Saturday, March 26, 2011

A cheaper, easier duck confit

Confit (cawn-fee) is my favorite way to eat duck legs, but it's very dear to buy it prepared. So once a year or so, I buy several ducks on sale, frozen, and keep them in the freezer until I know I have a couple of days to work on them. It is quite a process once they are thawed, but well worth the effort.

First, I assemble the containers: soup pot, crock pot, large plate, one large and one small plastic container, cutting board. I get out the kosher salt and the peppercorns. I make sure there is plenty of hand soap near the sink. I get out my kitchen scissors and sharpen my knives. I find a pair of tweezers.

This is my duck deconstruction process:

Any skin that you think you will be eating needs to be clean of any feather remains that you can feel. Use tweezers if you can't grasp them with your fingers.

Put a thin layer of olive oil in the crock pot.

Cut off the neck skin to the wishbone area. Set the skin aside in the larger plastic container and refrigerate. It will be stuffed and cooked later. Remove the wishbone and put it in the stockpot.

Remove the giblets from the interior of the carcass. The heart and gizzards go into the stock pot. The liver goes into the small plastic container.

Cut off the wings from the body. The wing tip and the middle bone go into the soup pot. The mini drumstick goes into the crock pot.

Cut off the breast portions by snipping under the legs, up behind where you took off the wings. Set them on the plate for now. Any loose fat goes into the crock pot.

Break the back in half, then cut across where the break is. Put the upper half of the back in the stock pot. Turn the lower half (legs, thighs and back in one piece) over and salt well. Put it skin side up in the crock pot and salt well. Stack the three duck's back pieces on top of each other, add black pepper corns and a couple of bay leaves, put on low and cook overnight. The fat will render and the duck will be gently boiling in its fat by morning. Turn off the crock pot. You can put the entire crock in the fridge and pull out the pieces as you want to eat them, just making sure the rest is covered by fat each time. Or you can take the meat off the bones, put in small glass canning jars and pressure can the jars; properly canned meat is good for up to five years. Or so I've heard; I've never been able to keep confit that long. To crisp the legs and thighs, put them in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes.

If you don't want the fat on the duck breasts, you can add the skin to the crock pot, too. Then remove the breasts from the bones, and add the bones to the stock pot. Poach the skinless, boneless breasts (do not overcook) and serve with a fruit sauce (orange or cherry are my favorites), or cook the bone-in breasts with their skin attached in a 425 oven for 30 minutes, letting them set for 10 minutes when they come out of the oven before slicing and serving. I usually don't season them with anything but salt; I add pepper later to taste. I love to make a salad with citrus in it, and slice warmed duck breast over it. I usually cook the livers at the same time as the breasts, salting and peppering them before they go in the oven.

Cover the bones, wings and upper backs with water, add a little salt and some peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves and simmer overnight. After draining the stock through cheesecloth into a glass bowl, cool the solids and pick off as much meat as you can. Store it with the gizzards and hearts in a zippered bag. Refrigerate the stock and skim off the fat. Then reduce the stock by half and use for sauces.

The duck fat is great to fry up potatoes, and can be used to add flavor to many savory dishes. Try brushing it on root vegetables before roasting. The French use it a lot. They may be on to something.

A simplistic cost breakdown:
3 ducks = $36
6 breasts for dinners or salads
6 legs for dinners or lunches
6 thighs for dinners or lunches
2 cups reduced stock
pound of confit pieces 
pound of stock pieces, giblets and hearts
3 livers (enough for a nice paté)

As you can see by the Amazon link, the legs of the three ducks alone would cost twice what the whole ducks did.

I'll blog about using the duck neck skin to make a Cajun-like boudain later.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cookbook: The Art of the Dessert

The Art of the DessertWe have a winner - Janice Dean of Charlottesville. Check back next Friday for another cookbook giveaway.

Although I love to cook, I have always been frustrated by baking. As the years have gone by, I have come to realize that they are two distinct disciplines and success at one does not ensure great results at the other.

But I do appreciate a good dessert and the pastry chefs who make them. Ann Amernick is one of these. While the rest of us poor slobs are trying to do our best with cup measures and tablespoons, she's expertly measuring out her ingredients with a gram scale for consistent results. But in "The Art of the Dessert," she also has tips for the home cook, and shares her techniques for getting the best out of your recipes. And then there are her recipes, nearly a hundred of them: cakes and tortes, pies and tarts, cookies and candies, cold desserts, warm desserts, and dessert sandwiches to impress your guests.

 If you want this week's book, "The Art of the Dessert," be the first to click the PayPal button (Buy Now) below, follow the directions to deposit a payment to my account, AND leave a comment at the end of this blog item with some way to contact you for your address or in case you were not the first one (I have only one copy of each book). I will send the book by Priority Mail. Offer good in the United States only at this time. You don't need a PayPal account, but you will need a credit card to pay with the button.

If this isn't the book for you, keep checking back on Fridays. I offer a different cookbook each week. I'll edit the post to indicate when a book is no longer available.

If you live in Charlottesville, you can save the money by coming to pick up the book. Be the first to leave a comment, with a way to contact you.

To give you an idea of the recipes in "The Art of the the Dessert," here is a sample recipe.

Triple Chocolate Terrine
Yield: 1 9x5inch loaf

5 ounces white chocolate
5 ounces milk chocolate
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 3/4 cups heavy cream

Lay a length of double thickness plastic wrap large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan on a work surface. Smooth out any air bubbles. Fit the plastic wrap into the loaf pan, lining the bottoms and the sides and allowing it to extend over the sides of the pan. Press the plastic wrap in well to get rid of any air bubbles. Set aside.

Chop the white, milk and bittersweet chocolates separately and place each in a microwave bowl. Whip 3/4 cup of the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Microwave the white chocolate on medium power for 20 seconds, then 10 seconds, stirring between each interval. As soon as the chocolate begins to melt, decrease the interval time to 5 seconds. The chocolate should be warm and completely melted without being burned. As soon as the chocolate is melted, fold in the whipped cream quickly, so as not to solidify the chocolate with the coldness of the cream, until no streaks of chocolate show. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top with a 2-inch wide offset metal spatula. Refrigerate.

Whip another 3/4 cup of the cream until soft peaks form. Set aside. Repeat the melting process with the milk chocolate, then fold in the whipped cream. Pour over the white chocolate and smooth. Refrigerate.
Barely whip the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream to less-than-soft peaks, until the tracks of the whisk are just visible in the cream. Remove 1/2 cup of the cream and set aside. Melt the bittersweet chocolate using the same method as the white and milk chocolates. The chocolate should be very warm to best mix with the whipped cream.

Working very quickly, pour the very warm chocolate into the remaining whipped cream and immediately begin whisking the mixture very quickly and thoroughly to combine the chocolate and cream, until no chocolate bits are visible. (This step must be done quickly so the chocolate goes in smoothly.) Add the reserved 1/2 cup whipped cream, whisking it in thoroughly until blended.
Pour the bittersweet chocolate mixture over the milk chocolate mixture in the pa and smooth the top.

Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Turn the terrine out onto a serving platter, remove the plastic wrap, and cut into 1-inch slices.

Place a slice on each plate and surround with raspberry coulis, a blend of 2 pints mashed fresh raspberries, 1 tablespoon framboise, and 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making something healthful unhealthful

California Avocado Commission

Why do restaurant chefs just pile on the calories, after they've created something that sounds right and healthful? Case in point:

Recipe Provided By Chef Kevin Gin, Bridges in Danville, CA
Serves: 4
12 ounces grilled chicken breast, diced medium
6 ounces crisp cooked smoked bacon, chopped small
8 ounces fresh avocados, diced medium*
4 petite hearts of romaine, chopped (about 2 cups lightly packed)
8 small tomatoes (2" diameter), cut in quarters
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
Creamy Basil Dressing (recipe follows)
Marinate the cut tomatoes in the olive oil and mixed herbs for about 10 minutes.
Toss the chopped romaine with the Creamy Basil Dressing. Divide the mixture between 4 serving bowls.
Top each bowl with chicken, avocado, bacon, and tomato. Serve.
*A large Fresh California Avocado weighs about 8 oz.

Creamy Basil Dressing
(Yield: 1 1/4 cup)
8 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ ounce fresh basil, chopped
Whisk all ingredients together.

Now tell me, how does the dressing make this salad any better than if you added a couple of basil leaves and a squeeze of lemon? Why add cream and sour cream to a basically healthy dish?

A side note: Bridges is a fine restaurant, and if you're ever in Danville, you should check it out. If you don't plan a trip to this East Bay burb anytime soon, you can see the restaurant in the movie "Mrs. Doubtfire."