Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Éirinn go Brách

Not only did the cured duck breast turn out quite tasty as seen in the post below, but also I had the chance to finally pull out the corned beef I had in brine.  Originally, I had planned to have the beef corned in time for St. Patrick's Day, but alas, I was in DC helping my parents.  Thus, March 17th went by with a corned beef from Whole Foods instead, which I discovered, much to my dismay, was brined without nitrate, resulting in a rather unappetizing and dull product on the plate.  Tasty perhaps, but I knew mine would fare better.

Therefore, the beautiful local, grass-fed brisket picked up from the butcher and immersed in brine (with nitrate) for two weeks became dinner last week with high expectations.  The corned beef was braised with a coarsely chopped mirepoix, thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries, and coriander.  To the braising liquid, I also added a bottle of Stella Artois that I was not particularly inclined to drink.  After braising for 8 hours at ~190°F, the corned beef in braising liquid was rested for another 8 hours.  The corned beef was removed to a cutting board.  Whole red new potatoes were added to the liquid and brought to a boil, at which point cabbage wedges were added.  Slices of corned beef were put on a plate set on top of the pot and covered to rewarm by steaming as the potatoes and cabbage cooked.

 Corned beef with boiled cabbage and new potatoes

So much better than Whole Foods' non-nitrate cured impostor of a corned beef.
With a glass of Tyrconnell in hand, a much belated sláinte mhaith to you all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Duck and cover

The vernal equinox was just a few days ago, and to me, spring is a time for buds, blossoms and birds.  While the brisk air begins to fill with the twit of song sparrows, I've been working into a fine feathered frenzy of my own in the kitchen.  As luck would have it, the center of recent gustatory experiments has been duck.

I am a huge fan of duck.  As an aside, duck in my mind will always be connected to the duck farm my family and I thought about visiting near Lac Brome in the Eastern Townships area of Quebec.  I saw "thought about visiting" because we couldn't quite get out of the car when we arrived.  The reason?  One of the most god-awful stenches I have ever had the displeasure of coming across, ranking up there with other odorous affronts on the level of sulphurous paper mills and stewed chou doufu, except worse.  Anyhow, as I was saying, duck is delicious.

Despite my love for duck, I have never actually prepared duck in my own kitchen until now.  Given how fruitful this first foray has been, I regret not adding duck to my repertoire earlier.  I also must thank Tony Maws' video on how to cure duck breast for being the driving impetus.

While I initially just wanted to make the cured duck breast, my trip to Whole Foods revealed that my only option was to buy a whole duck.  In hindsight, going to Chinatown to get a whole duck would've been a better idea, but I was impatient at the time.  After filleting the duck to get the breasts for curing, I broke down the rest of the duck, reserving the legs for confit, the meat scraps for ragu, the carcass for stock and the organs for a quick snack.

Liver, heart and gizzard fried in butter with a sauce of cherries, brandy and cider.

 The confit legs turned out quite well based on the taste I snuck, and they remain nicely preserved in fat in the fridge for now.  Cassoulet in the near future?  The stock and ragu were also delicious.  So far, I've gotten quite a few fantastically tasty courses out of the one duck, but what about the cured breasts?

The breasts with the skin and fat left on were first buried in salt for 24 hours.  After that simple cure, rinsed the salt off, patted them dry and rubbed them down with a Maws-like mixture of red wine vinegar, port, black pepper and sichuan pepper.  Finally, they were wrapped with cheesecloth, secured with twine and hung in my fridge to dry.

While the drying process takes about a week or so, I mistimed my experiment and ended up being out of town at the one week mark.  As a result, the breasts were hung to dry for two full weeks.  When I did get back into town, I was really excited to see and taste the results.  The long drying time definitely led to over-drying, with a thicker band of jerky-like meat around the perimeter.  The taste was quite gamy at first, but the more I nibbled, the more I grew to really like it, even detecting perhaps hints of chocolate.  After the first few bites, I threw the breasts in the freezer to make it easier to slice it thin.  The resulting slices revealed beautiful crimson meat with just a slight chewiness and nearly translucent fat that had the texture of lardo.  The over-drying is evident in the dark brown band, but when sliced so thinly, I didn't notice it affecting the taste of texture of the slices.  Thinking of the classic pairing of prosciutto with musk melon, I absconded with some cantaloupe from an afternoon reception (Congratulations Dr. Mora-Blanco!).  Though the pairing was perhaps not so transcendent, it was still a delicious snack.  To conclude with some lessons learned: 1) duck is completely approachable in the kitchen; 2) I'm now fascinated with curing meats.  Perhaps its time to check out Ruhlman's burgeoning cult classic Charcuterie.

Cured duck breast with cantaloupe

Monday, March 7, 2011

Turn of the Century

Grocery shopping over the weekend turned up two ingredients that combined fruitfully in this riff off a classic cocktail.  First, I bought some fresh thyme because I needed some for the dinner I was making and had some left over.  Second, there was a gorgeous assemblage of Meyer lemons, and since they are in season, I couldn't resist getting several.  As I was looking through various recipes to decide what to do with my lemons, I saw a recipe for Meyer lemon and thyme truffles.  While the bulk of my lemons may get turned into preserve or limoncello, I decided to juice one for a cocktail, instant gratification and all, to try out what seemed to be a rather fortuitous combination.  As a starting point, I remembered the 20th Century cocktail in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which calls for:

1.5 oz gin
0.75 oz Lillet Blanc
0.75 oz lemon
0.5 oz crème de cacao
Shaken, lemon twist.

I then remembered a brilliant thing that Shingo at Angel's Share does with thyme in his Tennessee Waltz cocktail.  He brulées the thyme with a kitchen torch to use as a garnish.  However, its not a mere garnish, as the heady aroma of roasted thyme accompanies each sip.  Thus, I combined the two ideas in this remix.

1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz Cocchi Americano
0.5 oz Meyer lemon juice (generous)
0.5 oz crème de cacao (scant)
Dash orange bitters
Meyer lemon peel
Shaken, roasted thyme.

I wanted to capture the idea of the Meyer lemon and thyme truffle that had served as the inspiration.  The nose was heavy with the scent of roasted thyme with a touch of lemon oil.  The cocktail itself certainly was on the confectionery end with a brief initial impression of gin and lemon quickly giving way to the sweetness of the crème de cacao.  However, the lemon's acidity certainly lingered on the palate after the notion of bonbons subsided.  The Meyer lemon did make the cocktail less sharp than I remember the original made with lemon being.  Also, despite being merely the garnish, I could swear that a tint of roasted thyme appeared somewhere in the swallow.  All in all, a pretty delicious nightcap.  Perhaps a dish of fish with thyme, lemon and cocoa is in the not too distant future?

Voice of an Order

Herbaceous delight
Essence of ancient wisdom
Chartreuse VEP