Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Roast Duck with apricot/cranberry/plum glaze

This Thanksgiving I wanted to do something a little different.  I was in my local market and saw a small bird in the area with the turkeys.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bird was a delicious 7 pound duck.  Having never roasted a whole duck before, I was excited for the opportunity.  So, here is how I did it.

First, I let the bird sit out overnight to come to room temperature.  When I took it out of the bag, I patted it dry and covered it.  The next morning, I made a glaze to baste the duck with every 20 minutes.  Here is a quick recipe for the glaze:

1/2 cup of orange blossom honey (or any type)
2 tbsp of apricot jam
2 tbsp of plum preserve
2 slices of fresh ginger
2 cups of water
1 cup of clean, fresh cranberries

Combine the honey, water and cranberries in a small saucier and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, continuing until the cranberries are very soft.  Add the ginger slices, plum preserve and jam during the simmer.  Whisk them evenly through glaze while the cranberries are still fairly solid.  Reduce the glaze for about 15-20 minutes.  

While the glaze is reducing, prep the duck.  Again, pat the bird dry to ensure a crisp skin.  Because duck has so much fat over the breast, you must prick the skin so that the fat can run out.  (Be sure not to penetrate the meat or it will dry out.)  season the skin with a little salt, but no pepper.  quarter an onion and peal two cloves of garlic and stuff them into the bird.  Also, I added a few slices of ginger into the cavity as well.  You can omit this if you like, but it adds a nice flavor to the meat.  Glaze your bird with the delicious glaze and place in the oven.  

Place the bird on a rack in your roasting pan.  Make sure the duck is elevated so you can retain the fat drippings!  Roast the duck for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Baste the duck again, and back down the heat to 350 degrees.  At 350 degrees, baste every 20 minutes.  Over the next two hours, you should turn the bird twice, once from breast up, to breast down, and then again to breast up for the finish.  If you have a meat thermometer, which you SHOULD, the minimum internal temperature should be 165 degrees.  If not, you should be pretty safe with 30 minutes at 400 degrees and two-two and a half hours at 350 degrees.  When done, take the bird out and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting.  

IMPORTANT- in the bottom of the roasting pan, there will be delicious duck fat, even up to a cup and a half.  This is GREAT stuff.  Use it for roasting potatoes, brussel sprouts, ect.   

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Tradition

Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I shred leftover turkey and make the best pot of chili.  The combination of shredded dark and white meat is just the best in a spicy, bold tomato base.  This year, however, I will be adding a twist.  For the first time in my career cooking for Thanksgiving, I will be roasting a whole duck to serve on Wednesday night.  As if all of the calories from Thursday's meal weren't enough, I will add a little duck fat!

I have never roasted an whole duck, but I am looking forward to the near 2 cups of rendered fat that I will use in other dishes. In the chili, I will sauté the onion and garlic in a bit of the duck fat.  YUM!!!  

Also, lets hear some your favorite Thanksgiving food traditions.  Post some comments about what you love, or even hate, to eat over the holiday.  Mine is my aunt's ricotta-based stuffing made with little bits of sweet italian sausage- so freakin' good.  I also enjoy watching Christmas Vacation with my family the night of Thanksgiving while drinking obscene amounts of wine! 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great little wine gadget

About a month ago, I became very frustrated with having to wait for a nice bottle of wine to open up in the decanter.  I would decide to open something nice for my wife and me, and we would have to let it sit there for a half hour to breath before consuming.  That put me on the hunt for a solution- and I found one.  It is a nifty little gadget called the Vinturi Wine Aerator.  It can be purchased for around $40, depending on the store.  It also comes with a screen for older, sediment-filled, wines.  It has two small ports on opposite sides from each other which draws in air as the wine passes through the opening in the bottom.  The air is infused into the wine, so to speak, allowing the bouquet and subtle notes in the wine to present themselves much sooner than if you were to just let it aerate in a decanter.  So, while this will only really save you an hour, it really wakes up the wine much faster.  Some people believe that it can even add a few years of cellaring, or the maturity that a few years would bring to a wine.  I am not sure that this is true, but it is certainly true that this aerator makes a difference in the wine.  I challenge you to get a decent bottle of wine (after all there is nothing that you can do for some shitty wines) and have two glasses- painful I know.  Pour about once to two ounces through the Vinturi and, in a separate glass, pour right from the bottle.  I swear, you will be able to tell the difference.  

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Some Call Odd, I Call Delicious- Toro in Boston

Last weekend, Christa and I were up in Boston for a weekend away from everything here.  We decided that, instead of paying insane rates for a Celtics game or some expensive tour of Fenway, we would just eat our way around town.  We started on the North End, dining on some delectable oysters from New Hampshire, Chowda from a Irish little pub called the Green Dragon, and so on.  Then, on Saturday, we headed to Chinatown, the third biggest Chinatown in the US, for some peking duck, bbq pork, thin noodle duck soup, 

and these delightful scallion cakes served with ponzu dipping sauce that had the flavor of a savory italian pizza fritte, sans confectioner sugar.

For dinner that night, we had a treat in store.  Being consummate fans of spanish tapas and the beautiful ingredients it promotes, we had to get to Toro, a 55-seat Barcelona-inspired tapas restaurant in Boston's South End.  It is owned by chef Ken Oringer, who was named Best chef-Northeast" by the James Beard Foundation in 2001.  The executive chef, Jamie Bissonnette, brings the spanish theme true credibility with a delicious menu.  So, here is the meal as we experienced it.  Some of the dishes may make you think, " I would NEVER order that," but think again, this was amazing.
So, the dished we ordered ranged in price from $5-$14.  Each offering was enough for two bites for both of us, and some were larger.  All were very well prepared.

These two dished were our first offerings.  On the left is Corazon a la Plancha, grass-fed beef heart with romesco.  The romesco was a nice combination of almond or hazelnut, red pepper, garlic and onion.  The heart was shaved quite thinly and piled lightly.  It was not minerally, nor was it tough, it was a nice beef flavor.  On the right is Ventresca, or tuna belly, tomato tapanade and celery leaves.  Unfortunately, this was the least memorable of the dishes.  It tasted of albacore tuna, not ahi, and was balanced with the tomato.

The dish on the left is Mollejas, crispy sweetbreads with blood orange and cinnamon. The sweetbreads were fantastic.  The blood orange really off-set the fattiness of the sweetbread, and the cinnamon added a nice, unexpected tone.  The dish on the right is oyster with a citrus foam.  Good, but not fantastic.  On the bottom is Jamon de Pato- cured duck ham.  It is just a duck breast, cured and served as charcuterie.  It ROCKS.  You can get it in Philly at DiBruno Brothers- see my past post.

Ok, now these two dishes were by far two of my favorite of the night.  On the left is Uni Bocadillo, a pressed Uni sandwich with miso butter and pickled mustard seed.  For those of you who are uninitiated, Uni is the gonad of the sea urchin, male or female.  It is the Foie Gras of the sea.  Simply it is a savory, creamy, slightly salty delight.  The miso butter added to the creaminess, with the crispy texture of the panini-like sandwich, it was heavenly.  On the right is Foie Gras con Chutney de Pera- Foie Gras with pear and bacon chutney.  Again, Foie Gras is the Uni on land.  It is creamy, fatty, rich, delicious, and was cooked to perfection.  Crispy outside, creamy center, and seasoned nicely.  The chutney added a sweet pear flavor, and bacon added to anything makes it better.  There was great balance in both of these dishes; just amazing.  

These two dishes came to us on the recommendation of the server.  On the left are Croquetas de Bacalao- salt cod fritters with preserved fried lemon rings.  The lemon rings were very nice, and complimented the salty fish.  On the right, there is grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese.  I thought this dish was a little bit of a throw away for the restaurant.  It was one of the less expensive dishes, but it was not great.  It was messy and the corn was not in-season sweet corn.  

On top here was a daring dish for my wife.  It is Lengua con Lentejas y Salsa Verde- smoked beef tongue with lentis and salsa verde.  The tongue was as tender as any beef dish you could think of.  The smoke, though, brought on a pastrami taste and texture.  The lentils were fantastic.  Served al dente, they paired beautifully with the salsa verde.  On the left is Vientre de Cerdo- crispy pork belly with pumpkin, escargots, apple and maple crumble.  It was a near-perfect dish.  The pork belly could have been a little crispier, but the flavors were spot on.  On the right are Navajas a la Plancha- razor clams with garlic, lemon and piquillo peppers.  Razor clams are a little used and rare ingredient.  They have a very strong clam flavor, but are not overpowering in any way.  These are actually Atlantic jackknife clams and can be found from Canada to South Carolina. 

The last dish we enjoyed was Asado de Huesos- Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade.  Restaurant bone marrow is often the inner-most part of the femur bone.  It is rich, fatty, and best over bread.  Some of the best chefs in the world, famously including Anthony Bourdain, consider it to be good enough to be their death-row meal.  The oxtail marmalade had the consistency of a beef short rib, and the intense flavor of a long braise.  the radish salad added a brightness to the dish, and the citrus cut through some of the fattiness of the dish, but there was no cutting through all of it.

The meal was paired with a nice pinot noir that complimented most of the dishes, but there was no wine that would have reached all of these wonderful dishes.  It was a great meal, worthy of a gander if you are up in Boston.  If you want a similar experience in Philly, chef Garces' Amada is a similar style restaurant with similar flavors.  Hope you enjoyed, because I know I did.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Its Braising Season Kids- Beef Short Ribs

As everyone knows, the cooler weather lands itself to big, rich flavors coupled with deep, complex wines.  For the first installment, I am offering you a simple and traditional braised beef short rib.  Now, there are multiple variations of braised or barbequed short ribs.  There is the Korean version with soy, sugar, sesame and green onions.  There is also just a ketchup based American-style barbequed short rib (see my post on bbq sauce).  This version is a red wine/tomato-base braising liquid that easily infuses into the beef.  This post will give you the basic steps to have a tender, juicy, flavorful short rib.

The first step in having a successful dish is choosing good ingredients.  Most stores sell short ribs for about $4/lb for standard choice grade meat.  Even though they are short ribs and are going to be cooking low and slow, I suggest that you find prime grade beef.  It should have great marbling, which means that there should be veins of fat running throughout the meat.  They should look something like this:

To begin the cooking process, you want to season the meat liberally with salt and fresh cracked pepper.  If you have not read my post on seasoning meat, check it out before you begin here.  You want to give short ribs AT LEAST 6 hours of seasoning time.  That includes a re-salting before you begin to brown.  So, the braising process begins with browning the meat on all sides.  Choose your most dense cooking vessel, preferably a enamel coated cast iron dutch oven.  Coat the bottom with vegetable oil and crank the heat.  Make SURE that the heat is intense- usually when the oil begins to smoke a bit. (Open the windows a little during the browning process, it will definitely get smoky.)  Place a few ribs in the bottom of the cooking vessel, but be sure not to crowd them or they will cool the metal and the sear will not be sufficient.  

Each side should take about 4-5 minutes.  They should look like this:

Now that you have your meat seared, you need to get your sauce going.  As crazy as it may seem, pour off the fat that rendered out of the ribs.  Put clean oil back in the pot and start cooking your mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery diced to 1/2 inch cubes).  Use two carrots, one sweet spanish onion, and three ribs of celery.  Season your veg and brown it.  Some people suggest that you put your mirepoix into a food processor and make a paste to ease browning.  I did about half and half diced to paste.  I also add two cloves of garlic to the mix.  Let the veg brown, then scrape the brown up, and let brown again.  Once your veg is cooked, add in a cup to a cup and a half of tomato paste.  Combine that with the veg and let cook for 5-8 minutes.  Now, there will be a lot of brown, but don't worry, it will be fine.  Add three cups of a fairly bold red wine (a cabernet or an equivalent).  The wine must be good wine, something you would drink otherwise.  de-glaze the bottom of the pot with the wine, scraping up all of the lovely little bits.  I suggest using a whisk for this- it will also help homogenize the sauce.  Bring it to a simmer and reduce the sauce by half.  Add back in your meat.  You must make sure that the braising liquid covers the meat- you should add water to cover, about three cups.  Add into the pool two bay leaves and four sprigs of thyme.  It will look something like this:

Place your covered vessel into the over at 350 degrees and cook for three to four hours for juicy, fall off the bone ribs.  Most of the rib bones will not adhere to the meat, but it will still look delicious.  Remove the ribs, plate, and cover in the braising liquid.  You can reduce the liquid more, but the cooking time should have reduced the sauce adequately.  I prepared a simple garlic and parmesan smashed potato dish for the meat to rest on.  I was tempted to take the smashed potatoes and make a Jonny Cake out of it, but I did not have time.  I hope you try this recipe and please enjoy.