Chicken, Frenchy Things, Offal

No guts, no glory.

One of the best aspects of buying whole chicken is the plastic-wrapped bundle of organs tucked inside the cavity. Raise your hand if you use the contents. No?

Perhaps recognizing that most people just throw out the liver, heart, and gizzards, many chicken processors – including one of my favorites, the sustainable-practices Ayrshire Farm – no longer include that little packet of organ-y goodness. And that’s a shame. I know it’s annoying when people whip out the old “When I was a kid” line, but when I was a kid, my favorite parts of the chicken were the heart and gizzards. My mom would set an entire chicken to simmer in spices and aromatics, or rub it in salt and pepper to roast in the oven; soon after the cooking started, she’d spear the heart and gizzards with a fork or chopstick and hand it across the counter to me. Years later, driving through Dollywood (I know) on the way to the Smokies, I stopped for gas at a filling station in Tennessee that also sold hot paper cones of fried gizzards. We can debate the wisdom of buying gas station food from a guy in a dirty sleeveless Bud t-shirt with a cigarette who filled the cone with a lit cigarette firmly clamped between his lips, but we can’t argue about the taste. Those gizzards were good.

I wrote recently about my foie gras and sweetbreads initiation in Paris a couple of decades ago. Undoubtedly, the path to foie was eased by many a chicken liver. My husband, who claims not to enjoy liver, makes numerous exceptions: for Braunschweiger, a hastily made chopped liver flavored with Cognac on toast, chicken liver pâté. Once, while an undergraduate at Oberlin, he and some friends, having taken responsibility for the weekend meal at their co-op, prepared chicken liver pâté for eighty people. Or what they thought was the right amount for eighty people, which with a certain perspective on how much pâté any one person might eat has turned out to be way more than eighty people ever were going to eat. In any case, they filled a three gallon plastic bucket with the remaining pâté, which Nat brought home to his apartment. According to the Baldwin Co-op Chicken Liver Pâté Mythos, the next day – Super Bowl Sunday – his housemates ate most of the pâté right out of the bucket while watching the game until a certain sense of gastric unease forced them to stop. Asked about it today, Nat will only deliver this message: “Tony Geron, no one forced you to eat all that pâté.”

No one’s going to force you to eat three gallons of pâté from a plastic bucket. But you might want to think twice before throwing out that little plastic packet next time you buy a whole chicken. Use it to make a quick chopped liver, to serve before the chicken. Or freeze it, covered in milk, adding livers and milk to the container with each chicken you butcher, and make a smooth, rich pâté.

Quick chopped liver

This is the perfect way to use one large chicken liver, fresh from the chicken. Don’t have Cognac? Don’t worry – Madeira, brandy, Calvados, port, and even bourbon can substitute.

1/2 small onion, peeled and diced as small as possible (1/8″ if you can)
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 sprigs thyme
one large chicken liver
1 tbsp Cognac
salt and pepper
chives, minced

Place a sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter. When the butter foams, add the onions and thyme and reduce the heat slightly, seasoning with a little salt. Sauté the onions until they just begin to turn golden.

While the onion cooks, clean the liver – remove the veins and connective tissue – and chop as finely as you can. The liver is very soft so you should be able to chop with ease. It will appear to coalesce into a pool, rather than distinct small pieces.

Raise the heat slightly. Add the liver to the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the liver is tender and begins to brown. Add the Cognac and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the thyme, stir in the remaining butter. Garnish with chives.

Serve on toast points.

Chicken liver pâté

This makes a decent amount of pâté – about 28 ounces or so, probably enough for at least 10 servings – but if you cover it with fat, pack it into small tightly sealed containers with gaskets, and don’t open it until you’re ready to eat, you can prolong its life to about 3 weeks. Great for parties!

The awesomeness of this pâté is its silken texture. You won’t find fibers or granular bits in this pâté because it’s been passed through a fine sieve. That step takes a little time and I won’t pretend it’s fun standing there pushing it through, but it’s worth it. You can dispense with the sieving, and it’ll taste good, but not as good.

If you accumulate livers in milk in the freezer, prepare this dish once you have about a pound (maybe 8 large) livers. Thaw them in the refrigerator and, when totally thawed, drain the milk. You can dispense with the milk-soaking step in the recipe, which reduces the blood content and bitterness of the livers.

1 lb chicken livers
2 c milk
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 sprigs thyme
bay leaf
salt
optional: curing salt (Tinted Curing Mix or pink salt)
vegetable oil
1/4 tsp quatre épices or a large pinch each of the following ground spices: cloves, ginger, and nutmeg plus 1/8 tsp white pepper
3 tbsp Cognac
5 oz (10 tbsp or 1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c melted duck fat, or chicken fat, or butter

Clean the liver – remove the veins and connective tissue. Divide into equal-sized large pieces. Soak in milk, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours. Drain well and discard the milk.

Place a sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Add the onions, thyme, and bay and reduce the heat slightly, seasoning with a little salt. Sauté the onions until they just begin to turn golden.

Raise the heat slightly and add the quatre épices. Add the liver to the onions, season with about 3/4 tsp salt or 3/4 tsp salt plus 1/16 tsp curing salt (if using), and cook, stirring from time to time, until the liver is tender and begins to brown. Add the Cognac and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the thyme and bay leaf.

Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and process until relatively smooth. Add the butter and continue to process. The mixture will be quite runny. It will firm up on chilling.

Pass through a tamis or fine sieve, using a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to push the mixture through. Taste for seasoning and transfer to lidded jars, preferably with gaskets, leaving 1/2″ or more space at the top.

Delicious chicken liver pâté

Melt the duck fat and pour a thin layer over the surface of the pâté in each jar. Chill until firm.

Serve with toast or grilled bread, accompanied by sweet onion confit or cornichons.

On toast with tart-sweet onion confit

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Pork Products, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Spain

Uncanny.

I’ll stipulate that, when I travel, I like to buy stuff and bring it home. Some people like T-shirts and liquor; a long-ago secretary collected little souvenir spoons; an attorney on my staff favors novelty socks. When I was younger, I used to memorialize my trips abroad with the typical duty free booty – Hermès eau de cologne: check. Two liters of whisky: check. Giant bar of Toblerone: check. Boring!

Eventually, I realized I was failing to capitalize on foreign markets running out my exemption with discount Glenmorangie and enlarged chocolate bars, and, on a 1995 trip to Madrid and Córdoba, changed things up with a visit to the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés. For those of you who don’t know, I am a great big supermarket junkie. When I travel, I insist on visiting the supermarket. Not that I don’t love the kind of market that’s been taking place once a week in the town square under a bunch of big stripey tents since the seventeenth century, but I’m actually more interested in finding out how people really shop in other countries. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I dragged him into a Carrefour near Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on our way to catch the local bus to the beach. After an hour inside surveying the goods during peak tanning hours, Nat was justly annoyed. Now, of course, he takes it as a matter of course that a trip abroad means doing time in one or more local supermarkets, preferably with a backpack. See? Marriage is all about flexibility.

Anyway, on returning to Minneapolis, I learned that my luggage had been lost. A day passed, and then a week, at which point I gave up on recovering the sacks of Marcona almonds, maíz gigante, Bomba rice, and packets of squid ink, not to mention certain favored articles of clothing and a list, made poolside and fueled by leisure and cocktails, ranking the best 50 episodes of the Simpsons in order of various criteria. In early June, more than three weeks after my return and by the time my Spanish tan had started to fade, my office phone rang. Northwest had located my bag. Would I prefer to receive it at home or at my office? When it arrived two hours later, the black wheel-aboard showed no signs of its exciting detour to Antananarivo (!), where I imagined it sitting at the end of an outdoor jetway for weeks, warmed by the Madagascar sun, lonely and stuffed with unclaimed Spanish bounty. And when I opened the bag, everything was intact.

On our most recent visit to Spain, last September – just one night in Barcelona transiting between Languedoc and London – we made a quick visit to the supermercado and filled up a backpack with treats like big cans of pimentón, olive oils, tinned pulpo (octopus), berberechos (cockles), navajas (razor clams) and chipirones (baby squid), various Spanish beans. Recently, after a quest for fresh octopus ended in failure, I remembered the tinned product in the pantry. Mostly I eat the tinned souvenirs as a snack in my office, but here was a good time to find out: could cooking make these canned products more, uh, uncanny?

Barcelona shopping haul.

The answer is yes. The pulpo became part of a play on the classic pork and shellfish combination, with house-made chorizo meatballs and sweet pickled green tomato. The chipirones joined other Spanish imports from the trip – Calasparra rice and squid ink – as well as an egg-cooking technique I picked up at the outstanding Hisop a few years ago.

Pulpo.

Octopus, chorizo, sweet tomato pickle

Obviously, if you can find fresh octopus, use that instead. I couldn’t in Baltimore, which surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Yesterday, I came upon fresh baby octopus at the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, but, you know, too little too late.

Unlike the true Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation, this sausage will be made and eaten fresh. To simulate the tang of the fermentation, this chorizo includes a small amount of sherry vinegar. The recipe makes about twice what you will need; freeze the rest, tightly sealed, or use it to stuff casings.

Chorizo:

1 lb fatty pork shoulder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pimentón de la vera agriculce
1 tsp pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
3 cloves garlic
6 cloves garlic confit
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, garlic, and garlic confit with all the seasoning except the vinegar, and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, seasonings if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible and toss with the sherry vinegar.

Sweet tomato pickle:

2 lbs (about 3 large) green (unripe) tomatoes
1/2 lb (about 1 medium) yellow onion
1/3 lb (about 1 medium) red bell pepper
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds

Dice the tomatoes, peel and dice the onion, and seed, peel, and dice the pepper, all to about 1/4″. Combine with all other ingredients in a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer and stir, dissolving the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables have softened, given up their liquid, and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (the green tomato will be translucent as well). You should have a little less than two pints (4 c). If you like, can the pickle in a sterilized jars in a hot water bath. Otherwise, refrigerate and use within about a month.

Green tomato pickle.

To assemble:
contents of two tins of octopus in olive oil, drained

Put away half the chorizo for another use. Pinch off teaspoon-sized bits of the remaining chorizo and roll into balls. Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and fry on all sides until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the pan; increase the heat slightly. Add the octopus and fry quickly on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the green tomato pickle.

[sorry – no photo. The whole thing got eaten before I could get there]

Xipirones, arròs negre

Baby squid with black rice. You wouldn’t believe how tender and delicious the baby squid were in Barcelona. I haven’t been able to find such small squid here – about 1 1/2″ long in the body – nor anything as mild. So I always bring it back in cans. Not the same, but it’s pretty good – the Spanish have a way with canned shellfish.

Xipirones.

The rice, pimentón, and squid ink in this dish also are souvenirs of our last trip to Spain. Choose a Spanish short-grained rice, if you can – I used Calasparra rice, because I had an open bag, but Bomba is even nicer – its grain absorb more liquid and become plumper on cooking. If you can’t, use Arborio – it’s far easier to find. I used a pork stock to cook the rice because I like the savory quality it imparts to the dish – seafood stock is far too fishy, I think, especially once you add the squid ink.

The egg preparation is a straight rip-off of a great component I had at Hisop in Barcelona, and is awesome because frankly, poached egg white is more of a bland nuisance than a welcome addition to any dish. This preparation can be difficult to pull off because the yolk is delicate and breaks easily when poached without the white, so you should have a couple of extra eggs handy. If you don’t want to make the two-part egg component, just poach or fry the egg. You want a runny yolk.

two tins chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink), or substitute 1/2 lb squid cut into 1/4″ rings and tentacles
1 small onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp pimentón
1 1/2 c Calasparra rice
2/3 c dry white wine
2 packets squid ink
4 c pork stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf

4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp panko
olive oil

Place a 12″ skillet (or the largest skillet available) over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil. Pour the egg white into the pan and tilt quickly to coat the bottom of the pan evenly and thinly. Fry until crisp and golden, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning. When the egg white is crisp, flip the entire egg white over and cook until golden on the other side. Turn it out onto a cutting board and mince. Return to the hot pan, adding a little extra oil if necessary, and add the panko. Fry until everything is golden brown. Set aside.

Place a saucepot holding the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat. Place a sauteuse over medium heat, and when hot add a little olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the pimentón and the rice and sauté, stirring, until the rice is coated well with oil and barely toasted (it shouldn’t take on any color). Add the thyme and bay. Add the wine and squid ink and stir well, evenly distributing the ink, until the wine is absorbed. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring until absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked al dente. Add the squid to the pot and one final ladle of stock, heating through the squid and leaving the rice moist. Remove the thyme and bay.

Poach the egg yolks and drain on clean kitchen towels (be careful with this step; it is difficult to poach egg yolks without puncturing them).

Plate the arròs negre, top with the egg yolk, and a generous amount of the egg white/panko crumbs. When punctured, the runny yolk makes a great sauce to stir into the rice.

Arròs negre, xipirones.

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Duck, Frenchy Things, Game, Offal, preserving

Ducked up.

In his 2003 autobiography “The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen,” Jacques Pépin relates an anecdote about stopping by a duck farm during a mushroom-picking outing with his friend Jean-Claude and Jean-Claude’s daughters. The little girls select a live duck for dinner, money exchanges hands, Jean-Claude wrings the duck’s neck, and the four of them are run off the property for their cruelty. “[E]ven in a rural area,” Pépin awesomely understates, “my attitude toward farm animals caused some misunderstandings with the neighbors.”

I still don’t get what that farmer thought was going to happen to those ducks if she didn’t expect them to wind up as dinner. That outcome seemed pretty obvious – a couple of French dudes in a pickup on the way back from mushrooming? Don’t kid yourself, lady – those ducks weren’t going to be anyone’s pets.

Duck is inherently festive and restaurant-y. Think Peking duck, canard à l’orange, caneton à la presse. I think that’s because people don’t like to cook it at home. To the uninitiated, duck can seem like a huge production. Whereas a roast chicken is universally comprehensible and manageable – season with salt, tuck a lemon and some herbs in the cavity, and throw it into the oven for an hour – duck presents multiple challenges. First, there’s the fat. Roasting a whole duck generates huge quantities of fat, which smokes up the oven like crazy, and if you don’t separate the skin from the breast before roasting, great pockets of jelllyish fat can cling to the meat, which is kind of gross. Second, there’s the doneness problem. Chicken legs and thighs do take longer to cook than the breast, but not much, and you can roast the chicken whole without sacrificing the quality of either. In contrast, it’s virtually impossible to roast a whole duck and end up with a medium-rare breast and properly cooked legs. Duck legs are fairly rich in connective tissue and require fairly long, slow cooking or they seem sinewy and tough; duck breast, other than the fatty layer of skin, are lean and tender, and long cooking not only toughens them but makes them taste livery. And third, duck seems super expensive considering the yield. With the exception of magret from force-fed ducks, the breast is skimpy relative to the bird’s overall size. A five pound duck really only yields enough meat to feed two or three people.

The solution? Break it down. Even though few things are better looking than a whole mahogany-glazed roast duck straight out of the oven, a broken-down duck tastes better and offers more cooking options. You can roast, braise, or confit the legs; cure the breasts as “pastrami,” score the skin and grill them, or cook sous vide; make stock from the generous frame; reduce the skin to fat and crackling. You’ll find that you can use every part of the duck – when I broke mine down, all that was left were a couple of pieces of sinew holding the tenders to the breasts. And even those got thrown into the stockpot. You should have no waste at all.

Duck breast:

Thanks to Andrew Little of Sheppard Mansion B&B for the inspiration – I saw the photo of this duck preparation on his Facebook page and initially thought he’d scraped the fat from the skin and re-rolled it around the breast, until he told me it was cabbage.

In this preparation. the skinned duck breasts are rolled in blanched savoy cabbage leaves and cooked at a controlled temperature sous vide for a uniform medium rare doneness. Or actually, just past medium rare – the breasts are an even pink throughout. To form the cylinders of duck, I used Activa GM transglutaminase to bind the duck to itself; otherwise, the natural shape is flat and oblong. You can skip this part of the exercise and just wrap the breasts as they are. Don’t fold the duck into a cylinder and wrap it in savoy if you don’t have transglutaminase, though, because it won’t hold together. Just wrap them in their natural shape.

4 duck breasts (from 2 ducks), skinned and deboned
salt and pepper
2 tsp transglutaminase Activa GM
4 large leaves savoy cabbage, washed well (make a few extra for good measure)

Place a large stockpot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Blanch the savoy leaves. Remove with a skimmer and drain on clean kitchen towels. Blot off as much water as possible.

Place four pieces of plastic cling film on a clean surface. Each one should be large enough to accommodate the duck and be rolled over several times.

If using Activa, sprinkle on the inside (tender side) of the duck breast and roll to form cylinders. Season the outside of the cylinders with salt and pepper, on both sides. Otherwise, just place each duck breast in a savoy leaf, running perpendicular to the center vein, and roll tightly. Place in the cling film and roll it tightly, twisting off the ends to form little packages.

20110412-035715.jpg

Place in vacuum bags and seal. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, place the cylinders in double-zip freezer bags, three or four to a bag, and partially lower the bag into a large stockpot full of water to displace as much air as possible. Seal the bag tightly. You can double-bag if you’re worried about leakage.

Cook in an immersion circulator at 140F/60C for 25 minutes. Alternatively, bring a large pot of water to a simmer on the stovetop and turn off the heat. Add the bagged breasts and cover the pot. Leave off heat for about 15 minutes (note: this varies from 12-20 minutes based on thickness). Remove from the water bath.

Slice the rolls, still wrapped in plastic (to facilitate clean slicing). Remove the plastic and serve with your accompaniment of choice. In the picture below, the rolls are plated on Puy lentils in a golden turnip and butter puree, accompanied by a reduction of white wine and duck stock enriched with butter, and powdered duck crackling. Yeah, a little rich, but the duck breast is lean.

Duck breast, savoy, lentils. Powdered crackling in the foreground.

Duck legs:

Been there, done that. Use this recipe for duck confit. Bonus: you can use the confit for rillettes.

Duck liver:

Duck liver pâté:

1/2 lb duck livers (about two), veins removed
1 small onion, minced
1 leek (white only), julienned
several sprigs thyme
1 tbsp cognac
3 tbsp dry white wine
salt and pepper
3 oz butter (3/4 stick. or 6 tbsp)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Sweet onion confit:

1/2 c caramelized onion from this recipe
2 tbsp sherry vinegar

For the onion confit – combine the caramelized onion and sherry vinegar in a small saucepot. Bring to a simmer and stir until the vinegar is fully incorporated into the onion. Set aside.

Place a sauté pan over medium low heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Add the onions and leeks and sweat with the thyme until tender. Add the duck livers and cook, turning frequently, until the livers are warm throughout but not cooked hard. Do not brown. Add the cognac and wine and continue to sauté until the alcohol cooks off. Cool somewhat and transfer to a vitaprep or blender.

Blend the pâté ingredients. Add the butter in chunks and continue to blend until smooth. If you are inclined, pass through a tamis or sieve for a smooth texture. Chill.

Serve on toasted pain de campagne with a quenelle of onion confit.

Duck liver pâté, sweet onion confit

Duck skin:

This is where duck fat comes from. A standard-sized duck yields about a quart of duck fat (if you count the legs). The resulting crispy skin, or crackling, is a delicious fatty addition to salads and a nice garnish for poached or roasted meat.

For novelty, you can turn the crackling into powder. You need maltodextrin, specifically one formulated for a very low bulk density like N-Zorbit from National Starch or Malto from the Texturas line. If you use the stuff from the health food store, which I don’t recommend, you’re going to get a heavy, sweet, starchy product.

skin from 2 ducks (except for the leg quarters)
salt

To render the fat from the skin, prick the fatty side of the duck skin all over with a fork. Place in roasting pan a 300F/150C oven. Roast until the skin is crisp and golden, and most of the fat has rendered. Pour off the fat and reserve.

Cut the skin into smaller (1″) pieces. Freeze in a ziploc bag until ready to use; then roast in a pan in a 375F/190C oven until crisp and deep golden brown.

If you want to make really pretty, thin, crispy duck skin chips, first turn the skin fat-side up and scrape off as much fat as possible, in an even layer. Use that fat for rendering as described above. Trim the skin into rectangles or squares and place on a silpat-lined sheet pan. Season with salt and cover with another silpat and another sheet pan. Bake until the skin is crisp, flat, and golden brown (usually about 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the residual fat). Drain on paper towels.

Powdered duck crackling:

1 oz (28 g) duck crackling, roasted as specified above
12 g tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit or similar), plus extra (you may need up to 40 g total).
salt

Blitz the duck crackling in a food processor until ground to an oily powder. Incorporate half the maltodextrin in the food processor, scraping down the bowl if necessary. It probably will resemble a thick paste. Don’t panic. Scrape it down and add more maltodextrin and blitz again. If the powder and fat are at all moist, add more maltodextrin and blitz again. Repeat until necessary for a powder. Store tightly sealed (with a dessicant packet if available).

Cracklings.

Grinding.

Powdered duck crackling.

Duck stock:

Duck stock is pure gold. Once you’ve made stock, re-use the bones for remouillage (literally, re-wetting) and reduce that to glace. You’ll be able to add ducky goodness and body to your sauces.

5 lbs duck bones (from 2 ducks)
One leek, washed well to remove all dirt and grit and roughly chopped
One medium onion, peeled and halved
2 carrots, scraped and cubed
2 stalks celery, diced
1 star anise
3 cloves
1 large or two small bay leaves
About 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together
6-8 black peppercorns

Place the bones in a large stockpot. Cover with filtered water, making sure there remains enough room for vegetables. Bring to a simmer. Be sure not to let the stock boil as agitation makes the stock more cloudy. As scum rises to the surface, skim it off with a spoon into a small bowl and discard. Simmer in this manner for about 20 minutes.

Add the vegetables and aromatics and add additional water to cover if necessary. Return to the simmer and skim additional foam or scum. Simmer, partially covered, for about five or six hours. Longer simmering won’t necessarily hurt, but you don’t enjoy that much additional benefit. Add water if necessary.

Strain through a chinois or a fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if possible. Cool quickly; I generally use a bain marie filled with ice, but you can make an ice bath by stopping up your sink and fill it with ice and cold water about 1/3 the height of your container, place the container in the sink, and stir continuously until the contents are cool.

To store, ladle into freezer-safe containers, perhaps 3-4 cups each, and freeze. A layer of solid fat usually rises to the surface. Remove the fat before using the stock, and set aside.

Note: To pressure cook, throw everything into the pressure cooker with about 8 quarts of filtered water. Cover tightly and pressure cook for 30 minutes (at 15 psi; don’t include the time it takes to get to 15 psi or to cool down).

After straining the stock, return the bones to the pot and cover again with cold water. Bring to a simmer and skim additional foam or scum. Continue to simmer, partially covered, for at least six hours and up to twelve.

Strain through a chinois or a fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if possible. Return to a clean pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce slowly, watching as the stock approaches the level of a heavy syrup once about an inch or less is left in the pan. Pour the stock into a small shallow pan and refrigerate to cool. When the glace has cooled, it should be quite solid. I generally cut the glace into cubes and freeze on a sheet pan before storing in a bag.

Remouillage.

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Frenchy Things, Offal, Veal

Sweetie.

The summer before I went to law school, my parents announced that the whole family was taking a ten-day trip to Paris and London, one of those last great family trips before the kids leave home for good. It was a fun and memorable trip, especially from a culinary standpoint – I’d never been to Paris, and the first day, in an attempt to stay awake in the afternoon, I went for a walk in our Quartier Latin neighborhood, where we were staying not too far from Notre Dame. There I passed tiny Syrian shops displaying great trays of multicolored olives, herby vegetable salads, fattoush, and dozens of varieties of phyllo pastries, Tunisian briq stands, couscouseries – the first time I had encountered most of those foods, at least in that form. I had just taken up cooking that year, if in a totally amateurish way that mostly involved wrapping everything in Pepperidge Farms puff pastry and trying not to burn down the kitchen. Back then, the only olives you reliably could get in Milwaukee were green pimento-stuffed cocktail olives and maybe the occasional kalamata in a jar; couscous came in boxes from Near East Foods, complete with flavor packets of highly un-Moroccan herbed chicken bouillon, or dehydrated broccoli and cheese. No one was topping pizzas with fried eggs, or serving perfect little scoops of fruit flavored gelato outside the park in summer, much less selling giant ropes of blood sausage, made according to the family’s 300 year old recipe.

cut me a break, we were just out of the 80s

My dad had a friend in Paris, a businessman who had lived in the city for many years, and in the days to come, he showed us around the city and took us out to eat. One night, we drove to the western side of the city, to the notorious Bois de Boulogne, and boarded a small boat to a little island in the Lac Interieur for dinner at the Chalet des Iles; the next night, we went to the Tour d’Argent, which at the time still had all three Michelin stars.

Tour d’Argent was my first experience with that kind of fine dining. I had no idea what to order – growing up as a picky kid in the suburbs provided no training for this moment – so I surveyed the menu first for the familiar. Duck- ok, I knew liked duck, and that happened to be a house specialty, so I ordered duck as a main course. But I was at a loss when it came to the rest of the menu – it seemed lame to come all the way to Paris to a three-star restaurant and try to order, say, salmon or chicken. I decided to go with plan B: things I’d heard about but never tried. Soon after that, a man’s arm appeared on my right side and slid a ballotine of foie gras before me. Later, the same arm arrived with a plate of ris de veau, veal sweetbreads, in a creamy sauce with vol-au-vent. By the time I tasted the duck, I knew two things: one, I wasn’t a picky eater anymore, and two, I was going to learn to cook for real.

The trip kind of went off the rails a few days after that – my brother ate an undercooked poulet rôti at the Musée d’Orsay cafeteria on our last full day in Paris and spent the London segment of the trip racked with salmonella, which he unfairly blamed on the copious quantities of lamb couscous from the Quartier Latin couscouserie the night before. I ran into some University of Wisconsin students I knew at our hotel’s outdoor bar, got super drunk with them on cheap wine, and knocked over a huge lamp on my 3 am crawl up five flights of stairs to the hotel room just hours before leaving for London (Mom, if you’re reading this, that’s what happened. Now you know). Last day shenanigans aside, though, we had a great time. And we had sweetbreads.

Sweetbreads are the thymus and/or pancreas of the veal or lamb. The thymus, or neck sweetbread, is long and cylindrical – unlike the somewhat more globular pancreas – and is absent in the adult animal. Probably because few people enjoy preparing them at home, sweetbreads are not widely available in stores, but if you have access to a true butcher or a good meat market, you should be able to order them. For the best flavor, and to make them easier to handle, you need to prepare sweetbreads thoroughly, which involves some planning – they should be soaked in salt water to remove blood, the membrane needs to be removed, and then they should be dried thoroughly and compressed somewhat to form them and make them easier to handle. Rich and mild, they’re versatile – you can roast them whole (one of my favorite ways), slice and deep fry, or poach in courtbouillon and sauce. They need acid to balance the fat and the slight visceral quality. Don’t overcook sweeties – you don’t want them to become rubbery and tough. Short of that – well, I think they need to be cooked through until just completely cooked but still creamy. I’ve had sweetbreads cooked what can only be described as medium rare – warm but not completely cooked through to the interior – and although I respect the decision to serve them in a more natural form (this was at Manresa), I found the sweetbreads really organ-y, and not in a good way.

A last note about sweetbreads: probably not an everyday food. 100g (3 1/2 ounces) of sweetbreads ring in at 236 calories, 77% of them from fat (!). Of course, they’re incredibly rich, so you probably won’t eat more than 50g at a shot in a tasting portion, and it’s not going to kill you if you don’t do it every day.

Pan-roasted sweetbreads, cauliflower, sherry vinegar reduction

You don’t think of cauliflower as a Spanish vegetable, but Spain grows much of the European Union’s cauliflower (second only to Italy) and, in Spain, cauliflower often is served with a pimentón and garlic sauce. Here, whole sweetbread lobes are dusted in pimentón, roasted and served atop sweet roasted cauliflower with a butter-enriched sherry vinegar reduction.

I garnished the plate with a powder of ground dried arbequina olives. The earthiness and slight bitterness of the olives perfectly offsets the rich sweetbread and the sweet/sour sauce; if you don’t want to deal with dehydration, just pit and halve some arbequinas or niçoise olives and sprinkle them around the plate.

2 veal sweetbreads
1 tsp each Pimentón de la vera agridulce (bittersweet) and picante (hot)
salt and piment d’espelette
1/2 c Wondra
1 head cauliflower, florets only
1 large leek, white and light green only, julienned
vegetable oil
olive oil, preferably Spanish
1/4 c dry white wine
1/4 c sherry vinegar
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, divided
1/4 c pine nuts
2 dozen arbequina olives, pitted and halved
thyme leaves, washed and dried
parsley leaves, washed and dried

Prepare the sweetbreads at least 8 hours and up to a day in advance by soaking in cold water (in the refrigerator), changing twice if you can. The water should be salted 1 tsp per 2 cups.

Drain. Remove the membrane with a thin, sharp knife and then divide into large lobes (along natural lines). Roll the sweetbread lobes in clean cheesecloth or kitchen towel to form and dry. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Convection oven 200F/93C.

Place the olives in a single layer on a silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake until dry (about 90 minutes; they don’t have to be rock-hard, just not moist). Remove from the oven and cool. Transfer to a clean spice grinder and grind to a powder. Cover tightly until use.

Oven 400F/205C.

Place a small saucepot over medium heat with about 2 tbsp olive oil. When hot, add the leeks. Cook slowly until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon; season and set aside.

Place a small saucepot over medium low heat with the dry white wine. Reduce to au sec (until syrupy and nearly totally cooked off); add the vinegar. Reduce again by 2/3. At this point you can hold until service (stop just short of the 2/3 reduction).

Place the pine nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan; toast in the oven until uniformly golden. Remove and cool.

Trim the cauliflower florets to remove the stalks entirely, leaving only 1/2″ or slightly smaller chunks of floret. Reserve the trimmings for another use, such as soup. Toss the cauliflower lightly in oil in a roasting pan and place in the oven. Roast until golden brown; toss and return to the oven and continue to roast. At this time, turn the oven down to 300F/150C.

Combine the pimentón and about 1/2 tsp salt and a big pinch of espelette. Dust the sweetbreads with this mixture. Place a large skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp each vegetable oil and butter. Dredge the sweetbreads quickly in Wondra and shake off all excess. They should be just barely dusted. Fry on one side until golden; turn over and place in the 300F oven. Roast until just cooked through and still creamy; remove the cauliflower if necessary to prevent overcooking.

Bring the vinegar reduction back to a simmer and continue to reduce to 2/3 if you were holding it previously. Remove from heat and whisk in the cold butter off heat, swirling to incorporate.

Serve the sweetbreads atop the cauliflower and leek, garnished with the fresh herbs, pine nuts, olive powder, and the vinegar reduction.

Roast veal sweetbread, cauliflower, sherry vinegar reduction

Sweetbreads with bacon and pickled onion

I hate the “everything’s better with bacon” bandwagon – it’s so cliché; everything is NOT better with bacon, and bacon has become the universal crutch for adding a tasty component to a dish that otherwise lacks interest. Having said that, sweetbreads are a natural and classic pairing with bacon.

This was a hasty dish conceived to use one leftover sweetbread (prepared but not cooked for the above recipe) and the end chunk of some house-made bacon on a weeknight. Assuming that you thought about making sweetbreads in advance (and you would have to, since it’s almost impossible to just pick these up at the butcher on the way home), and you began soaking them the night before after dinner, this dish can come together in about half an hour. Just trim up the sweetbreads while cooking up the bacon and onions, and then give it a pan roasting – all in the same pan.

2 veal sweetbreads
salt and piment d’espelette
1/2 c Wondra
4 oz (1/4 lb) slab bacon, cut into 1/4″ x 1″ batons
one small red onion, peeled and 1/2″ dice
3 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
dijon mustard
chives, washed and dried
thyme leaves, washed and dried
parsley leaves, washed and dried

Prepare the sweetbreads at least 8 hours and up to a day in advance by soaking in cold water (in the refrigerator), changing twice if you can. The water should be salted 1 tsp per 2 cups.

Drain. Remove the membrane with a thin, sharp knife and then divide into large lobes (along natural lines). Roll the sweetbread lobes in clean cheesecloth or kitchen towel to form and dry. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Oven 300F/150C.

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add the bacon batons. Reduce the heat slightly. Cook slowly until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon; season and set aside. Remove all but 1 tbsp of the bacon fat from the pan and reserve.

Return the pan with the 1 tbsp bacon fat to medium heat and, when hot, add the onion. Reduce heat slightly and sauté slowly until golden. Add the red wine vinegar and cook, stirring, until vinegar has been absorbed or evaporated. Season with salt and combine with the bacon. Wipe out the pan with paper towels.

Combine the salt and espelette. Season the sweetbreads lightly with this mixture. Place a large skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp of the remaining bacon fat (if necessary, supplement with vegetable oil). Dredge the sweetbreads quickly in Wondra and shake off all excess. They should be just barely dusted. Fry on one side until golden; turn over and place in the oven. Roast until just cooked through and still creamy.

Remove from the pan and return the bacon and onions to the pan over medium heat, tossing just to moisten and warm through.

If you have any bacon fat remaining, make a quick vinaigrette by whisking together 1 tsp mustard, a pinch of salt, and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, and then whisking in 3 tbsp bacon fat (make up the rest with a neutral oil like grapeseed if you don’t have enough). Whisk in some snipped chives and thyme leaves.

Serve the sweetbreads atop the bacon and pickled onion, garnished with the fresh herbs and, if you have it, the vinaigrette.

Veal sweetbreads, house-made bacon, pickled onion

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