Game


Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, pp. 345-47 and David Chang’s Momofuku, p. 49.

If you knew that I had recently bought two Asian cookbooks at full price, you might expect this post to be about something I had cooked from one of them instead of a good ol’ rock-solid stand-by from Nigel Slater’s cookbook. I will indeed make a couple of recipes from Momofuku and Beyond the Great Wall. For the moment, I had to do something with the organic duck I had in the freezer and the new books had nothing that would help. Although Nigel’s recipe appears in the December chapter, the weather at the moment is cool enough to justify making this out of its proper season.

I learned two key point from the meal I prepared.

  • David Chang’s method of roasting a slab of pork belly at 450 degrees for almost an hour and then reducing the temperature to 250 for another hour or hour and a half works better than any other pork belly recipe I’ve tried. The onus is on you to make sure it doesn’t char too much in the first hour.
  • You can never degrease a duck dish too much because there’s always more fat than you think.

A description of how I plated the dish will give you a sense of its virtues. In a shallow pasta bowl, I placed a little mound of blanched kale/swiss chard greens and drizzled over it just a tiny bit of sesame oil. Beside the greens, I put a 1.5-inch by 1.5-inch square of roasted pork belly. A half-cup scoop of sticky rice next to the greens and pork. On top of the rice I placed a portion of duck — a half breast, a leg and thigh — over which I ladled some braising liquid. (I’ll reserve the salads for a subsequent post.) This was enough: a wonderful plate of food. The following recipe will serve four.

So, here’s how I fiddled with Nigel’s basic recipe and David Chang’s pork belly:

2 tablespoons grapeseed or another neutral oil

1 duck, preferably organic, at the very least free range, cut into pieces

2 small or 1 large onion, roughly chopped

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 scant teaspoon high-quality Chinese Five-Spice powder (don’t overdo it)

Shadowcook: Whole Spice in Petaluma, California makes two kinds. Chinese Five-Spice contains cinnamon, fennel, ginger, star anise, and cloves. Chinese Five-Spice North Style has star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan pepper. I used the North Style this time.

8 rounds of sliced, peeled ginger, sliced into matchsticks

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine

2 cups chicken stock

4-6 green onions, cut into 1-inch long pieces

For the roast pork belly:

1 lb pork belly, with or without rind

1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder (see above note)

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Shadowcook: I made the duck the day before my little dinner party.

Set the oven at 350. On the stovetop, warm the oil in a heavy, oven-proof casserole with a lid, then lightly brown the duck pieces in it. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Lift the browned duck out on to a plate. Add the onions to the pan, turn the heat down a little and let them cook, with only the occasional stir, until they are soft and sweet.

Peel the garlic and slice each clove thinly, then stir it into the onion as it cooks. Cut the ginger into matchsticks, stir them in, then cut the spring onions into short lengths and add them to the pot. Leave everything to soften for a few minutes, then stir in the sugar, 1 scant teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder, chicken stock, and rice wine. Season with black pepper and salt and bring to the boil. Let the mixture boil for a good minute, then return the meat to the pot, together with any juices that may have escaped. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven, setting the timer for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Check the duck for tenderness. It should be soft but far from fall off the bone. Season the stew with a little salt. Scoop off as much of the liquid fat from the top as you can — there will be lots — then either lift the pieces of duck on to shallow bowls of rice and spoon over the juices, or let everything cool, then refrigerate overnight. If you take the latter option, the next day scrape off the white fat that has settled on top, reheat the stew and serve with rice.

Shadowcook: I separated the duck pieces from the braising liquid. After both duck and liquid cooled completely, I stored them in plastic containers and put them in the fridge. Next day, about 2 hours before I served the meal, I roasted the pork belly according to David Chang’s simple directions.

Several hours before dinner, combine the teaspoon of Chinese Five-Spice powder with the brown sugar and salt. Score the fat or rind surface of the pork belly. Rub the mixture on the pork, making sure it reaches the crevices of the surface scoring. Put the pork belly a container and marinate for a few hours at room temperature (or overnight in the refrigerator). Two hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 450. David Chang recommends putting the pork belly in a snug roasting pan. Stick the pan in the oven and roast the pork for 40 minutes. From that point on, keep an eye on it. The surface of the meat should be caramelized but should not be charred black. Let it roast at this temperature as long as possible. Then reduce the heat to 250. Roast for another hour or hour and a half, depending on how big a piece of pork belly you have.

While the pork is roasting, about 45 minutes before eating, I scraped off the thick layer of fat from the cold braising liquid and saved it in another container. It will make a good base for sauteing.  Then I put the degreased liquid in a braising pan, brought it to a simmer over medium heat, and let it reduce by almost half. I added the duck pieces, reduced the heat, and warmed the duck pieces. Transfer the duck pieces to a platter. Before you serve, I’ll bet you any amount of money you’ll see another thick film of duck fat on the surface of the braising. I used a metal spoon to skim the fat off and added it to the copious amount of fat I  removed the day before and stored in the fridge.

Assemble the plates as I describe at the beginning of this post. Slice or cut into a squares the pork belly with a very sharp knife (so that it doesn’t fall apart). My guests relished the unctuous combination of pork and duck — but they would not have if I hadn’t take care to remove as much fat as possible.

from The Kitchen Diaries, pp. 372-74.

I had an organic Mary’s duck in my freezer. The temperatures are soaring into the 100s. That frozen bird, I knew, would not last until fall. I had to roast it no matter how hot it made the house. Not only is roast duck out of season, but the recipe I chose to make — because it’s the most straightforward — is Nigel’s early Christmas lunch. You can’t get much less seasonal than that at the end of June. Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pound.

But I also decided to eke as many meals out of that one duck as I could. I’ve managed four: roast duck and potatoes; pasta with duck; another pasta with duck; and duck broth for soup. Plus, I saved all the fat (you can strain it, if you’re fussy about the clarity of your duck fat).

First, Nigel’s basic recipe (bookmark this for the fall holidays):

a large duckling, weighing about 2.5 kg [or 5 1/2 pounds]

potatoes, such as Maris Piper — 6 medium [I used Yukon Gold]

pancetta — 150 g [or about 5 oz; or the same amount in unsmoked bacon]

olive oil, mild, not fruity [this means not extra-virgin]

onions — 2 medium

thyme — 5 or 6 sprigs

bay leaves — a couple

a wine glass of Marsala [Shadowcook: I used Madeira]

Preheat the oven to 200 C [or 400 F]. Remove the giblets from the duck, rinse the bird inside and out and pat it dry with kitchen paper. If you can do this an hour or so before you begin to cook. leaving the duck in a cool place, then all to the good.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into finger-thick slices, dropping them into cold water as you go. Cut the pancetta into cubes, then put it into a large roasting tin [or pan] with a tablespoon of oil. [Shadowcook: Use as little oil as possible; the duck will release rivers of its own.] Warm it over a low heat, letter the pancetta flavour the oil but without letter it colour. Introduce the slices of potato, shaken dry, into the fat and let them cook slowly.

Whilst this is going on, peel and cut the onions first in half, then each half into about six. Add them to the potatoes along with the thyme leaves stripped from their stems.

[Shadowcook: It’s sweet of Nigel to give us the benefit of the doubt and order the steps of this recipe as if we were all flash peelers like he no doubt is. But if I were you, I’d peel and cut up the onions before I started sweating the pancetta and frying the onions. Get all your ducks in a row, as they say, before you begin cooking.]

Turn everything over gently as it cooks, letting the potatoes and onions colour very slightly. Season with salt and pepper and a couple of bay leaves, then remove from heat.

[Shadowcook: Actually, I put the bay leaves into the cavity of the bird.]

Price the skin of the duck all over with a fork, then season it inside and out with salt. Lay the duck on top of the potatoes, then put it in the oven and roast for an hour and a half, until the potatoes are soft and both they and the duck are golden. From time to time, push the spuds, particularly those that are browning too quickly, to one side, and spoon a little of the cooking juices over any that appear dry. During the cooking, carefully tip off most of the fat taht is pour out of the duck and that has not been absorbed by the potatoes.

[Shadowcook: The danger here is that the potatoes will burn, like some of mine did. In addition to keeping a close eye on the roasting pan, pouring off the fat will help avert the danger of burnt potatoes.]

Test to see that the duck is done. there should be no sign of blood in the juices and the skin should be crisp and singing. Remove the potatoes to a warm serving dish.

[Shadowcook: And then again, there’s the meat thermometer. At this step, I’d remove the bird at 165-170 F and proceed.]

Turn the oven up to 220 C [425 F]. Put the duck back in the oven and let it crisp for five minutes or so, then transfer it to a warm dish. Quickly pour the Marsala [or Madeira] into the roasting tin [or pan] and place it over a moderately high heat (you don’t want it to boil away), scraping at any stuck bits in the tin [or pan]. The idea is to get any pan stickings and sediment to dissolve into the gravy. Whilst the sauce is bubbling, carve the duck and serve it with the potatoes. Check the pan juices for seasoning — they may need a little salt — then spoon over the duck.

Enough to serve 2 generously. [Shadowcook: I’ll say! I carved off a leg and saved the rest for the following recipes.]

Now, my turn:

1. Sauteed cherry tomatoes and duck meat over fresh pasta

1 serving

1 – 2 teaspoons duck fat and NO MORE

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

somewhere between a 1/2 quart to 1 quart cherry tomatoes, as many as you would like, halved

[In the photo above, most of what you see is cherry tomatoes reduced to a sauce]

the meat of one of the breasts from leftover carcass of roasted duck, chopped or sliced into thin strips

salt and pepper

3 oz fresh pasta

flat leaf parsley, chopped fine

1 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese

First, put a big pot of salted water on to boil. Then put a pasta bowl into a warm oven to keep it warm.

Then, in a smallish skillet, heat the 1 or so teaspoon of duck fat over medium low heat. Add the minced garlic and shallot. Sauté until softened. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, turn the heat up a little, and leave to sauté for 3-5 mins. As they soften, mash some of the tomatoes with the back of the wooden spoon, and stir. When the tomatoes have released juices and created a sauce, turn down the heat, and add the chopped duck meat. Season to taste. Simmer on low until the pasta until sauce is reduced to your liking. Keep warm until pasta is ready.

Cook the fresh pasta 4-5 minutes, drain, and without shaking the extra water off immediately transfer the pasta to the skillet. Sprinkle chopped parsley over and stir. Transfer to warmed pasta bowl and grate parmesan over. Eat.

2. Sautéed artichokes, duck, and sorrel over fresh pasta

several small artichokes

quarter of a lemon

1-2 teaspoons duck fat

1 shallot, minced

the meat from one breast of a roasted duck

1/4 to 1/2 cup white white, preferably a sauvignon blanc, not an oaky wine

French sorrel or flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3 oz fresh or dried pasta

Don’t start the water until you’re ready to sauté the artichokes. Put a small bowl of water to the side. You’ll put your artichoke pieces in it to prevent them from turning brown. Squeeze into it the juice of a quarter or half lemon.

To prepare the artichokes, break off all the leaves until you get close to the center, where the leaves are more yellow than green. Cut off the top part, above the rim of the artichoke heart. With a small paring knife, peel the stem and smooth the underside of the artichoke where you’ve broken off the leaves. Then cut out the center of the choke so that you have a small hollow. Your little artichoke should look like a baseless goblet. Cut it into quarters or eighths, depending on how big it is. Drop into a bowl of lemon water.

Now, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Go on with the recipe, but put the pasta in the water whenever it’s ready. Heat the oven to its lowest setting and put a pasta bowl in to warm it.

Put one teaspoon (or more, depending on how many artichokes you use, but a little goes a long way) in a skillet over a medium low flame. Add the chopped shallot and stir. Watch to make sure it doesn’t brown. When the shallot has softened, drain the artichoke pieces, shake off the excess water, and then add to the skillet. Stir to coat them with the fat. Turn the heat up a little and sauté them for about 5 minutes. When the artichokes have softened a little, add the duck meat. Stir to coat the meat and let cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the wine and adjust heat so that the liquid reduces but only so fast as to keep pace with the cooking pasta. If necessary, add water to keep it all moist.

Drain the pasta. Try not to shake off the excess water, if the artichokes and duck are a little on the dry side. Add the pasta to the skillet, toss, let it heat, and sprinkle the sorrel or parsley over it. Pull the warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the sauce over the pasta. If you want to add parmesan, go ahead, but I prefer it without.

3. Vietnamese Duck Soup with Noodles


The broth:

1 duck carass with lots of shaggy meat on it (although you should cut off chunks or slices to put in the soup at the end)

1 onion sliced up

2 cloves

1 star anise

the seeds of 1 cardomon pod

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce

Put all the ingredients in a stock pot. Fill with water to a couple of inches above the carcass. As the liquid heats, skim the scum off the surface of the broth. Bring to a boil. Once it’s at a boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.

When the broth is ready, strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve lined with either cheesecloth or a paper towel.

You’ll have more than you’ll need for a big bowl, so pour into a saucepan four cups of the broth. Freeze the rest of keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a few days.

The soup:

4 cups duck broth

1 serving size fresh ramen noodles or any other fresh Asian noodles you like

1 serrano chile, minced

cilantro leaves, whole

green onions, sliced thin

bean sprouts

Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Lightly untease the fresh noodles and drop them into the water. I prefer what Ramen Fanatics (of which I am merely a wannbee) call “less boiled.” Fresh noodles should not take more than 2 minutes. I keep testing the noodles a little before and after four minutes.

[Shadowcook commenting on myself: The James Beard of Japanese Cooking, Shizuo Tsuji, author of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, recommends bringing the water back to a boil after you’ve added the ramen, then adding a cup of cold water, and bringing it back to the boil again. After 3 or 4 times of this routine, taste the noodles. Why does he boil them this way? I’m not sure but I think it has something to do with the preference of Japanese cooks to avoid boiling their food. A gentle, rolling simmer to broth and stew preserves the delicate flavors of Japanese soups. Boiling, I gather, leaves bruises. Then again, I could be making that up.]

Drain the noodles quickly and rinse them in cold water. Make sure they are not clumpy. Put the ramen in a big soup bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the 4 cups of broth, adding minced serrano chile to taste. When the broth is not but not boiling, pour it over the noodles in the soup bowl. Add the cilantro leaves, scallions, and any scraps of duck left over from the carcass. Don’t burn yourself carrying it to the table.

[Shadowcook: Next time I make this — I have about 6 more cups of broth, after all — I want to punch up the broth. Maybe some minced ginger. More fish sauce, less salt. It’s a rich soup. so this entire post is worth bookmarking and returning to in the fall.]

dsc04044from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, pp. 167-70.

Ever since I saw an approving review of Chez Panisse head chef David Tanis’s first volume of recipes in Gourmet Magazine a few months ago, I decided this would be my next cookbook purchase. It wasn’t, but it was quite literally the next best purchase of a cookbook I made. Tanis divides his book into seasonal menus, which is not particularly convenient for browsing — if I’m looking for a recipe by main ingredient, I’d like to thumb through a section on that main ingredient. I quibble. Few cookbooks have as many appealing and seemingly achievable dishes as this one. He concentrates on simple but creative preparations of good ingredients. Without question, the book is worth its price. Reading through it has also inspired me to return soon to Chez Panisse to taste the cooking one more time.

And that adventure looks more likely than ever now that Rachel, the daughter of my good friend Sherry, has been hired there to bus tables. Apparently, most employees at Chez Panisse begin as busers. Rachel will clear and set up plates for the cooks in the kitchen for a while and then gradually make the transition to the dining rooms. After that, she has the option of moving on to the wait-staff and possibly beyond that. She reports that the working conditions in the restaurant and café reflect Alice Water’s generosity and commitment to a healthy and content workplace. In addition to full benefits, she has one meal and one glass of wine each shift she works, significant discounts on books, and an even more significant one at Kermit Lynch’s wine store. Alice Waters has made her restaurant a very good and supportive place to work.

Tanis divides the recipe into three parts, which is fitting since he spends half of every year in Caesar’s Gaul:

Serves 8 -10

16 semiboneless quail, about 1/4 lb each

salt and pepper

Olive oil

2 Tb chopped thyme leaves

2 Tb chopped sage leaves

6 garlic clove, thinly sliced

16 thin slices pancetta or bacon

Creamy Polenta (recipe follows)

Oven-Grilled Radicchio (recipe follows)

Season each quail inside and out with salt and pepper and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil.

In a small bowl, mix together the thyme, sage, and garlic. Put a small spoonful of the mixture inside each bird. Wrap each bird with a slice of pancetta. Put in a baking dish and refrigerate for up to several hours, or overnight. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the quail breast side down in a shallow roasting pan (two pans side by side is easier) and slide onto the oven’s top rack.

When the birds begin to sizzle, after 8 minutes or so, turn them breast side up. Continue roasting for 10 to 12 minutes more, until the quail are nicely browned and crisp and the juices run clear when the thigh is probed with the tip of a knife.

Remove the birds from the oven and let them rest about 10 minutes, loosely covered.

Pour the polenta onto a large platter. Lay the quail on the polenta and spoon the juices over the birds. Surround with the grilled radicchio.

Creamy polenta:

Use 4 parts water to 1 part polenta. Once made, the polenta can sit for another hour.

Bring 12 cups water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a high flame. Add 2 tsp salt and 3 cups stone-ground polenta and stir well with a sturdy whisk. When the water returns to the boil and the polenta begins to thicken, after a minute or two, turn the flame to low. Continue to stir while the polenta gets its bearings. After a few minutes, it will be bubbling very gently, with the occasional ploop. Stir the polenta every 10 minutes or so. If it seems to be getting too thick, splash a little milk on top and stir it in — do this occasionally, or as necessary.

After 45 minutes or so, the polenta should be nearly cooked and ready for tasting. Spoon out a small amount on a plate and let it cool slightly — hot polenta straight from the pot is likely to burn the roof of your mouth. You’re looking for a lush, corn flavor and a texture that’s smooth, not grainy.

Now add salt and pepper to taste, and another splash of milk, and stir well. Cook for 15 minutes longer, then taste again. Stir in a stick of softened butter. Turn off the heat and let the polenta rest, covered, for 15 minutes before serving. Covered, it will stay warm and soft for up to an hour.

Oven-grilled radicchio:

For each serving, count on 2 wedges of radicchio; 4 small heads will yield 8 servings.

Peel any damaged or tough outer leaves from the radicchio. Cut into thick wedges and place in an earthenware gratin dish or shallow baking dish. Drizzle the wedges with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake on the top shelf for 10 to 15 minutes, until well browned and nearly, but not quite, charred. The radicchio can be cooked up to several hours in advance, then reheated in the hot oven when the birds come out.

How I set about reconstructing his recipe:

Fresh quail can be ridiculously expensive ($5 a piece at my local market!), but I have found frozen packs of farmed quail in the specialty frozen sections of up-scale supermarkets. What’s more, I ignored the “semiboneless.” I don’t mind picking up and gnawing on the little birds and neither do most of my friends.

As is clear in the photo, I more than halved the recipe. I had two friends to dinner to eat six quail. They’re appreciative but not big eaters, so I had one quail left over.

I prepared the quail the night before. When I began to cook, however, I grilled the radicchio, took it out and covered with foil, and then a little over one hour before I calculated I would remove the quail from the oven, I started to make the polenta. The 10-minutes stirring intervals make coordinating the three elements easy.

Because I suspect my oven is running cold these days, I preheated the oven to 475 and then reduced it to 425 when I put the birds in to roast. The cooking times worked perfectly, although the pancetta and quail did not brown as much as I had hoped. Nor did the quail render much juice.

For the polenta: I used 2 cups of polenta in 8 cups of water. It drank up nearly a 1/3 cup of whole milk before it reached a creamy state. I cooked the polenta on the lowest flame. After the polenta had cooked for 45 minutes, I put the quail in the oven.

Final thoughts:

Tanis is absolutely correct when he insists in the recipe’s preamble on cooking the polenta for a full hour. The grains softened and dissolved and the polenta came out creamier than I’ve ever made it before. I may use less milk next time.

Next time, I may substitute Cornish game hens for the quail. They’re cheaper and they are likely to render more juices.

I also may play with the garlic-thyme-sage mixture. If I roast hens instead, perhaps the herbs would do well under the skin next to the breast meat.

We drank a Cotes du Rhone but switched to a 2006 Pinot Noir from San Luis Obispo (Tolosa), which we all agreed flattered the food.

img_9415.jpgfrom Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, pp. 349-50.

Because my friend Gary is famous for his version of this recipe from Marcella’s classic work, I called him today before I started to cook. He remembered that the recipe called for a cube of beef bouillon, which struck him as counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t it have called for chicken? But he urged me to stick to the beef bouillon.

Actually, even before I reviewed the recipe and noticed that she specifies only ‘1 bouillon cube’, I remembered reading — perhaps in the first editions of this cookbook — that she disiked chicken broth and chicken bouillon. She tasted bitter to her, and as a result she preferred either a mixture of chicken with beef or just beef alone. So, the choice of beef struck me as the right one. But bouillon cube? Why not my own broth? In the end, I decided to trust Marcella.

The recipe as it appears in her book:

A 3- to 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut into 8 pieces

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup celery diced fine

1 garlic clove, peeled

2/3 cup dry white wine

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 tsp dried leaves

salt

black pepper, ground fresh

1 bouillon cube and 2 T tomato paste, dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water

1. Soak the rabbit in abundant cold water overnight, in an unheated room in cold weather or in the refrigerator. Rinse in several changes of cold water, then pat thoroughly dry with cloth or paper towels.

2. Choose a sauté pan that can contain all the rabbit pieces without overlapping. Put the oil, celery, garlic, and the rabbit, cover tightly, and turn the heat on to low. Turn the meat occasionally, but do not leave it uncovered.

3. You will find that at the end of 2 hours, the rabbit has shed a considerable amount of liquid. Uncover the pan, turn the heat up to medium, and cook until all the liquid has simmered away, turning the rabbit from time to time. Add the wine, rosemary, salt and pepper. Allow the wine to simmer briskly until it has evaporated, then pour the dissolved bouillon cube and tomato paste mixture over the meat. Cook at a steady, gentle simmer for another 15 minutes or more, until the juices in the pan have formed a dense little sauce, turning the rabbit pieces over from time to time. Transfer the entire contents of the pan to a warm platter and serve promptly.

How I decided in the end to approach the recipe:

After talking to Gary, I skipped the overnight soak. Let’s face it: the bunny I was about to cook had never set his or her paws on a free range. The gamey taste and stringy sinews were not likely to be a problem.

Next change: I add a few extra garlic cloves.

I let the rabbit cook until the meat was falling off the bone, in other words nearly two and a half hours.

The biggest change occured in the bouillon. I added a beef bouillon to the tomato paste and water. I think it worked.

Last bit: I made polenta mixed with parmesan and butter according to the Gourmet Cookbook recipe.

Last thoughts:

Few recipes promise and deliver as this one does. Marcella’s rabbit beats any of the recipes I’ve seen for rabbit ragu over pasta. Next time I’ll make one significant change. I would double the tomato paste-bouillon-water mixture.  If I’m not in the mood for polenta, I’d pick the meat off the bone — being very careful to extract the small bits of rabbit bone — and serve it in its sauce over pappardelle. I’m tempted to use one of my precious little tubs of homemade veal stock on this recipe. Something tells me that it would come close to the rabbit dish I used to order years ago at Tra Vigne before the chef changes and they started making inexcusable cut-backs. At any rate, Marcella deserves her plush retirement in Florida.