Saturday, November 14, 2009

A bad, food-related joke

Bubba is driving down a back road in Alabama.
A sign in front of a restaurant reads:

Lobster Tail and Beer

"Lord a'mighty," he says to himself,
"my three favorite things!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crockpot confit

Confit, pronounced CON-fee, is the slow cooking of a meat in its own fat. And one of the best meats for this is duck, especially the legs.

If you cut up a duck for its breasts for dinner, put the rest of the duck (legs, backs, wings, necks and giblets - everything except the skin) in a pan. Season well with salt, pepper, thyme and onion slices, cover and put in the refrigerator. It will need to marinate for up to 24 hours.

To get most of the fat needed to start this process, put the skin you removed from the breast in a glass container and heat it in the microwave for 15 minutes, covered. You should get about a half-cup per breast skin. Drain through cheesecloth and set aside.

The next afternoon or evening, brush off any remaining salt and put the duck in a crockpot. Heat the fat gently and pour over the duck. Turn the crockpot on low. After about an hour, if the duck isn't submerged in fat, add olive oil to cover. Check again in about three hours. If the wings get done first, remove them, cover and set aside. When the meat is all done, remove it from the fat and cool. When the fat cools a little, strain it through cheese cloth. You can skim the fat off the top from the liquid after it is refrigerated and use it for another confit.

Take the meat off the bones. You then have three options: Eat immediately, either as is, or crisped under the broiler; can the duck; or cure in a crock in its fat.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Frozen ducks were on sale last week; I bought three. I cooked a whole duck ... once. The amount of grease it threw off in the oven and having to clean said oven before I could cook anything else made me look for better ways to prepare it.

Although the fat is delicious, and gives the duck a lot of flavor, it's best not to consume too much of the fat. So now when I fix duck, I spend a lot more time in preparation, and most of the fat goes out in a pan for the birds after it's been used a couple of times.

The breasts are my favorite, and when deboned and skinned, not fatty at all. After lifting them from the breastbones, the bones go into a pot with the wing tips to make a stock, flavored with peppercorns, bay leaves and a sprig of thyme. The breasts go in the refrigerator, seasoned, salted and covered. After a few hours over low heat, when the meat clinging to the bones looks like it's about to fall off, strain the stock and throw out the bones and spices. Return the liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Put the cold breasts into the boiling water. Bring them back to a boil, and cook for 4 minutes. Cool for about 5 minutes, then slice crosswise.

While the breasts are boiling, make a cherry sauce (this was enough for three breast halves):
1/2 cup sour cherries from a jar (reserve 1/2 cup juice)
2 tablespoons each of balsamic vinegar and sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
Put the cherries, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until reduced to a glaze. Mix the cornstarch in the cold juice. Add to the saucepan and stir. If the sauce is too thick, add water until it thins to the consistency you like. Serve over the duck breasts.

Tomorrow: Crockpot confit

Monday, November 9, 2009

Parsing parsley

A common problem for cooks who don't cook with parsley on a regular basis is what to do with the rest of the bunch after you've snipped the 2 tablespoons you need for a recipe. If you don't use it, the bunch will become a slimy green mass in its plastic bag within a few weeks and end up in your compost pile (or worse).

Here's one idea. Chop the rest of the bunch, pull out the thick stems and dry the chopped leaves. You can air-dry them, or use the microwave.

After you have snipped, chopped or minced your parsley, spread it out on a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Put it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave, cover with a second towel and pat out moisture. Fleck off any parsley that sticks to
the top towel and put the plate back in the microwave.

Cook on high for another 30 seconds, fluff up a bit, and put back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. Repeat. You should have a plate full of dried parsley after four 30-second sessions. To make sure it's thoroughly dried before you store it, let it sit on the counter for several hours, then put in an air-tight container.

The top photograph is one I took, comparing some parsley that I recently bought from a supermarket that has a pull-date of May 2010. Notice that the home-dried flakes are a deeper green. And as for taste, the home-dried actually had a true parsley flavor. The bottom photo by Tony Ramirez shows the bottle from which the smaller amount of parsley came.