Cocktails, Duck, Frenchy Things, Offal, preserving, Random Thoughts

Cocktail.

It’s hard to be objective about the merits of culturally significant moments of one’s youth. Nostalgia can cloud your judgment, making it hard to tell a madeleine from a Twinkie. Take the films of the 80s, for example. Is Pretty in Pink a great movie or a terrible one? Was The Empire Strikes Back a work of genius or unbelievably boring? Sometimes, it’s an easy call. Coming to America was a great movie. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a great movie. Cocktail was a terrible movie.

But let’s say you’re of a certain adventurous turn of mind when, at twenty years old and with nothing better to do on a summer night, you go the movies with some friends while home from college. I speak not of myself, of course, but of a casual acquaintance who may or may not have coached my brother in boy’s tennis in the late 80s. We shall call him T.W., as those are his initials. According to my brother, T.W. saw Cocktail while home for the summer, and, moved to greater aspirations than whatever was in his mind at the moment, packed his bags and set out for the glamour of south Florida. As far as I know, it didn’t last all that long – I think he was missing a few crucial plot elements, like an older, Svengali-esque friend to show him the ropes – and at some point, T.W. returned to UW-Whitewater to obtain his bachelor’s degree and never speak again of his adventures as a lesser Tom Cruise. I don’t even know if he ever learned to flair, which was the only genuinely enjoyable thing about the movie.

I don’t know if Cocktail The Movie renewed interest at the time in cocktail culture. My range of cocktails was limited then to Bacardi and Coke or grapefruit juice and vodka, mostly guzzled rather than sipped. Now, I’m much more interested in the kind of cocktails that require more bartending skill and taste than opening a can of something and pouring in a few glugs of something else. As a bonus, many bars that mix great drinks also serve food more interesting than mediocre wings and pretzels.

As opposed to beer and wine pairings with food, cocktail and food pairings aren’t really my thing. My idea of pairing cocktails with food mostly extends to eating a little bowl of peanuts – or possibly even smoked almonds or those nice warm mixed nuts you get in first class on international fights – with my whiskey. Supposedly classic cocktail pairings with food, like margaritas with Mexican food or mimosas with brunch, never strike me as really great food pairings so much as opportunities to consume more alcohol. On the rare occasion I eat or serve something other than nuts with strong drinks, I like it to be rich and fatty. Foie gras is perfect – it’s buttery and tastes good with sweeter wines like Sauternes and liquor like Cognac, which are often used in its preparation.

Foie gras torchon

This foie preparation is not cooked at any point. Burying the wrapped torchon in salt and then hanging dry draw out the moisture from the liquor marinade, giving the foie a dense, buttery texture, with no melted fat whatsoever. It is important to keep the foie cold and your work surface scrupulously clean when working with the product as it will not be cooked. (Even cooked torchon tends to simmered only for a short time at temperatures far under those necessary to destroy pathogens.)

In this recipe, I used foie slices from our supermarket because I didn’t have time to order whole lobes. The whole lobes are nicer but are slightly more of a pain to work with because you have to remove the blood vessels and connective tissue. That said, no one makes a torchon unless they’re fine with doing that work anyway.

The foie pairs well with a tart, somewhat pungent condiment like nectarine mostarda, which includes both vinegar and mustard seeds.

7.5g kosher salt
1.5g smoked sugar
.25g TCM (about 1/8 tsp, not quite)
1g white pepper
1g Pondicherry pepper
500g foie gras, whole lobe or slices
200 ml water
25 ml each bourbon and Pedro Ximenez jerez
coarse (not rock) salt

2 lbs nectarines
1 c white wine vinegar
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp piment d’espelette
zest of one lemon (peeled off in strips, not grated)

Combine all dry seasonings and set aside.

With clean hands and maintaining a very clean working environment, clean the foie, removing the veins, gallbladder (if present), and connective tissue from the foie. If you use pre-cut slices these likely will have been removed already, but double check. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate about 2-4 hours. Drain thoroughly and rinse. Return to a clean bowl.

Evenly season the foie and cover with the alcohols. Place a piece of clingfilm over the foie to reduce oxidation and then tightly seal the bowl. Chill 24-36 hours.

Prepare a triple thickness of butter muslin or cheesecloth. Spread in a rectangle over a piece of clingfilm and cover with another piece. Roll with a pin into a uniform layer about 3/8″ thick. Remove the top piece of film. (Note: I used the pin method because, as this is a raw preparation, I wanted to touch it with my hands as little as possible. You can also use your hands to mold it together.) Using the bottom layer of clingfilm as a guide, roll the foie tightly into a log as you would a piece of makizushi. If using a bamboo mat helps, transfer the foie and clingfilm to a bamboo mat before rolling tightly.

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Roll the foie torchon from the clingfilm onto the prepared butter muslin. Roll tightly to close and, using butcher’s twine, wind tightly and tie at each end. Bury in sea salt (not rock salt) in a pan and refrigerate 12-24 hours.

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Remove all salt and dust the muslin log clean. Hang to dry from a rack in the refrigerator, ensuring the torchon touches nothing.

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To serve, remove the muslin and slice with a hot knife. If you think you will not use it all, refrigerate the rest promptly, rolled in clingfilm and tied at the ends. Do not refrigerate in the muslin or it will dry out. If you don’t use it all in five days, freeze.

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For the mostarda:

Pit and quarter the nectarines. There is no need to peel. Place in a pot with the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring only enough to dissolve the sugar, until the fruit is coated in a thick syrup.

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Ladle into jars and refrigerate. These may also be pressure-canned for shelf storage.

The Continental

I called this “The Continental” because those Christopher Walken skits on Saturday Night Live are hilarious. This drink has nothing to do with that but it sounds retrograde and pretentious, making it a great pairing for the foie torchon.

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Note: If you would rather eat your cocktail than drink it, add 1 whole sheet of platinum strength gelatin to the cocktail (sans ice) and bring to a simmer just long enough to melt the gelatin. Transfer to small polycarbonate or silicone half-dome molds and chill. Serve as a jelly to the foie torchon.

4 oz Riesling or Viognier
1 oz Calvados
1 oz St-Germain
3/4 oz peach pickling liquid from the pickled peach recipe
6 drops grapefruit bitters
Ice cubes (larger = better)

Combine all the ingredients except the ice and stir gently. Add the ice cubes and stir to chill. Strain into glasses with lemon peel.

I can flair if I want to flair. – Hidetsugu Ueno

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East Asian, Fish, Frenchy Things, preserving, Vegetables

Expiration date.

The modern freezer is both great and terrible in its possibilities. On the one hand, you never have to let anything go bad again if you remember to package and freeze it in time. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, you end up with a lot of mystery product, or even worse, freezer burn spoilage. Who among us has not watched Gordon Ramsay explode in tomato-faced rage at some incompetent restaurateur’s two year supply of frozen gnocchi and fried chicken wings?

A few weeks ago, I found a couple of whole trout in our freezer, unblemished within their tight plastic wrap and forgotten for over two years. Not really forgotten, actually – they were gifts from a friend and former member of my staff. Patrick was a midwesterner like me, and he returned to his native St Louis to fish for trout every summer. On returning from his first trip after he began working for me, he stopped by my office. “There’s a trout in the freezer with your name on it,” he said. “It’s wrapped in a Cubs towel.” From then on, he always brought me a trout, somewhere in the 2 pound range, on returning from those summer fishing trips.

As it happens, my husband loves smoked trout. His enjoyment of smoked fish represents a paradoxical type of pickiness in which the diner asserts great dislike of a specific food, but makes so many exceptions as to swallow the rule. For example, my husband claims not to like cheese, but layers it generously into sandwiches, omelets, and the like. In fact, he has been known to eat macaroni and cheese using a shoveling motion. As far as I can tell, his cheese dislike is more or less localized to the waxen, sweaty chunks found on supermarket deli trays and an abomination known as the Huntsman. In the same vein, he claims to dislike fish, but is a sashimi connoisseur and avid consumer of smoked salmon, trout, tuna, and so on. When our local steakhouse, The Prime Rib, took the smoked trout appetizer off its menu earlier this year, citing “lack of interest,” he was nearly as disappointed as if they’d started cutting the roast prime rib into sensible portions.

Patrick and I never did discuss how we cooked his catch. Early in our acquaintance, he told me, “you’ll probably find me kind of boring, food-wise. I’m what I guess you’d call a meat and potatoes guy.” I always assumed he would go for the grill, but I never found out. About two years ago, Patrick died unexpectedly one winter morning, about a year after he married and only a couple of weeks after the birth of their child. He was forty-seven years old. The last two trout he gave me have been in the freezer ever since. If pressed, I would probably admit they remained untouched as a sort of memorial.

Remarking on the challenges of forging personal connections in the modern office setting, a colleague of Patrick’s observed that, when people we know die, we don’t remember them for the quality of their work or the amount of face time they gave at the office. “No one’s going to say, hey, that guy was a really competent lawyer and he really enjoyed working late,” he said. “They remember that he was a great guy.” He was a great guy, a superb fisherman, and a thoughtful friend. This trout salad is for him.

Smoked trout salad

I have provided the method below (following the salad recipe) for curing and smoking trout. You can use it for most hot smoked fish – it’s a simple 4% salt brine. Although winter is not a good time for smoking generally – the cold outside temperatures increase the difficulty in maintaining a temperature adequate for meat smoking – it actually is a good time for fish smoking as you want to maintain a temperature just high enough to cook the fish through, but low enough to minimize albumen coagulation and leakage. In plain English, that’s the goopy white stuff you might find leaking out of fully cooked trout or salmon, especially when it’s been overcooked. A smoker temperature of about 160F/71C should accomplish both goals.

Sudachi are a lime-like sour citrus native to Tokushima Prefecture in Japan. Outside Tokushima, they are totally unavailable out of season and difficult to find even in season. You are more likely to find sudachi juice in the bottle at a Japanese (or possibly Korean) market. If unavailable, combine half and half lime juice and sour orange juice (such as Seville).

1 large avocado
1 Granny Smith apple
2 heads little gem or Boston lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 c pickled carrot (see below)
1/2 c sudachi mayonnaise (see below)
320g hot smoked trout (see below)
2 tbsp minced chive

Break the trout into 1″ chunks. Peel, halve, and thinly slice the avocado; brunoise the apple; separate the gem lettuce into leaves..

Plate the lettuce, curls of pickled carrot, avocado slices, apple brunoise, and the smoked trout. Garnish with a generous quantity of the sudachi mayonnaise and the chive.

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Hot smoked trout

Naturally, I don’t endorse keeping a couple of trout in the freezer for two or three years before use. You should use the freshest possible product. That said, the trout in question were tightly sealed in heavy plastic and their texture was beautiful, even after so much time in the deep freeze. It brought to mind a scene from Northern Exposure in which Joel excavates a long-frozen woolly mammoth, which, to his horror, Walt soon dispatches in his belly. “One man’s life altering experience is another man’s tenderloin.” I suppose that’s true.

If you butcher your own trout and have a lot of trim left over, you can cure and smoke it; just pull it from the brine after about an hour or they will be too salty. Check the smoker at about an hour; if the fish is fully cooked and well smoked but moist, the fish can come out.

Four filets of freshwater trout, pin bones removed
2 l ice water
80g kosher salt
40g sugar
1/8 tsp TCM (optional but extends preservation)
about 1 tbsp each whole white peppercorns, true red (Pondicherry) peppercorns, and coriander seed

Bring the salt, sugar, TCM, spices, and 100 ml of the water to a boil, covered, and simmer until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool completely and then add to the remaining ice water. Be sure the brine is cold before adding the trout.

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Add the trout filets to the ice water brine. Refrigerate 3-4 hours (do not brine overnight). Rinse and pat dry. Place skin side-up on a rack over a sheet or hotel pan in the refrigerator and dry, uncovered, about 24 hours or until dry and somewhat tacky to the touch. This dry outer layer is the pellicle and is essential to protecting the fish as it smokes.

Smoke in an offset or vertical smoker with your preferred wood (I like pecan, alder, or apple for smoked fish) at 160F for 75 minutes, less if your trout is well under 1/2″/13mm thick and a little longer if it is more than 3/4″/20mm. Chill immediately and use or freeze within four days.

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Pickled carrot:

2 large carrots, peeled
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp filtered water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Square off the carrots and slice thinly with a mandoline. Place in a single layer in a vacuum bag.

Bring the liquids, salt, and sugar to a boil and pour into the bag. Seal under vacuum. Chill.

Sudachi mayonnaise:

large pinch salt
pinch white pepper
one egg yolk
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sudachi juice (substitute yuzu, or half and half lime and sour orange)
1 1/2 c rice bran or grapeseed oil
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette or ichimi togarashi

Place the salt, white pepper, egg, mustard, vinegar, and half the sudachi juice in the bottom of a sturdy bowl. Whisk to emulsify and then, whisking constantly, drip in the oil until you have a stable and thick emulsion. Continue whisking in the oil until the mayonnaise is the desired consistency. (You also can prepare this by dripping the oil into the ingredients in a blender). Whisk in the remaining sudachi juice, espelette, and additional salt if necessary to taste.

Store in a squeeze bottle under refrigeration.

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Frenchy Things, Leftover Recycling, Offal, Pork Products, preserving, Random Thoughts

Big Hungry Boy.

Recently, the New York Times ran a ridiculous Opinionator column by Virginia Heffernan dividing American women into two categories – “foodies” and “techies” – and bashing the “foodies” while touting the virtues of “life-hacking techies.” I still don’t really know what “life-hacking” means, but the distinction between people who spend their time thinking about food and people who glorify progress and technology struck me as total bullshit. What about, say, Wylie Dufresne? Or Ferran Adrià? What about me?

Heffernan’s piece illustrates the danger in categorizing people. That said, I feel fairly confident saying that some men are Big Hungry Boys – guys who just like to eat, and to eat as much as they can – and others are not. Unlike an ex-boyfriend in Minnesota who once lived for months on almost nothing but bagged coleslaw without complaint, my husband appreciates copiousness and variety. One evening in 2009, during our summer visit to a friend’s home in the south of France, we stopped after a sweaty day in Nîmes for dinner in Andùze, arriving before the rest of our friends at “La Rocaille,” an old stone-faced restaurant in the town square, opposite the site of the ancient covered market. Sitting down to cold Heinekens, we scanned the menu while waiting for our party. La Rocaille’s advantages for a big hungry boy soon became clear. For under 9€, you could get a three course meal of salad or terrine, steak, merguez, or poulet frites, pasta or pizza, and to finish, fromage or ice cream. It was low-budget, of course – the tables were set with paper napkins and mustard packets, which anticipated foil-wrapped wedges of camembert and ice cream in waxed paper cups (complete with the little wooden spoon). Even so, the frites were thin and crispy, and flecked with exactly the right amount of salt. When Nat and our friend Kem both ordered terrine de pâté to start; the waiter brought a knife and pan the size of a loaf of bread to the table. The two of them (by which I mean mostly Nat, in case you wondered) ate more than half the contents – a rustic and surprisingly delicious pâté de campagne – right out of the pan before it occurred to anyone that maybe that whole thing wasn’t just for them.

La Rocaille on the left; weekly market square on the right.

Last summer, on our last night in the same home in France, Nat requested a return visit to La Rocaille. “They have that giant terrine!” he appealed, laying a hand on my elbow.

“You know that whole thing wasn’t all for you, right?” I reminded him uncertainly.

“You don’t know that for sure,” he shrugged. All the same, I agreed that dinner at La Rocaille was a great idea. I wanted to find out if they still had the same mustard packets. Randomness comes in many forms, and on our first visit, it took the shape of a yellow plastic packet inexplicably bearing the name of a former law school classmate. It was a little like that episode of the Simpsons where Homer stumbles upon an empty Japanese detergent box bearing his visage in a landfill.

Coincidental mustard.

Nat was less interested in the mustard than in the potential for unlimited pâté de campagne. It wasn’t the first time Nat’s appetite has conflicted with local practice. On our first trip to Taipei after my parents moved there, we visited Din Tai Fung for their famous xiaolongbao, soup dumplings served with black vinegar and fine shreds of ginger. I placed our order out on the sidewalk with one of the uniformed attendants, who promptly crossed out more than half the items we’d checked off on the paper slip. “Too much!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. In a panic driven partly by my inability to speak Chinese and partly by a concern that we were about to get shortchanged on Juicy Pork Dumplings, I pointed to Nat, a little further down the sidewalk, perusing the window display at Mister Donut. The attendant nodded knowingly and re-checked the items without further comment. On subsequent visits, I learned to bring Nat along when handing off the order form. Big Hungry Boy.

Anyway, when the terrine arrived at La Rocaille, Nat cut a single slice – a thick slice, but still – and slid the pan to the edge of the table for the waiter. I did feel a little bad for him. It seemed to me, after all, that one of the dangers inherent in providing self-serve communal terrine is that any one of your customers will eat far more than his share, up to and including the whole thing. In the law, we call that “assumption of risk.” So at home, Nat can eat all the terrine he likes, sliced up or straight out of the pan. If you have a meat grinder, so can you.

Pâté de campagne

Pâté de campagne is inherently rustic and thrifty – hence “de campagne.” You don’t make it by grinding up carefully trimmed pork loin – to the contrary, pâté de campagne is a way to use up scraps, trimmings, and offal – anything from the nose to the tail of the pig. So don’t worry too much about the ratio of meats. If you’re not really a meat-trimmer and aren’t in the habit of keeping large quantities of scraps, just be sure of two things – a good amount of fatty pork (and perhaps also veal or duck), and liver. The fat is necessary to keep the pâté out of the cat food realm, and the liver provides flavor ranging from subtle to pronounced, depending how much you use. Your only concern should be proper seasoning. Use 1 tsp salt and a little more than 1/4 tsp quatre épices per pound/450g meat.

You can chop the meat by hand for a very rustic pâté, which provides some textural variety, but realistically, it’s far easier to pass the meat through a grinder fitted with a coarse die. I don’t recommend using store-ground meat. You can dispense with lining the pan with foil/clingfilm (especially if you intend to serve straight from the terrine), but it does make it far easier to remove, and definitely makes it easier to weight after cooking.

About 4 1/4 lbs fatty pork trimmings and offal, including liver, in a 3:1 ratio, or:
2 1/4 lb / 1 kg pork shoulder or butt, preferably a really fatty slab
1 lb / 450 g fatback or pork belly
1 lb / 450 g pork liver
2 large shallots, diced
3 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 juniper berries
1/4 c dry sherry or cognac (sherry will be drier, cognac sweeter)
1/4 c dry white wine
1 1/2 tsp quatre épices or a mixture of 3/4 tsp white pepper and 1/4 tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
scant 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
one large egg
optional: caul fat
optional: whole black truffle
optional: lobe foie gras, trimmed of all veins and connective tissue, cut into strips about 1″ x 1″
optional: 2/3 c lightly toasted pistachio nuts

Dice the meats and offal (1″ or slightly less is good) and combine with the shallots, bay, thyme, juniper and the liquids. Combine in a shallow pan and cover the surface with clingfilm. Cover the pan tightly and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Chill the worm, blade, and coarse die of your meat grinder (freezing is best). Remove the bay and thyme from the marinade and run the rest of the contents through the grinder into a chilled metal bowl. Combine with the egg, salt, and quatre épices. If using pistachios, add to the mixture as well.

Mixture with egg and salt.

Oven 225F/107C.

Line each of two terrine or loaf pans with aluminum foil and then with clingfilm. If using caul fat, line the pan with caul, overhanging the edges by about 3″ (you will trim it later). Fill the pans with the mixture. If using truffle, fill the pan halfway, shave the truffle, and layer the shavings across that layer; finish with another layer of meat. If using foie, fill the pan halfway, lay the foie in the center lengthwise, and finish with meat. If using, fold the caul over the top of the terrine and trim. Fold the clingfilm tightly over the top, and then the foil.

Caul.

Wrapped.

Slide the terrine lid in place. If using a loaf pan, cut a piece of cardboard to fit and wrap in two thicknesses of foil; place on top. Place the terrines in a large roasting pan (with about 2″ between them) and fill with boiling water to a level halfway up the sides of the pans. Place in the oven and cook until the mixture reaches 160F in the center, which depends on the looseness of your mixture and whether or not you are using convection. At the convection setting, you should be done in about 1 1/2 hours; up to three if not using convection.

Remove the pans from the water bath and, when just cool enough to handle, weight down with heavy cans. Place in the refrigerator weights and all and chill for at least a day and up to three. When ready to serve, turn out onto a board and unwrap. Brush cold fat and jellied meat juices from the surface of the pâté and slice. Serve with cornichons and mustard.

Pâté de campagne, cornichons

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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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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.

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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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