Friday, March 19, 2010

Duck Confit

For Christmas Brandon gave me The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert, who supposedly changed American cuisine with her recipes for duck confit and cassoulet. She's basically the Julia Child of rustic French cooking.

I'd never heard of her, but I'm also more comfortable rolling tekka maki than curing duck.

I think Brandon was hoping I'd suddenly get the urge to preserve poultry and then whip up a rich, hearty cassoulet. But we don't have a vacuum packer to sous v
ide duck legs, and the traditional method calls 6 cups of rendered duck or goose fat, plus some Butcher's lard.

Yeah, right. Maybe when Emi goes away to college.

A few weeks ago, however, Anne Burrell demonstrated her short-cut version, or what she called "Cheater's Duck Confit." What I like most about Anne's show "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" is her emphasis on techniques rather than just recipes. Basically her approach to confit is to skip the lengthy curing process and cooking the duck low and slow to render out the fat, then browning and braising it with wine, fresh thyme and bay leaves.

It looked easy enough, so I decided to make it for Brandon's birthday.

Since duck is out of season, I had to buy it frozen at our local gourmet grocery store, and at nearly $30 for four legs, I was pretty nervous about this dish turning out. Thankfully, Anne's recipe was as easy as she made it look on TV.

I put the legs skin-side down in my trusty LeCreuset dutch oven and let the fat render out on very low heat (second to lowest s
etting) for more than an hour, before turning up the heat to medium-high to brown both sides. I couldn't believe how much fat those legs produced. My pot had a good half-inch of bubbling, yellowish, yummy goo.

Browning the duck was as good as frying it.

The only glitch came when I cooked the onions in the covered dutch oven. There was so much condensation that the onions never really caramelized, so if I were to do this again I think I'd leave it uncovered. The rest of the recipe was a breeze.

While the duck and onions were braising in the oven for 90 minutes, I got to work on my side dish - celery root and potato puree. Other suggested side dishes included lentils, a salad of dandelion greens, spinach or potatoes cooked in duck fat, but I wanted something starchy and somewhat bland to balance the fatty confit.

The long braising time turned the duck a deep, rich brown and the meat was so tender it fell away from the bones.
I also served asparagus spears sauteed in a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. The clean, acidic bite of asparagus helped cut the richness of the otherwise delicious meal.

It turned out that one duck leg per person was plenty. But if you cook more than you need, you can always use the leftovers to make cassoulet.

Tune in later for my take on ice cream cake!

Celery Root Puree
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 to 5 medium-sized red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup heavy cream

Combine water, milk, salt and pepper into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add celery root and potatoes. Cook until veggies are fork tender. Drain liquid and add cream and butter. Puree with a food mill or immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Curry Lentil Soup

Brandon came home from work sick yesterday and the first thing he asked was whether we had anymore chicken soup. Unfortunately for him, I'd eaten the last can of Progresso the week before when my cold was at its worst, but a quick survey of the cupboard revealed a bag of lentils ...

I decided to make lentil soup. Although I perused a couple online recipes, ultimately I made up my own and it was a hit with both Brandon and Emiko, the World's Pickiest Toddler.

The great thing about this dish is that it's packed with fiber and protein from the lentils, not to mention the nutritional goodies from carrots and cauliflower. The other thing that's nice about dried lentils is they don't have to be soaked overnight.

Here's the hearty, Indian-style soup I came up with using ingredients we had at home:

Curry Lentil Soup
4 strips of bacon cut into lardons
1 yellow onion diced
1 carrot diced
3 large garlic cloves minced
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 lb. of dried green lentils
1 tsp. yellow curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/3 tsp. ground cumin
1 qt. chicken stock
1 qt. water
1 tbs. salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, fry the bacon on medium heat to render out the fat. Lower heat and add onion and carrots. Sweat the vegetables with a pinch of salt and pepper until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Mix in garlic, then add cauliflower, curry, coriander and cumin.

Rinse lentils and drain before combining with veggies in the pot and stir. Pour in the chicken stock and water, making sure to deglaze any brown bits of bacon stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Check occasionally and add more water if necessary.

Once lentils are tender, add remaining salt and pepper to taste. If you salt the lentils before they're tender the skins will toughen and prolong cooking time, which is about an hour.

I went easy on the curry since Brandon was under the weather. One teaspoon was just enough to give it some flavor, so if you want more heat boost the amount of curry and maybe toss in a few pinches of chili powder.