Friday, December 17, 2010

Duck Hunt

Nicole said...

So this isn't necessarily Holiday related, but I have a question. I have 2 breastless ducks that I was thinking of using for duck confit. I've never made confit before. What's the best way to go about it? Also, in regards to the duck fat, do I use fat from the ducks I have, do I need to some how render the fat? Thanks in advance!

Duck confit is one of my favorite foods. It's not particularly difficult, but it does take awhile. So, you're welcome to render the fat off the duck you have, but you are going to need some more, at least a pint. If you can't find duck fat, use lard. 

So, you want to cut the legs off of the carcass and cure them overnight. I use the "Green Salt" recipe from Thomas Keller: 1/2 cup kosher salt, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons chopped thyme, 1/4 cup packed parsley, 1 teaspoon black peppercorn. Put all of this in a food processor and pulse it. You need about 1 tablespoon of the salt per leg, the rest throw in the freezer for another use (another confit, pork rillettes, etc.) Salt the legs and let them sit overnight. 

I like to render the fat off the carcass so its not wasted and the stock made from the bones is not muddy. To render, set your oven to 325 and slowly roast the carcass in a roasting pan with a rack. Check it after about 30 minutes. The goal here is to melt the fat without scorching either the fat or the bones. The fat will have pooled in your roasting pan, just pour it into a container, let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate. You can then use the bones to make a stock for another use.

The next day, set your oven to 200. Rinse the legs. The best cookware to use is a dutch oven, or any cookware that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven.  Melt the fat on the stovetop. When it is warm, not hot, slip the legs in. Throughout the cooking process, the fat should stay at "a lazy bubble" according to The Joy of Cooking. Pop it in the oven and check the legs after 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When you insert a knife, the legs should offer no resistance. 

When finished cooking, take the pot out of the oven and let come to room temperature. Put in the fridge and let sit overnight. The longer the legs stay like this, the better the flavor. This process was originally a preservation technique, after all. When ready to use, gently warm the fat on the stovetop until it is soft, then remove the legs. Serve chilled, or heat up in a saute pan with a spoonful of the confit fat to get the skin crispy. Depending on the size of the leg, you may need to throw them in the oven to warm them through. Take care not to overheat them.

It's certainly a bit of a project, but well worth it. Let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh Shit.

Somehow, you've been tasked with cooking the holiday meal.  What do you do? Panic? Head to the bookstore and buy every cooking magazine available? (Btw, I love those cooking magazines with their cool photos and funky dishes. I don't know where they get those models, but they are always irritatingly proportioned, ultra-cool, and super euro. I don't know about you, but I would be wildly, wildly uncomfortable in a room full of people like that. But I digress.) Let's run through a game plan.

1. Compose your menu. This is where you can fix mistakes before they're made. Remember to consider how you're going to produce the menu. In a professional kitchen, how to execute a dish is as important as the dish itself. Just like you can't overload the saute station at work, at home you can't bake four things at different temperatures at the same time. Try to keep the rules of physics in mind whilst creating your holiday deliciousness. To begin, I usually begin with the main protein. Let's take a standing rib roast, for example. It's a festive, luxurious cut of well-marbled beef. You can dictate the size by specifying how many ribs you would like. A few years ago, I bought a three-rib roast for four people, and there were plenty of leftovers. Whatever your protein, be it turkey, beef, lamb, or goose, remember to account for time to rest the meat. This will give you about thirty minutes to bring the last components of your meal together. You want a starch, such as mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, or roasted fingerlings. And I usually provide at least two veggies. A dark leafy green like kale is perfect sauteed with shallots, garlic and olive oil. Easy, and, for me, a necessary part of a meal. If you are adventurous and want to experiment, try to limit it to one or two dishes. The last thing you want is unforeseen complications when everybody is starving and getting cranky.

2. Make a prep list. On your list, label each dish, write out each component, and how long and by what technique you will cook it. Figure out what you can delegate, and what you need to do yourself. Try to get things done the day before, especially grocery shopping. I like to get all chopping out of the way beforehand, and keep my garlic, shallots, onions, carrots, etc. in bowls so I can cook organized and uninterrupted.

3. Get Help! Chances are, there will be people around you saying, "What can I do to help?" Do not play the martyr. Conscript and conquer. "Chop those onions." "Wash those pans." "Pick that parsley." If your guests are like mine, they will be happy to be included and it's more fun for everyone.

Alright folks. Holiday issues? Concerns? Questions? Blog it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hot Chilies!

So this comes by way of my father, my agent in the field scouring the earth for the hottest chilies available. 

Here's something for your food blog. Some guy in the UK has developed a new Naga chili variety called the "Viper". It is 33% hotter than the regular Naga coming in 1,350,000 scoville heat units. That's 270x hotter than a jalapeno. The guy says it makes a disgustingly hot curry. It's alternative use is as an ingredient in an "tear gas" grenade for the military. They say that you can barely breathe for 30 minutes. Oh! and the guy makes you sign liability waiver before sampling.

The Naga, or Jolokia pepper, was considered the hottest chili in the world. That is, until this gentleman in England created the pepper my dad pointed out. I've cooked with both dried and fresh versions of the original Naga, and they are indeed pretty damn hot. The flavor, however, is incredible. It's earthy and smokey, and fantastic for curries. Just one chili in a six-quart pot makes your soup pleasantly piquant. They also make a bitching hot sauce, stewed with carrots, garlic, onions, and tomatoes and pureed. I bought mine dried online, and an Indian customer at our restaurant brought me some fresh ones. Either way, if you like spicy, they're a must-have.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Eastern Market

I love working on the Hill. As a North Westerner, I rarely ventured too far south or east in the past eight years. But now that I work on 8th St. SE, I am spending a lot more time at Eastern Market. I've appreciated the market in the past, and I mourned the fire a few years ago. But the mental divide that exists between the Hill and the rest of DC kept my visits sporadic at best. 

So, let's talk about the good, bad, and ugly of the market. First off, it's not nearly as pretentious as some might guess. This is no Dean&Deluca. What I like best about the market is the interaction between the employees and customers. Not in a cheesy, "Welcome To Wal-Mart" kind of way, but in a genuine butcher-to-cook way. 

A few weeks ago, I wanted to braise some lamb shanks, but wanted a nice stock to use. I went to Union Meat  and asked them for lamb bones. The long-haired Cowboys fan asked me if I wanted the bones split. "No," I said, "that's alright, I'm just making a stock." With an impassive gaze, he said "That's why you should get them split." Tell me you're going to get that at Whole Foods. That's what your grandparents' butcher would have said. He took my $1.65 a pound purchase and ran all the bones on the bandsaw because he knew it was better for me.  Seriously, ask any grocery store clerk in DC to do that for you and see what the reaction is. 

Also, the selection is much better than any grocery store in DC: lamb legs, veal bones, liver, pork shoulder, necks, hanger steaks, sweetbreads, in addition to excellent cuts of steak. I bought a three-rib standing roast for my first Christmas hosting the in-laws, and it was magnificent. Beautiful marbling, bright red meat, and delicious, delicious fat around the cut. 

As you can see, I was very excited.

The fish market is good too. They
 usually have whole dorade, which 
is great on the grill or in a pan, 
stuffed with lemon and rosemary.

Anyway, I would like to organize a trip over there to talk about the available food. What has been your experience with the market? Any reactions to the cheese purveyor? How about the bread?