April 05, 2009

Duck, Duck… Duck

The more you do something the better you get at it, (hopefully). Excelling at anything comes only after hours of practice, (at least 10000 according to Outliers author Malcom Gladwell) and I understand that, but it still kills me to make mistakes if they’re at all avoidable. As much as I love experimenting and trying new things, I hate when they don’t work out. I hate it even more when things don’t work out in the restaurant kitchen as opposed to the safety of my home kitchen. That wide eyed look of fear Chef sees on my face when he throws something new at me is exactly that, fear. It’s a fear of messing up, even though I know it’s a part of learning. And it’s a fear of letting others down, especially those who believe in me the most. But along with the fear is a desire to achieve and to do better. A nervous desire, but desire nonetheless. I’d like to be at the point where not only can I understand why something didn’t work but also see when something needs adjusting while there’s still time to fix it. That’s one of the major problems with baking, there’s a finite amount of time in which to make changes. As soon as whatever you’re making goes into the oven, there’s nothing you can do except have faith that you’ve done everything properly and that it will turn out. If not, hopefully you’ve learned what not to do for next time. Cooking is more flexible to an extent, but if you overcook the duck there’s no way to make it raw again.

Speaking of duck, since the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it, I’ve been cooking a lot of duck lately. The price of duck is motivation to learn quickly how to do it right. Because when you mess up duck it hurts on many levels.

Cassoulet with Duck Confit

At the restaurant we serve cassoulet with duck confit and it’s probably one of my favourite things on the menu. I’ve wanted to make it at home for ages and finally decided if I was going to do it, I was going the full nine yards by first making the duck confit and then soaking and cooking the beans and assembling everything with a bread crumb crust and a prolonged bake in the oven. I used a recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for the duck confit. Don’t let the fact that it takes over two days to complete put you off making your own duck confit. It’s not difficult and the hands on time is minimal. The pay off is definitely worth it as you’re left with beautifully done duck legs and a vat of duck fat that can be used for all sorts of awesome things, like making duck fat fried potatoes. The cassoulet recipe I used was taken mostly from Fat although I improvised a little bit. Consequently the end result was good, but not as good as at work. It was certainly a learning experience though. My finished dish lacked both seasoning and moisture, but at least I was able to determine that.

Duck Fat Fried Potatoes with Duck Confit Hash and A Runny Egg

Like I said though, when you make duck confit, you end up with leftover duck fat and the best thing you can do with that is to use it to fry up some potatoes. I happened to also have a leg of duck confit leftover one morning so I decided to make one of the most decadent but also amazing brunches ever. I shredded the duck leg and made a duck confit hash with peppers, onions and homemade bacon, (also from Charcuterie) then fried up some potatoes in duck fat and served the two with a runny egg overtop. Breakfast has never been the same since.

Mandarin Pancakes with Peking Duck

Mandarin pancakes might sound like breakfast food but they’re usually served for dinner in dishes such as Mu Shu Pork or, as in this case, with Peking duck. The pancakes are made with a simple dough, often made of just flour, boiling water and sesame oil which is allowed to rest and then rolled out flat and sandwiched to another pancake before being browned in a frying pan. The pancakes are then pulled apart and used to wrap up other ingredients, like duck. Mandarin pancakes are one of my favourites and I don’t make them nearly enough, I think it’s the sesame oil in the dough that I just can’t resist. When you pair Mandarin pancakes with Peking duck, life is good.

And last but certainly not least in my adventures in cooking duck is Pan Seared Duck Breast with Dried Cherry and Shallot Confit, served on Roasted Squash Risotto. Pan searing duck breast and finishing it in the oven is fast becoming my go-to way to make duck. I’ve also recently made Soy and Maple Glazed Duck, and Duck Breast with Chili, Honey and Ginger Glaze using the pan searing method. It’s pretty easy to do, (just be careful not to leave it in the oven too long and over cook it, I like my duck pink, thank you) and can be served with any number of sauces and sides. I’m a big fan of pairing fruit with meat and an even bigger fan of cherries so when I saw a recipe for a Dried Cherry and Shallot Confit I knew it was meant to be. As for the risotto, it’s one of those few dishes that I’m comfortable enough cooking that I no longer refer to a recipe. I know the basic method for making risotto and I’ve found that you can introduce any flavour you want to a risotto and it takes fairly well. That being said, as comfortable as I am making risotto in my own kitchen, if you asked me to do it at the restaurant it would be a completely different story…

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Dried Cherry and Shallot Confit with Roasted Squash Risotto

Dried Cherry and Shallot Confit (from Gourmet, 1991)

1 1/2 cups dried sour cherries
1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups thinly sliced shallot (about 1/2 pound)
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

In a bowl let the cherries soak in the vinegars for 30 minutes. While the cherries are soaking, in a heavy skillet cook the shallot and the onion in the butter, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the shallot is soft. Sprinkle mixture with the sugar and cook the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the cherries with the soaking liquid, simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until almost all the liquid is evaporated, and season the confit with salt and pepper. The confit may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheat when needed.


Matt said...

I have quite a bit to comment on this one ;)

a) I had read about duck confit and cassoulet in anthony bourdain's Les Halles cookbook before we even started school...i wanted to make it and read that freakin cookbook every night (no word of a lie)...i'm very jealous youve made cassoulet, yet also very happy it turned out so well

b) I HATE the fact baking is so irreversible, which is why I am fearing Monday when I start training with the comany pastry chef

c) I want Ruhlman's Charcuterie...also I want his collaborative effort with Michael Symon...that dude's laugh freaks me out, yet also makes me laugh at the same time.

That is all.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

;) love that can't make the duck raw again.
The cassoulet and your breakfast have me reeling. I've had the real cassoulet and still dream about it, even made a bean one at home and loved both. The breakfast, well, potatoes are really my middle name and fried in duck fat . . . that would be worth a duck.

Ninette Enrique said...

Thanks for posting on my blog about the sesame balls and leading me to your blog. Can't wait to look at it. It's so funny ... I was going to use the tagline "Go Big or Go Home" too and we filipinos have empanadas too. I'm still trying to come up with the perfect empanada dough (Filipino dough is a little sweet vs. Latino empanada doughs).

veron said...

love all things duck. My favorite is confit but that's just because peking duck is so labor-intensive.

Sara said...

I love duck, but I don't cook with it that often. Sometimes I buy pre-made duck confit, other times I buy the legs to braise(the breasts are so expensive!)

Snooky doodle said...

Interestin and delicious! I was just searching duck recipes. Nice dishes :)

Peabody said...

Okay, had to be done.
They all look so yummy. I hardly make it at home but often have it out.

Michelle @ Find Your Balance Health said...

I've never, ever cooked with duck and have eaten it only...once maybe? So I'm totally impressed.

Cynthia said...

The price of duck is motivation to learn quickly how to do it right. Because when you mess up duck it hurts on many levels. - oh gosh, yes!

Julie said...

I'm kind of spastically bouncing in my chair right now because of all the ridiculously mouth-watering duck pictures!! Confit has been on my to-do list all winter (it's not even that hard!!)

Anonymous said...

god. why am i a vegetarian??

a post about duck? really? are you trying to make me drown in a pool of my own saliva?

oh what a sexy plate of food.

Kathlyn said...

How come when I click on a recipe that looks delicious, I get sent right to you? Can't wait to try this!