Charcutepalooza: Duck Prosciutto

unwrapped

Mike and I have had a copy of Charcuterie in our collection of food and cookery books for almost as long as we’ve been together. This sort of “project cooking” hasn’t traditionally been my thing (although I did make our first batch of house-cured salmon from the book before someone decided to take over), but Mike loves it, and has taken on many curing projects over the years, among them making bacon and a steady supply of duck confit.

making meat, day 6

Of course, the last several months have found us taking on all sorts of cooking projects together that I never imagined we would: we got bit hard by the canning bug, and we’re even beginning to experiment with lactofermentation, making saurkraut and soon, I hope, kimchi at home. So when our friends Cathy and Kim launched what would turn into this incredible sensation, this celebration of cured meats called Charcutepalooza, we were immediately on board.

duck prosciutto

Mike did the bulk of the heavy lifting for this first challenge, and can I just say wow, his breasts are not only gorgeous, but they are delicious (fnar, fnar). As for me, aside from tying the buggers up in their cheesecloth to hang at the beginning of the challenge, I’ve had little to do with those duck breasts but to slice, eat, and enjoy. Oh, and to come up with some fun ways to use this lovely prosciutto.

duck prosciutto with shaved fennel and radish salad

I typically think simple preparations are best when you want to highlight something made with so much care, so for our first dish, I took inspiration from the shaved fennel salad I like to serve with bresaola. I shaved fennel bulb very thin using a mandolin, and shaved thin slices of radish as well, then combined the two and tossed them with a zippy Meyer lemon vinaigrette – just fresh Meyer lemon juice, our best olive oil, sea salt, and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. I mounded it in the middle of a plate and placed thin slices of the prosciutto around the edges. We ate with our fingers, wrapping bites of the crisp salad up with the prosciutto slices, a delicious combination.

duck prosciutto

For several days thereafter, the prosciutto sat (mostly) untouched, as we were “on a cleanse”, but this morning I awoke with an idea I couldn’t get out of my head: Duck. Duck. Goose.

foie gras

We had a nub of foie gras in the freezer, left over from our Christmas Day wellingtons. We had the duck prosciutto, of course. And though we typically have Mike’s own duck confit in the fridge, we were fresh out, so we picked up a leg at Persimmon Provisions and when we got home from our food and drink-procuring rounds, I got to work.

balls, formed

I pulled the confit meat from the bone, mincing it fine, then added shallot, fresh savory, a beaten egg and a small amount of dry breadcrumbs to the mix. I formed the mixture into cocktail-sized meatballs, each one stuffed with a nugget of foie. I melted duck fat in our iron skillet, gently browning the meatballs on all sides, then drained them on paper towels while I prepared a glaze – fig jam and white balsamic, mustard seeds and fresh ground pepper, sticky, tangy and fruity but not too sweet.

glazed

The meatballs went in until they were nicely coated, then I removed them and wrapped each one in a sheet of the duck prosciutto, threading a toothpick through to secure them. After a minute or three under the broiler they were ready to eat, the foie having melted into the rich ducky meatballs, the prosciutto having been rendered crisp and brown at the edges.

Duck Duck Goose

Little bites of heaven (now with recipe!).

The Charcutepalooza February Challenge is up, and I’ve got a five pound slab of Pat’s Pastured pork belly in the fridge. I’m taking the lead on this one, and I couldn’t be more excited (but we just might have a little something extra up our sleeves – stay tuned).

Some Assembly Required

Dinner:  July 8, 2009

Some may say that they’re so over, but Mike and I have been in love with banh mi since our first taste of them back in NYC. I’ve wanted to make banh mi-inspired sandwiches at home for ages, and finally did so last night. I had an idea a while back to use duck rillettes in place of the Vietnamese cold cuts I generally favor, so I had Mike whip some up from his latest batch of confit. With the rillettes made, putting together the rest of the was a breeze: I halved a baguette, sliced each half open, and slathered the insides with a Sriracha-spiked mayo. I placed them on a baking sheet and they went into a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes.

While the baguettes warmed, I whisked together a little salt and vinegar, then added some radish coins, thin slices of carrot, and slivers of green chile pepper, tossing them until they were all well coated. I sliced up a cucumber and some pickled red onions as well, and set aside several sprigs of fresh cilantro to top our sandwiches. When the baguettes were just cool enough to handle, I assembled everything, spreading a layer of rillettes inside of the bread, then topping them with the cut and pickled veggies and cilantro. This was a meal that really did come together in minutes, and it was delicious. I’m eyeing the last of Mike’s pate de campagne for a future variation of this sandwich.

Ducks in a Row

sizzling

There’s no question that duck is one of our favorite proteins to work with, but I will admit that we tend to rely on the same preparations for it: the breasts are usually grilled or simply seared in our iron skillet, and the legs and wings (and fat) generally make their way into confit. So when I spotted Mark Bittman’s recipe for a Vietnamese-style duck with green beans a little while back, I was intrigued: it had flavors that we love and don’t play with enough at home, and it looked like a good bet for a weeknight dinner, using things we already had on hand.

Dinner:  April 15, 2009

Mike volunteered to make it for our Wednesday night dinner, and while he would like to make a few tweaks to the recipe, we were both pretty pleased with the result. In particular, the method of putting the duck pieces in a dry pan and letting them cook in their own rendered fat was brilliant – the whole house smelled amazing, and the duck was intensely flavorful. We’re planning a do-over soon.

anchos y arboles

Thursday night’s duck dinner was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing: some friends started tweeting about burritos in the morning, which led to Mike and I both developing a massive craving for Mexican food, which led me to start desperately thinking of what I could put together with the stuff we had in our fridge and pantry that night. Which takes us to our ever-present tub of duck confit. It really is one of the best “convenience” foods I can think of, but as I said above, we tend to prepare it the same way. And while there’s nothing wrong with a crackly-skinned, seared confit leg, with potatoes fried in the duck fat and a salad with sharp vinaigrette served alongside, I planned to go in a very different direction.

I started by putting together a quick sort of mole sauce: shallots and garlic softened in a bit of duck fat, some toasted spices (whole cumin, coriander and cloves), toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, reconstituted dried chiles, a couple of chipotles in adobo, and a bit of thawed, reheated roasted tomato sauce and stock (a chicken and duck blend) from the freezer. This all went into a blender, along with a blob of sesame tahini (we were out of the traditional sesame seeds, so I figured, why not), a bit of tomato paste, some sherry vinegar, salt, canela, Mexican oregano, and unsweetened cocoa powder, and I blended it to a creamy puree. I adjusted the salt and acid until it tasted right to me, and added a little of the liquid left over from soaking the chiles to thin it out a bit.

shreddy

With the mole done, I set my attention to the duck, shredding off the meat from a leg and a couple of wings, cooking it in the little bits of fat that clung to the meat until the edges were a bit crispy. I softened up some tortillas in a little more duck fat, stuffed each of them with a bit of the duck, then put them in a baking dish and spooned some of the mole all around. I added a mixture of grated cheeses (Smith’s cheddar and Divine Providence) to the top, and baked the enchiladas for about 25 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

I made a sort of lime crema by whisking a little fresh lime juice into the last of a container of crème fraiche, which I drizzled over the tops of the finished enchiladas, sprinkling some minced scallion and lime zest on for garnish, and spooned some slow-cooked Rancho Gordo beans onto our plates as well.

Dinner:  April 16, 2009

The rich, flavorful duck was a wonderful match with the flavors in the mole sauce – we liked these enchiladas so much, in fact, we ate the entire batch. I made enough mole to feed an army, and I plan to portion out the remainder and freeze it, so we’ll definitely be doing this version of enchiladas again.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

first course

There’s really just one word to describe the weekend we had: cheesy.

We kicked off our Valentine’s Day dinner with an appetizer of sliced, toasted bread from Olga’s, topped with dollops of creamy ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, a drizzle of J.B. Hamann’s local honey, a sprinkling of fresh thyme and flaky Maldon salt. The combo is totally ganked from our favorite place in Brooklyn, Marlow and Sons, and it’s still one of our favorite little bites, any time of day.

salad course

We moved on to a salad of thinly sliced Meyer lemon and impeccably fresh Matunuck oysters, both dipped in buttermilk and a whisper of flour before being fried until crisp and golden, and served on a bed of tiny, lemony sorrel leaves from Ledge Ends Produce. I whizzed up a creamy dressing comprised of a clove of garlic, a blob of grainy mustard, sea salt, champagne vinegar, olive oil and creme fraiche to drizzle over our salads, and we paired them with (what else) a glass of fizzy.

seeds of love

Dinner:  February 14, 2009

The main event was duck two ways: Mike broke down a whole duck, confiting the legs, which he crisped in our iron skillet; and smoking the breasts in our stovetop smoker with Earl Grey tea and cherry wood shavings before searing them in the iron skillet as well. I made a reduction of red wine, pomegranate, peppercorns and thyme to serve with the breast, and a gratin of thinly sliced potato and turnip to go underneath the confit.

I needed a burger.

We enjoyed Sunday brunch out with friends at DownCity, and made a quick and easy dinner that night of cheesy baked pasta, keeping things simple in anticipation of a big day on Monday.

brunch

Monday, you see, was all about the cheese. I was given an incredible opportunity to take photographs for the fine folks at Narragansett Creamery, and let me tell you, it was awesome. I continue to be impressed with the quality and flavor of the things they make – they are truly a local treasure, and I was delighted to spend the day working with their product.

To get me in the mood, I started the day with eggs from Hickory Hill Farm, baked with tomato and Salty Sea feta. After being around these wonderful cheeses all day, I just had to go for a cheese-centric dinner, too:

Dinner:  February 16, 2009

This was a similar soup to the one I made here, but with a few modifications: I used the white and green parts of a spring onion instead of shallot, reduced the flour to a little over a tablespoon, and used a quarter cup or so of heavy cream instead of the milk I used in my previous version. I also added a couple of cups of potato, peeled and cubed, a healthy hit of Tabasco instead of paprika, and the ale I chose was Hennepin from Brewery Ommegang (I didn’t measure, but I’d say I used probably 1/3 of a large bottle). I wanted a more rustic texture in the soup, so I only pureed some of it, leaving chunks of the vegetables intact. The cheese I used, was, of course, some of Narragansett’s gorgeous clothbound cheddar, and I served the soup with hunks of crusty bread from Olga’s, and a mustard-dressed salad of mesclun from Ledge Ends Produce. What a fabulous and tasty finish to a great long weekend.

At Last

a toast

Well. That was one beautiful day we had yesterday. It was a special day for us personally, as Mike and I looked back at our wedding day three years prior, but we were mostly caught up in the history that was being made. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away.

I had scheduled a few days off this week, both to recharge my batteries and so Mike and I could spend some quality time together, and a big part of that quality time was spent planning and preparing our celebratory dinner. I had received a gift card for Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop from one of my bosses at Christmastime, and last Friday Mike took a trip up to the South End with that card to pick up provisions for our meal. Our original thought was to do a whole roast duck, but when he got to the store, there were none to be had.

confit

They did have confit legs, however, as well as a variety of sausages and other cured meats, so when Mike called to ask if I had any other ideas for our anniversary meal, I suggested cassoulet. After all, we could do much of the work on it ahead of time, which would leave us free to do other things (read: sit glued to MSNBC) while the assembled dish cooked. And it has been far too long since our last cassoulet, so once I suggested it, we were filled with anticipation.

I got things started on Monday, making a big batch of chicken stock and cooking a pound of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans in abundant water, with our last trotter from Bobolink nestled in for good measure. After several hours, the beans and trotter were tender, so I added a bit of salt, let them go for another half hour or so, and let them cool down to store overnight.

On Tuesday, Mike got to work on the meat components, crisping up some bacon, shredding the meat and skin off of the cooked trotter, and searing a thick pork chop from Pat’s Pastured in some of the rendered bacon fat. With the meaty bits set aside, he turned his attention to the cooking liquid and aromatics: one large onion, chopped (one thing that didn’t bring tears to my eyes yesterday) and sauteed in more rendered fat; some chopped garlic, cooked until fragrant; a dab of tomato paste, which he caramelized in a hot spot before stirring into the onion and garlic; a cup of my roasted tomato puree from the freezer; some white vermouth; some of the stock I made on Monday; and finally, a bouquet garni. He added the bony bits from the trotter to the pot and let it all simmer away until it was rich and reduced.

My creation

With beans, meat and flavorful liquid ready to go, we assembled the cassoulet. First, we scattered the crisp bacon and soft bits from the trotter over the bottom of the pan, then we added a layer of beans. The pork chop and confit legs went in next, with more beans spooned all around. We nestled slices of prosciutto sausage in next, finishing with the remaining beans and the cooking liquid, and smooshing everything down so the liquid came up to the top. We let the oven preheat to 350 degrees while I pulsed some stale bits of Seven Stars country bread into fresh breadcrumbs and seasoned them with herbs, which we then scattered over the top of the cassoulet.

crusty

Mike dolloped a bit of duck fat over the top and we set the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for about an hour. We cranked the heat up to 425 for another 20 minutes or so, just to get the top extra brown and crusty, then Mike carefully removed the pot from the oven and let it rest briefly before serving.

Dinner:  January 20, 2009

This was a pretty darned wonderful effort from “Team Us,” I have to say, and plenty romantic with candles and a good red wine added to the mix. Who needs leather when you can have pig skin? (And duck. And sausage. And beans.)

Jumble

ideas and inspiration

Sitting down with this stack of books and magazines, flipping through them, sketching out a menu for the week and beyond, well, it’s about all that has kept me sane over the last few days. A health scare for a beloved family member and an extremely busy period at work have had me frazzled, the end result being that I haven’t spent much time actually cooking. On the upside, we had a great time hanging out with old friends and new over the weekend, and we ate more meals out over the course of 3 or 4 days than we probably had in the entire month prior. I’m itching to cook more, but I must say this break has definitely provided me with some culinary inspiration.

I promised you guys a rundown of my lunch at Le Bernardin, and as expected it was a fantastic experience. The meal began with a starter of lightly smoked salmon rilletes for the table. My first course was a plate of six perfect raw oysters, ranging from teeny tiny and briny to big and plump and sweet, followed by a gorgeous main course of Florida grouper with shiso and maitake mushrooms in a lemon-miso broth. My boss likes to make sure I get the “full experience” when we go out to these lunches, so I was able to sample his selections as well – his first course of super-sweet peekytoe crab and entrée of red snapper in a ginger and scallion broth were also just wonderful. To go along with our lunch, we had a bottle of 2005 Shafer Red Shoulder Chardonnay, a really lovely and complex wine. The food and drink were amazing, the service was top-notch, and it was really a special experience I am grateful to have had. I came away with some fun ideas for future seafood dinners.

Dinner:  January 11, 2008

As for the rest of our weekend, Mike did the heavy lifting where dinners were concerned. On Friday night, he put together a delicious rendition of Fergus Henderson’s braised duck and carrots from “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating,” then on Sunday he seared a couple of grass-fed ribeyes and made a batch of fries to go alongside. My contribution to the meal was inspired both by the dish I had at Sweetwater Tavern on Thursday night, as well as by a recent Blue Kitchen post – a bright and tasty chimichurri sauce which was a perfect foil for our rich steaks.

Dinner:  January 13, 2008

I decided to put together a big batch of Bolognese sauce on Sunday and let it cook all afternoon while Mike and I did other things around the house, and as it turned out, it was a good thing I did. My workweek has been extremely busy, so while I wasn’t able to prepare the meal I had planned for Monday night, we didn’t have to scramble for a plan B – I just reheated some of the sauce (to which I added a healthy dollop of ricotta and the rest of a batch of pesto I made last week), cooked up some pasta and had dinner on the table in no time.

Dinner:  January 14, 2008

Not the prettiest dish in the world, but curling up with a glass of Barbera d’Alba and a rich and meaty dish of pasta at the end of a 13+ hour day was just what I needed.

It’s entirely possible that I’ll be eating takeout at my desk tonight as we finish up this big project, but once we’ve finished I look forward to going through my cookbooks and magazines and my little red notebook and getting back in the kitchen to take some of these recipes and ideas for a spin.

Everything but the Quack

just add water

We began another meal cycle last weekend, this time with a whole duck. Mike and I have become big fans of duck as much for its flavor as for its versatility, so this was a series of dinners we were particularly looking forward to. We took a quick trip to The Brooklyn Kitchen on Saturday to get some new tools, returning home with a shiny new boning knife and poultry shears which Mike was eager to put to use.

parts

He took the duck apart, setting the backbone, wings and organs aside for me, and reserving the extra skin and fatty bits to render down later. I placed the duck trimmings into a stockpot with some vegetable trimmings, salt and water and let them perk away to make a stock, then I stepped aside and let Mike get to work on confit.

Here’s what happened next, in his words:

After breaking the duck apart into its components, I sliced the breasts away from the bone and set the legs aside for confit. We had two additional legs that we had ordered separately, which I used as well.

the cure

I had previously made a batch of cure mix, based on a recipe by Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill restaurants. I sliced a shallot and scattered it on the bottom of a small casserole. I then sprinkled generous portions of the cure mix over the duck legs and rubbed it in. The casserole then went into the fridge for 24 hours. (I have cured legs for as long as 72 hours, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference how long you cure them, once you pass the 24-hour mark.)

nestled

The next day, I pulled the casserole from the fridge, brushed the cure mix and shallot off the duck legs, and placed the legs into a larger casserole. Meanwhile, I gently warmed about three to four cups of duck fat on the stove, so that it would melt. I poured that over the legs and put the casserole in the oven on 200. I let them bake for two hours, turned off the heat, and left them in until the casserole was cool to the touch. The legs went into a plastic container, with the fat poured over them. I lidded up the container and placed it in the fridge. You could, if you can spare the casserole, simply store them in the fridge that way, as long as you cover them with plastic wrap.

When you’re ready to use the legs, be sure to pull the confit container out of the chill at least one hour before you need them. This helps the fat soften up enough that you can pull the legs out without all the meat shredding off the bone and remaining in the fat. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

confit

We didn’t eat any of our duck that first night, but we had the makings of three duck dinners at the ready, and on Sunday, I tackled the first in the series, a duck and sausage gumbo. My first taste of duck and sausage gumbo came years ago, at the now-defunct LeBleau’s Cajun Kitchen outside Destin, Florida. I was smitten and began work on my own version soon after I returned home, and while it may not be the most traditional gumbo recipe out there, it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Dinner:  November 11, 2007

Duck and Sausage Gumbo

I usually make a big batch of gumbo for friends shortly after Thanksgiving, using the carcass of the bird to make stock and adding some of the leftover turkey meat to the gumbo. If you’re looking for a new way to use up some of your post-turkey day leftovers, this is a good option – just use turkey stock and meat in place of the duck in the recipe below.

For the roux:
1 cup fat (you can use vegetable oil or whatever sort of fat you wish; I used duck fat for this)
1 cup flour

For the gumbo:
8-10 cups stock (I used duck stock, but you can substitute chicken)
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. spicy smoked sausage (andouille or something similar), sliced
2 cups cooked shredded duck meat
2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced bell pepper (green is traditional but I’m not a fan, so I use red)
Salt
Cayenne pepper to taste

For serving:
Steamed white rice
Sliced scallions
Crusty bread
Your favorite vinegar-based hot pepper sauce

Melt fat or heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the flour to the oil and begin whisking until incorporated. Stir or whisk often, keeping a close eye on the color of the roux; you want a deep, toasty aroma and caramel-to-brown color, but be careful, as the mixture can burn very easily. This amount of roux cooked over medium heat usually takes between 30-45 minutes start to finish.

roux

While the roux cooks, add the stock, bay leaf, thyme and meats to a large stock pot and bring to a simmer.

Once the roux is ready, add the diced onion, celery and bell pepper carefully to the skillet, stirring to coat the vegetables with the roux. Cook for another minute or two, then ladle in a cup or two of the hot stock, stirring well. Carefully pour the vegetable/roux mixture from the skillet into the stock pot. Season with salt and cayenne, stir, cover and simmer until the liquid thickens, adjusting seasoning as necessary. Cook for 30 minutes (or longer over very low heat). Remove the thyme stems and bay leaf, and ladle into bowls. Add a spoonful of white rice and garnish with scallions. Pass hot sauce and bread at the table.

Dinner:  November 13, 2007

Mike took the reins for our next duck dinner – smoked duck breasts with sautéed kale and farro with cranberries and a bit of Rogue River Creamery Smoky Blue cheese crumbled in. He says:

The smoked duck breast was easy. Following the instructions that came with our Cameron smoker, I set the smoker on the stove top and piled about 1-1/2 tablespoons of cherry wood chips in the center. I placed the drip pan on top, lined with a sheet of foil. The rack went atop the drip pan. I scored the skin of the breasts and generously salted and peppered them. I placed them on the rack and turned the heat to just under medium. They smoked for 20 minutes. When I removed them from the smoker, I placed them into a hot iron skillet with a bit of olive oil, to sear the skin of the breasts.

Mike felt that they were a little more done than we usually like, but thanks to the smoker they still were tender and juicy, with an irresistible hint of cherry smoke present in the meat, skin and fat.

We’re having the third meal of this duck cycle tonight: a couple of confit legs, crisped up in our cast iron skillet, potatoes fried in duck fat, frisee salad and a nice bottle of red. It’s one of our favorite easy weeknight dinners – sort of a grown-up version of convenience food, but elegant and delicious.

(I’m taking brief but much needed hiatus and plan to return sometime next week. Be well!)