I simply salted it and rubbed it with a bit of thyme the night before and the breasts were packaged in FoodSaver bags with a bit of butter in  there before going in the  water at 55C for about an hour.

To go with the duck I made red braised cabbage and fried hominy cakes. The cabbage is from Gordon Ramsey’s “*** Chef” that I posted about a while back. It’s a very simple recipe of cabbage, butter and vinegar. The end result is delicious and very flavorful, much more than the sum of its parts. The hominy cakes are another direct rip off from Hank Shaw where he also pairs it with duck, canvasback to be exact. I followed Hank’s recipe verbatim and it worked perfectly. The grits cakes held together and had a great crispy exterior and a lovely soft interior. The flavor was mild and it really offset all the other robust flavors in the dish from the duck, cabbage and sauce. The dish needed the texture and the cakes delivered it in strides. The bread crumbs I used were made from a loaf of bread I baked with poppy seeds and that’s why the cakes’ crust has all these little black specs in it. That looked pretty neat and worked well with the sort of Germanic theme of dish.

Hominy Grits Cakes

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The sauce here is based on the duck carcasses. After removing the breasts and legs, I cut up the remaining bones and trimmings and made a stock with them. I wanted the stock to be robust and full of flavor, so I first roasted the cut up oil-rubbed carcasses and sautéed a bunch of aromatics in the drippings in the pan. Then I deglazed the pan with Madeira and sherry vinegar. Everything went in the pressure cooker and cooked at 15 psi for about an hour and half. I ended up with a good 1.5 quarts of amazing duck stock. I used about a cup for the sauce and the rest is now frozen for other applications (possibly an oyster and duck gumbo to use up the last three birds I have in the near future). The sauce is prepared like a traditional red wine sauce made by simmering red wine and aromatics with the addition of chopped fresh beets. I added the beets for color and flavor, another item that to me sounds Germanic as well. After the wine is reduced I added in the duck stock and allowed that to reduce a bit as well before enriching with a bit of butter. The sauce had everything I was looking for a rich color and deep flavor.

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Roasted Teal with Delicata Squash, Farro and Spiced Red Wine Sauce

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About a month or so ago I finally got all my plans in order and booked a hunting trip with a local guide to see if I can get myself some wild ducks. It’s been many years since I’ve been hunting but finally I get myself a gun, license and practiced some clay shooting at local range to get the rust out of my shooting. In no small way I have Hank Shaw to thank for the motivation. To say his hunting, fishing and cooking articles at his blog and in his book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” were inspiring is an understatement. All in all, I ended up with several mallards that day and a couple of nice teal. Teal are small, about the size of a pigeon and are supposed to be delicious so I wanted to show them off by cooking them whole.

Teal

I roasted them simply by following Hank’s instruction. I first seasoned them with salt and a mixture of orange zest, allspice and thyme. I then baked the birds in a very hot oven to a medium rare. That worked well for the breasts, but honestly I was not crazy about the texture of the legs. They remained a bit tough for my liking and the skin did not crisp as well as I would’ve liked either. The flavor of the teal though was very good. They tasted rich and robust but not too gamy. I’m glad I made a full-flavored sauce to go with them. The sauce is from a Mario Batali recipe in the Babbo Cookbook and it’s not much more than a reduced red wine sauce flavored with allspice and cloves. Batali serves it with venison and a pumpkin caponata.

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I took another page from that recipe and made a much simplified version of that caponata using Delicata squash which is amazingly sweet. I roasted it and then tossed it with sauteed onions, raisins and red wine. To make this more substantial I tossed the squash with cooked farro. The combination was very tasty, like a rustic and comforting risotto.  The flavor of the birds was wonderful with the spiced wine sauce and the earthy squash farro.

Fig Leaf Salmon, Grilled Leeks Vinaigrette and Red Wine Sauce

I’ve had a fig tree in my back yard for the past eight or nine years maybe. I also first heard or read about wrapping fish in the leaves even before that in a Food and Wine article about Alice Waters if I am not mistaken.  I cannot tell why it took me so long to finally try this but it is a delicious and classy way of  cooking and serving fish – beautiful wild King Salmon in this case. The recipe (or more like process) is very simple and it is from the classic Chez Panisse book by Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters. I picked a few nice fig leaves from the backyard tree and washed them thoroughly. I rubbed them with a bit of olive oil and then trimmed and seasoned the fish with salt and pepper.

Nothing is needed to tie the leaves around the fish. I just laid the fillets on the oiled leaves and wrapped the leaves around the fish the best I could. These are ready to go on the grill now. So, I had a hot charcoal fire ready and laid the fish on it with the leaf seams down. After grilling for a few minutes the leaves are basically sealed and the fish can be flipped on the other side to finish cooking. The fig leaves imbue the fillet with a delightful smoky musky aroma and taste that really complements the fattiness of the meat. The leaves are not meant to be eaten by the way. Instead I peeled them gently from the fish when I served it and then dressed the fish with the sauce.

The sauce is a straightforward beurre rouge, or red butter sauce. It’ made by cooking down a lot of wine and aromatics like carrots, celery, onions, shallots, thyme…until you’re only left with a few tablespoons. Then you stir in lot of cold butter and strain the tasty light red emulsion and keep it warm until ready to serve. Like any butter sauce, it’s not a good idea to make this too far in advance because as it sits it can, and probably will, break and separate. The best way to hold it for thirty minutes or so is to leave the small pot containing the sauce on top of a larger pot of hot steaming (not boiling) water as in a double boiler.

I was not sure what to serve with the fish so I flipped through the same book for ideas and found Paul Bertolli’s version of another French Bistro classic. Leeks vinaigrette is made by boiling leeks until tender and then dressing them up with a vinaigrette that typically includes shallots and red wine vinegar. This recipe incorporates anchovies and a garnish of hard cooked eggs as well. Since I was grilling the fish I decided to get some grill flavor and marks on the leeks to. Why waste a perfectly good roaring hot pile of charcoal? So after boiling the leeks I rubbed them with a bit of oil and grilled them for a minute or so per side. Then I tossed them in the dressing and plated them topped with the minced hard cooked eggs and more dressing. The grilled leeks got amazingly sweet and smoky on the grill and were so delicious in this preparation that I could eat a whole pile of them. The worked great with the fish too and did not distract from the lovely flavor of the fish. Now, I hope it is not going to take me another 8 years before I use the fig leaves to cook again!