Monday, January 18, 2010

Duck Confit

I love duck confit. I don't really know the origin of my affinity, but I do know that duck confit is one of the rare dishes that gets a pardon from the no-eating-stuff-you-make-at-home rule when I am eating out at a restaurant. How come? Because it is damn good, that's why. But it's also damn easy to make at home, so you should give it a try.

Two things about this post:
1. All of the photos were taken in my iPhone - sorry if they stink
2. I'm going to leave the confit in the fridge for a while, so this post is simply about cooking the confit, I'll post on how I served it and any tasting notes another time.

Here are two gorgeous Moulard duck leg/thigh pieces that I picked up from Hudson Valley Duck Farm a while back at the NA Market. The guys that run the farm are really interesting folks and while I do have local suppliers for duck in my area (Dr. Joe is less than an hour away), I am planning a trip up to the Hudson Valley this spring to check out their operation...

If you've never made duck confit before, the process is relatively simple. The raw duck is rubbed with a salt/herb/spice mixture and is left to cure in the refrigerator for a period of time. How much time? Keller suggests 24 hours, others say no more than 12 hours - since Keller's curing mixture contains a number of herbs and sugar to balance the salt the longer cure time is ideal. The curing mixture for this recipe includes brown sugar, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. It also include fresh parsley which I was certain I had in the refrigerator.

I didn't.

The fresh parsley would have added a certain moisture to the mix making it more of a paste rather than a damp salt; it also would have added an additional herbaceous quality but, as Donald Rumsfeld said, "You go to war with the army you have -- not the army you might want..." so, I continued on without the parsley.

I put the ingredients into the mini-prep (I love that thing) and processed until the mixture was a uniform consistency:

I did deviate from the recipe slightly; whenever I make duck confit, I always score the top of the duck leg as close to the knobby end as I can safely manage. I have made confit with and without doing this and I find the final result and final presentation to be more appealing by taking the six seconds. You'll see. By the way, I learned to do this as I was flipping channels one Saturday morning last year and I just happened to see a TV chef suggest doing so (I think it was Jacques Pepin - but I don't fully recall). You can see the score marks here:

The green salt is applied to the duck at a rate of one tablespoon of salt per pound of duck - these guys weighed in at right at a pound each:

24 hours later:

The green salt is washed off, the duck legs are dried, then the magic happens. Look at this beautiful sight:
Is that a bucket of duck fat? Why yes, yes it is.

The fat is melted, the duck submerged, the lid applied and the pot placed in the oven (how's that for passive voice?!).

The duck is baked, no, braised, no, bathed at a comfortable 190 for several hours. The result? See for yourself:

See what those cuts did for the meat sliding down the leg bone? Nice and clean, just as I wanted. For a more French approach and presentation, the knobs are cut off so just some of the leg bone is showing. I was able to sneak a little taste and this stuff is good - not substantially different than many of the duck confit I have had in the past, but very good. The main difference I notice with this recipe as compared to others I have read and tried in the past is the addition of brown sugar and the lack of more aromatic spices (e.g. star anise and clove) to the curing mix. I only tried a small piece, maybe the difference with this mixture will be more apparent in a larger quantity. The serving options for confit are endless - as part of a salad, as an appetizer with some of the red onion and cranberry marmalade, the base for duck rillettes, and so on and so on...

So let's look at active cooking time:
Making green salt: 4 minutes (to measure, take picture, process in mini prep)
Scoring duck leg and rubbing duck with green salt: 1 minute
Rinsing and drying duck: 3 minutes
Melting duck fat and putting legs in the fatbath: 3 minutes

So with 11 TOTAL minutes of active cooking time you can have a classic French bistro dish that is versatile and delicious. Stop reading and make some. Right now.

Possible additional time commitment:
Putting duck in long-term storage vessel and covering with fat: 5 minutes (which gets you six months of storage time - six months!)

Duck Legs and Duck Fat from Hudson Valley Duck Farm via NA Market

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Sausage and Peppers

Sausage and peppers - that's a gimme - I'm not sure that I have ever disliked any sausage and pepper dish. But, I can honestly say that I've only had sausage and peppers slapped on a bun watching some sporting event, wishing I had extra napkins as the sausage and pepper juice is causing structural failure of the bun and I am paralyzed because I have sausage and pepper juice running down my face, hands and arms.

What I'm saying is sausage and peppers with a fork and knife is not exactly part of my food vernacular.

This recipe combines the pan-roasted chicken and sausage with the recipe for peperonata rustica. Let's get going with the chicken:

I started with breaking down a small chicken into the eight piece cut that is very well illustrated in the book and placing the pieces in a brine. This is the famous Keller lemon chicken brine that has made many a foodie swoon over his fried chicken dish. The brine contains salt, honey, garlic, lemon, bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley and made far more than I needed for this recipe so I put the extra brine (non-chicken-y) in a freezer bag and into the chest freezer for use at a later date.

While that was brining, I got to work on the peperonata rustica - a cooked pepper dish that contains several fresh peppers and some dried peppers as well. The peppers cook in a chicken stock base and since I was running low on chicken stock I made the recipe from the book.

Chicken stock, for the longest time, was an ingredient that I used to never make at home (I was a Swanson low sodium box broth guy) but after discovering Michael Ruhlman's technique for making stock, I now exclusively use homemade. I keep a bag of chicken bones in the freezer and once the bag gets full, I make stock. The AHaH version is a very light (in color and flavor) stock that I would probably not replicate for my everyday stock uses. I like to make darker stock from roasted bones rather than a lighter stock like this one. Keller concedes that this is a light stock by design and he offers suggestions for making the stock stronger, but this technique is much more complicated than the Ruhlman way to which I have become accustomed.

Maybe complicated is the wrong word, perhaps intricate or labor intensive would be more accurate. The Keller way has one rinse the bones, simmer the stock slightly off the burner (to create a convection that naturally gathers the impurities - a great tip), pour ice into the stock to congeal the fat and make it easier to remove, add the veggies (carrots, leeks, onions), simmer, skim, skim, skim, ladle gently through a conical strainer, and chill rapidly. That's a lot different and a lot more attention than roast bones, cover with water, put in low oven for howeverlong add veggies in the last hour, strain, chill.

Now, all the steps in Keller's version will result in a clean, clear stock, trust me - but I'm just not that picky in general. I would use such a technique for a special recipe or occasion (or if I was having a all-you-can-cook kind of weekend) but not on a consistent basis.

Onto the peppers. They are tossed with oil, salt and pepper and roasted in a 375 oven. They are removed, peeled and torn into strips.

After the red and yellow peppers are roasted, peeled and torn they are combined with piquillo peppers (if you haven't had these little guys, you are missing out; they are like a jacked-up steroid injected roasted red pepper in a tiny little package), soffritto, the chicken stock from above and piment d'Espelette.

The piquillo peppers

Onions for soffritto

Frying the tomato for the soffritto

The mixture is combined and simmered for thirty minutes to soften the peppers and also to allow the flavors to meld. Back to the chicken. The chicken is patted dry and sauteed. The book suggests a saute time of between thirteen and fifteen minutes - I found this to be way too long based on the sugar content of the brine. As you can see from the picture below, I was getting some deep color on the chicken and these were turned after about seven minutes. Clearly all cook tops vary - so one can't strictly adhere to the recipe; had I done that, I would have had what looked like Kingsford briquettes for dinner. However, if a nice representative from Wolf or Viking would like to contact me about trying out their product for the next thirty years or so because I have a glass top range that I hate, hate, hate - drop me an email and we'll chat because I loathe my range.

Whoooo. I feel better. Back to the chicken... Dry it:

Saute it and add the sausages (I got some great sweet sausages without fennel seeds from Giacomo's):

Mix in the peppers and put in the oven to finish cooking the chicken:

Plate and eat:

The verdict? Damn good. The porky richness goes great with the juicy, briny chicken and the peperonata rustica had it's own sweet, tart note that rounded out the dish perfectly. It was a very satisfying, almost light dish. There is no heavy sauce, nothing that sits heavy in the stomach. I would say that I was surprised that this combination worked so well - I didn't know that the chicken would work with the sausage and pepper classic combination. Hell, I didn't know if I would be able to eat sausage and peppers with a fork and knife. But I did, and it was good. I mean, look at these plates! It looks like a pack of wolves ate dinner at my house:

The other nice part about this dish? Left over peperonata rustica to make Eggs Flamenco (in the book at the end of the peperonata rustic recipe).

Cook the eggs in the peperonata with a little extra stock to moisten the mixture and re-warm the sausages:
And serve (and eat with same pack-of-wolves voracity):

Air-chilled chicken from Wegmans
Sweet Sausage from Giacomo's (Easton, PA)
Piment d'Espelette from Savory Spice (although it is available again from Market Hall)
Eggs from Happy Farm

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Get it together man!

Happy New Year! It's time I get off the holiday high and get down to business. I have materials to post but I got a little behind with the whole broken-water-main-birth-of-my-first-neice-drive-2500-miles-over-the-holidays craziness. I am hoping to post tomorrow evening, again this weekend and have some fresh stuff for the following week.

Sorry if you navigated to this page and saw the same thing for a couple of weeks. I'll try to underwhelm less frequently.