27 January 2010

Just ducky

My refrigerator smells of feet.

And not like feet that see a lot of scrubbing in the shower or are lavishly washed in the fashion of old with olive oil or wine. More like one might expect the feet of Oscar Madison to smell, if one thought about those kinds of things-- until now, I'd have counted myself (firmly) in the camp that doesn't. Oddly, this (the smell, not thinking about Oscar Madison's feet) doesn't really bother me.

I'm in bachelor mode this week, since Karen is traveling for work. And so I'm doing the things that bachelors do: going to bed late (the guy upstairs has been dragging a 100-lb stone around his bare wood floors for 30 min each night at about 00.30, so there's little point in trying to get any sleep before he's finished), riding my bike over new routes, and eating leftovers.

Fortunately, having cooked for company last weekend, there's plenty to choose from. I've got something of culinary ADHD, and so the dinner wound up being 9 courses long, 7 of them duck. There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing, and it's a lesson I learn (and then ignore) over and over, kind of like the lesson that one should not experiment on one's guests. I mean culinarily. Well, actually, I guess performing any experiments on guests would be uncool, and even illegal, but in this case, I mean that it's perhaps unwise feeding them first attempts at physically realizing food ideas that seemed really great at 1 o'clock in the morning after the stone-dragging upstairs has finished. Thankfully, our guests were polite and gracious and complained not at all about the excess or experimenting.

I've maybe mentioned before how much I love duck. Everything's usable: bones and feet (stock), skin (confit), legs (ragu, confit), breast, neck (stuffed), liver (ragu, neck stuffing), heart and gizzard (ravioli fillings, neck fillings, etc). I like to take the duck off the bone as a single big piece, good practice for using the whole skin to wrap fillings and such. It's also just fun.

I decided to make duck prosciutto for the first time. I don't have a recipe, but how hard can it be? Salt (and season) duck overnight, wash off salt, hang duck until it has lost about 30% of its pre-hanging weight. Salting darkened the meat (salted and rinsed on right, raw counterpart on left).

They say the flavors of the great hams are derived from the air they dry in, the sea air or other flavors of nature imparting flavor to the fat and meat. Our duck dried in the rare av Henri Martin air, a mixture of smog (the air quality in Paris over the 8 days it hung was among the worst since we've been here, according to the papers) and ubiquitous cigarette smoke. I drew the line at the funky stinky mold on the rolling wooden shutters-- we had the door cracked open during the day all week to keep the temp around the duck a little low, but at night when that shutter was down, the door was sealed tight.

Ready for eating-- now dark and decidedly prosciutto-y smelling, a bundle of salty ducky goodness. For the dinner, we served sliced with a timbale made of roasted turnips hiding a just-warm egg yolk.

That was followed by a star anise-infused duck consomme with little mushroom and white bean raviolis. The consomme was killer, the raviolis weren't quite the right flavor (originally they were going to be stuffed with the roasted turnip and the timbale was going to be parsnip, but these things keep changing).

Stuffed duck neck is a French classic, basically using the neck skin as a sausage wrapper. I'd hoped to have 2 necks, but the less-bright of my butchers slit one of them down its length (the one at the back in the pic), so I had to get every bit out of the other one. Thankfully, Karen loved doing sutures in surgery rotation, and she stitched up the head end (rather than my tying it) and stitched the body end so it would hold the stuffing of duck meat, sausage, wild rice cooked in giblet stock, and roasted hazelnuts. Can't believe I didn't get a picture of it stuffed and poached (it was a perfect cylinder, not at all creepy like this). For dinner it was fried until crispy and dark on the outside, sliced, and served with Bordelaise and deeply browned brussels sprouts.

I have yet to have a good duck confit in France. I know-- it seems wrong. Especially since it's easy to make. But every one I've had here have been tough and tasteless. So I made my own. Salt and season (I'm partial to ground fresh herbs, black pepper, and a little quatre epices) like this overnight, before rinsing off seasoning and drying.

Melt a whole crapload of duck fat that you've rendered from the duck skin you've been collecting.

Cover duck legs completely with the melted fat, cook really slowly (~180 degrees-- don't let it get above 200 or it'll toughen) for 8-12 hours. Cool in the fat, store for up to a couple of weeks. Yeah, right, like it'll last more than a day or two. For the dinner, we served crisped confit on top of confit'd (in sugar, not fat) orange slices with a celeriac and mustard seed salad.

Duck ragu is one of my favorites. This time I did it with black olives and served with chestnut pappardelle. We were eating this before the dinner, had it at the dinner, and have some left over, and wish we had more.

I had this idea a few weeks ago for poached duck breast (and of course later learned I was nowhere near the first). Duck breast is so often all about the skin, but I love the flavor of rare duck, so I thought I'd lightly cure it in salt and citrus peel and poach it in olive oil. Not so good-- the semi-cured duck just didn't do it (I thought it might be like a duck gravlax, but I was way wrong). So I poached the other one uncured in olive oil and served it with turnips "Anna" and crisped skin. The duck and skin were good, and the turnips tasted good but never got that crispy awesomeness that potatoes anna get. Back to the drawing board. Karen suggested crispy polenta as an accompaniment. Smart girl.

For the dinner, I poached the breast in clarified butter (may as well go big...) and served with garlicky turnip greens, crisped polenta with a bit of mushroom reduction, and mostardas of quince and parsnip. Like everything else, it could still use tweaking, but it was a step in the right direction.

The last duck course was a Chinese-spiced duck breast, pan-seared and served with squash, baby bok-choy, and a mildly hot but too-sweet Chinese-style loose sauce. Way too 1980s. Oh well.

I've been playing with encapsulation/spherification and other science-in-the-kitchen stuff lately. I made some coffee caviar to use in an opera-like dessert (classically chocolate, almond, and coffee): a chocolate-almond tuille filled with chocolate-coffee mousse with coffee caviar on top. I'm not a dessert guy, but it was fun to make. And the coffee caviar were a genuinely good idea (though I'm sure if I look, I can learn I'm not the first).

The coffee noodles, however, were a terrible idea. Though they looked kinda like soy-soaked bean thread noodles, they looked a lot more like nasty worms. Fortunately, I had the good sense not to even try to find a use for them in any way.

But the leftovers aren't perhaps what one would expect. We ate everything of the dishes from the dinner. What was left was the back-up stuff. You see, you never know what you're going to actually find and not find at the markets here, especially in winter. Two weeks ago, I had the most amazing broccoli rabe from one of my produce vendors, but the day before the dinner, they had none. So instead, I bought some good-looking long radicchio, even though it isn't green (it's still bitter, which was the point). And I bought a bunch of turnips to roast for a timbale, and nobody has them with the greens attached, except for the guy at the stand 2 down from the guy who had the good radicchio (who was around the corner from the guy I bought the other turnips from), which I hadn't noticed on my first pass, because they were stuffed way at the back under the cascade of lettuces. So I now had extra turnips *and* the extra radicchio. It was like that 5 times over-- which of the French sausages is going to be the flavor I want in the stuffed duck neck? Dunno, better cover my bases and buy several. Add in trips to both the Indian and Chinese/Vietnamese grocers for weird stuff, and I always came home with more than I expected (hey look-- dried jujube! Never had it, but I need a big bag of it, I'm sure).

According to Wikipedia, "The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and as a result, in the Himalaya and Karakoram regions, men take a stem of sweet-smelling jujube flowers with them or put it on their hats to attract women." (I guess that would be, attract young women. Good for them.)

The haul from the ethnic markets. In addition to the ethnic goods, they're great places to get the stuff from home you can't find easily here, such as baking powder and corn syrup.

Anyway, I had a lot of greens/reds, sausages, and other random things to use up. which has made for a weird week of eating so far.

Leftovers for lunch: north African-spiced chickpea stew with lots of vegetables and a bit of duck confit.

Leftovers for dinner: rabbit-and-polenta agnolotti with radicchio, duck prosciutto, and walnuts.

But none of that really explains the foot odor in the fridge. It wasn't the leftover wine (many French red wines are élevé en fûts de chêne, or as we surmised on our arrival last winter, "made with the feet of eleven dogs" (no telling where that 3rd dog's 4th foot went)), because we had no wine left over, despite starting with more than a bottle a person. I'm probably only still alive because our wiser-than-us guests turned down the offer of cognac after dinner, and I'd be really grateful if I'd stop feeling the effects of the night's excess before March. No, my refrigerator smells of feet because although I was content to serve the 7 duck courses and then dessert, Karen insisted that we do a cheese course, "because this is France." She's right, of course, this is France, for better and for worse, and a cheese course and the good cheese vendors here are definitely among the betterest things of France. So she went out and bought 3 delicious stinky French cheeses, less and less of which are still in there.

By the time she gets home, there might only be the lingering funk.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Emma was going on nostalgically the other night about the coffee caviar and worms.

    I was impressed too (the duck neck and prosciutto were top on my list of admirations), but I had no idea you were holding out on us with extra courses. We would happily have staggered back for brunch.