Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confit de Canard

I had such a wonderful weekend with food and friends and fat.

Check it:
  • Spontaneous Armenian barbeque -- brought to our door.
  • Quail, beef tenderloin, sausage and lavash.
  • Morel mushrooms picked from the campus of East Los Angeles City College. (So delicious and we did not die!)
  • Lamb testicles. (So much worse than you might imagine!)
And that was just our unexpected Friday night.

Saturday afternoon however was planned. My friend Joseph had written me to ask if I might like to join him in making duck confit. Without hesitation, I said yes. There were many emails back and forth.

What kind of jars?
––2 liter glass jars with gasket seal.

Sterilization, yes or no?

Fresh or frozen duck?

Just how much duck fat would we need?
––A whole lot. Four and a half pounds for two recipes.

After the flurry of communication, we were ready to get started.

We used the recipe out of Stéphane Reynaud's Ripailles, which I believe is the same book as Stéphane Reynaud's French Feasts, just published a year earlier.

The recipe is very concise, and I get the impression that the cookbook as a whole is geared toward cooks, who have a fair amount of experience and can read between the lines and embellish as they see fit.

Since I had not made duck confit in at least ten years and Joseph had never, we were both grateful for the funny little diagram on the opposite page. We seasoned the flesh side of the duck breasts and legs with salt and pepper on Friday night, before the Armenian feast.

On Saturday afternoon, we rinsed the seasoning off, patted the duck dry, and got straight to melting duck fat.

The recipe is simple.

When the fat is melted, you add bay laurel and thyme, and the duck legs and breasts. Once the duck is immersed in the fat, it must simmer very gently for two hours.

This gives you the perfect opportunity to prepare an afternoon repast for friends. You just need to pilfer a little bit of the fat to use to roast some potatoes with green garlic. Toss some sausage in the same oven, and throw together a salad of adolescent lettuces from the C.S.A., sliced apple, a grating of parmesan, and a lemon and green garlic vinaigrette. Crack open a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet wine, and you are all set.

Even little Fe loved the potatoes.

When the two hours are up, you put the duck into very clean jars, and pour the fat in to cover. You then seal the jars with the rubber gasket.

Our plan is to tuck the duck into the back of the refrigerator, forgetting all about it for some six months until the weather cools again and the air is crisp enough to cry out for Cassoulet.

I know. Some of you are having a hard time imagining that happening in Los Angeles. But it is possible. I swear!

Because of the long storage time, sterilization is required. That simply involves placing the lovely jars of duck confit into a giant vat of boiling water for another hour.

Now we wait.

I won't be able to report back, as to the success of this recipe for a while. Look for a full report some time in October or November.

Confit de Canard (Duck Confit)

2 drumsticks from a fat duck
2 duck breasts
2 pounds 4 ounces duck fat
2 large sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper

1. The day before cooking, generously salt and pepper the flesh side of the duck. Chill for twenty-four hours.

2. Rinse the duck and wipe dry. Melt the duck fat in a pot large enough to hold the duck and add the bay leaves and thyme. Immerse the duck in the fat and cook over a very low flame for two hours, with the fat just barely simmering. The flesh should flake off the bone.

3. Store the duck confit covered with duck fat.

4. If you plan to keep the duck confit for an extended period of time, sterilize by boiling the jar of duck confit in large vat of water.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Santouka Ramen

This is not news for most ramen lovers and probably not for most Angeleno foodies, but I'd be remiss if I did not post about just how delicious the ramen at Santouka in the Mitsuwa marketplace is. I've been enjoying the ramen at Santouka for a couple of years now. It is extraordinary.

I was there just last week with my sister. We had the same conversation we always have: Who will have the salt (shio) and who will have the miso, and what about the spicy miso? In the end I chose the salt broth. I think it has the purest flavor.

The best set-up is to share a salt and a miso, so that you can feel pleased with yourself that you ordered the salt, but rather glad to have the opportunity to taste the other.

I am constantly impressed by the noodles. They are cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of bite to them. No mushiness here. The pork is fatty, the way you want it to be. The crunch of the bamboo is so satisfying, that I can almost understand why my sister always orders extra.

This ramen is in the same vein as Daikokuya's ramen, but rises well above the Little Tokyo institution's best offering. The hard boiled eggs that are marinated for twenty-four hours at Daikokuya however, have those at Santouka beat by a long shot. To me, those at Santouka are forgettable.

Hooray that my sister doesn't like the fish cake! An extra for me!

The lusciousness that is a bowl of Santouka ramen makes driving clear across Los Angeles at the height of traffic seem utterly reasonable.

Santouka Ramen
3760 S. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Douglas Fir Tip Tea

When I went to check out the Waldorf School in Pasadena, I did not expect that the most immediately useful piece of information that I would walk away with would be an introduction to an herbal tea.

I drink a cup of herbal tea every morning, before I start in on the coffee and breakfast. It's nice to have a hot cup of tea to sip, while I watch Fe cloak his face (and often his hair) in yogurt.

I love mint. And lately, I've been fortunate enough to receive fresh Chamomile in with the C.S.A. haul. It makes a lovely herbaceous cup. I have a whole shelf in the pantry jammed with herbal tea boxes, yet I'm always looking for something a little more satisfying or a little bit different.

When I bumped into Juniper Ridge's Douglas Fir Tip Tea at the Waldorf School, I was intrigued. I had a cup. I had never tasted any tea like it before. It tastes exactly like a winter forest with a hint of lemon. The tea is crisp and clean. It haunted me for a few days, so I began a search for it.

I ended up asking Whole Foods in Glendale to special order it for me. When I went to pick it up, I noticed a new display filled with Juniper Ridge products. You may be able to find it there or you can visit the
Juniper Ridge site and order it direct. They call it "Wildcrafted Tea." I love that. The idea is that what comes directly from the wilderness is probably even more organic than what you find on organic farms.

The only ingredient in the tea is "100% sustainably wild-harvested Douglas Fir needle tips."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thomas Keller's Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip

I feel like a fool for forgetting to take photos (though one with a genius for alliteration!). It's just that it takes a while to get this meat on the table, and by the time it was ready I was starving.

You need to prep 24 hours ahead with a spice rub, and then you need to take the meat out of the refrigerator half an hour before cooking, sear it and roast it for up to an hour, and then let rest for thirty minutes. That is a long time to wait!

This is all to say that I made Thomas Keller's Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip from his
Ad Hoc At Home for the second time last night.

I'll insert a photograph of his autograph in my copy for your admiration.

I waited in line with Fe at Williams Sonoma in Santa Monica so that I could meet my hero for the second time. (The first time was at the French Laundry, just after dining there. Needless to say, that time was more thrilling.)

The line was long, and it was hot out, and Fe was a cranky little almost-one-year-old. Having Fe with me actually helped a lot. We got to buck the line entirely, because I had my babe strapped to my front like a Bouchon-bomber.

Keller was lovely to Fe and to me. I tried to get him to sign the book with, "Jacqueline, Let's have dinner soon." He didn't bite! Instead he wrote, "Jacqueline, It's all about family." Very sweet.

Ad Hoc At Home is definitely a more realistic book for home cooks than The French Laundry Cook Book or Bouchon, but let's not kid ourselves -- Thomas Keller will almost never give you recipes that are easy to make. He can't, because he is a perfectionist and a genius. His recipes will always take work.

The Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip is actually not difficult at all, by Keller standards. The only thing you have to remember is to plan ahead. Pull the meat out of the fridge early, so that you aren't eating dinner at 10 p.m.!

Now, I don't have Piment d'Espelette in my pantry, although I have been meaning to order some on-line for ages. Cayenne is not the perfect substitute, but I think it probably works well enough in a pinch. I thought the results were terrific, but I have never had this dish prepared with the Piment d'Espelette -- so obviously, I can't compare.

I mentioned that I've made the dish twice. The first time I left the spice rub on for only about eight hours.
This short cut falls short! The meat really does need to be cloaked in spices for the full twenty-four hours. It makes a big difference.

I love how one tablespoon of butter and five thin slices of Meyer lemon can make such an impact. I could taste the lemon and butter in every bite. The first time around with this recipe, I used regular lemon. Keller prefers the Meyer lemon, and I agree that it imparts a more complex flavor. I would not, however hesitate to make this again, if all I had was a regular old lemon hanging around. The difference is not that noticeable.

Last time I cooked the meat to 135 degrees for medium rare, per Keller's recipe. It was much closer to medium after resting for half an hour. I talked to my mom about this and she said that the meat should not cook past 125 degrees for medium rare. That is what I did this second time around and it was a perfect medium rare after resting for twenty minutes.

And speaking of resting... This is so important. The juice has the opportunity to spread throughout the roast and each bite is fantastically juicy.

I'm so sorry there is no photo of the Tri-Tip, but please enjoy this lovely picture of the man himself, with yours truly and little Fe.

Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip

One 2 1/2 pound tri-tip roast, about 3 inches thick at its thickest point
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I understand that Keller always carries around his own pepper mill so that he can consistently have the perfect grind!)
1/2 teaspoon piment d'Espelette (I used Cayenne.)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Kosher salt
Canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 rosemary sprig
1 garlic clove, smashed, skin left on
5 very thin lemon slices, preferably Meyer lemon, seeds removed

One day ahead, combine the black pepper, Espelette, and paprika and rub all over the meat. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Thirty minutes before cooking, remove the meat from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Set a roasting rack in a roasting pan.

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle on all sides with salt. Heat some oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the meat and sear, without moving it, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to brown the bottom. Turn the meat over, add the butter, rosemary, garlic, and lemon slices, and brown the second side of the meat, another two minutes or so. As it browns, spoon the butter mixture over the top of the meat from time to time. Transfer the meat to the rack and arrange the lemon, rosemary, and garlic on top.

Put the roasting pan in the oven and roast for 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the thickness of the roast, until the temperature in the center of the meat is 135 degrees (or 125 degrees if you are me). Let the meat rest on the rack in a warm spot (such as the back of the stove) for about 30 minutes for medium rare, allowing the juices to redistribute.

Cut the roast into thin slices, carving against the grain. Garnish with the lemon, rosemary and garlic.