Brassicas, Duck, Grains, Random Thoughts

Civics lesson.

Hey readers! I’ve got a favor to ask. If you read my last entry, you know I prepared risotto for a Marx Foods contest involving riso integrale – unpolished short-grain rice. It’s voting time – won’t you please visit the Marx Foods contest page and vote for my dish? Thanks – and thanks to those of you who’ve already voted! (ps: polls close at 4pm Eastern on Friday, June 1.)

Again: the link to the contest: http://marxfood.com/favorite-risotto-recipe-integrale-gauntlet/

Risotto integrale, savoy cabbage, duck breast.

***Update: I’m through to the second round. Thanks for your support!***

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Brassicas, Duck, Grains, Italian

An integral component.

When you hear the words “brown rice,” do you glance anxiously over your shoulder, bracing for the oncoming thud of so many Earth Shoes and the stench of patchouli? You’re not alone. I happen to like brown rice, but the sad fact is that it usually isn’t celebrated for its nutty flavor and firm texture. Instead, it’s most often touted as the more healthful alternative to white rice, appearing as a bland, steaming beige pile beside equally dull crowns of unseasoned broccoli and a broiled salmon fillet. Yawn – and that’s a shame, because brown rice can contribute flavor and texture that polished white rice can’t.

Recently, a Facebook acquaintance asked if I’d be interested in participating in a cooking challenge sponsored by Marx Foods. I contacted Marx Foods and received a kilo of organic riso integrale – unpolished short-grain rice – with instructions to cook through a “gauntlet” of dishes. This is the first, a savory risotto. (The next two, sweet risotto and cook’s choice, depend on gaining enough votes in the first round to advance. So please vote! Follow this link to vote before June 1!)

If you’ve ever wanted to work with brown rice but have been brought up short by the differences from white rice in cooking time and water content, I encourage you to try the integrale when making risotto. Ordinarily, the challenge when making risotto is stopping short of overcooking, at which point the rice becomes heavy and mushy. In addition, the cooked risotto will continue to absorb any residual liquid, changing quickly from a slightly soupy dish to a gummy, starchy lump. Using an unpolished rice still bearing its bran, however, slows the pace at which the rice absorbs liquid. Not only does this make it easier to tell when the rice is approaching the ideal texture – cooked through and not hard, but retaining a firm bite – but the fully cooked risotto will not absorb residual liquid as quickly, maintaining its soupy texture. What’s more, the open-pot cooking of risotto relieves you of any guesswork and worry about under- or overcooking associated with steaming. You simply add as much simmering liquid, bit by bit, as it takes to cook the rice.

The keys to a really flavorful risotto are to toast the rice grains well in oil before adding any liquid (a process called tostatura), to use a really flavorful stock (I happened to have plenty of duck stock at home, but any good stock will work well), and to season with salt while cooking rather than waiting until the end. That way, each grain of rice is seasoned through to its core.

Risotto integrale, savoy, duck breast

To complement the nutty, earthy flavor of the integrale, I added savoy cabbage to the risotto near the end of cooking, and served with a simply seared duck breast, with lots of herbs on the finish to brighten the dish. The resulting dish was faintly reminiscent of that broccoli-cheddar rice we all ate as kids – savoy and broccoli both being brassicas – but in a good way, not a fake out-of-a-box way.

1 large duck breast (magret), about 500g (just over a pound)
1 small yellow onion, peeled and small dice (1/4″)
1 medium leek, white and light green only, washed well and small dice (1/4″)
1/2 medium head savoy cabbage, finely chopped
1 tbsp duck fat or unsalted butter
250g integrale rice (about 1 2/3 c)
250 ml dry white wine (a little more than 1 c)
1.4 l strong duck or chicken stock (about 6 c)
1 dried or 2 fresh bay leaves
4 stalks fresh thyme
chives
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
about 1/2 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and black pepper

About 45 minutes before service, bring the stock to a simmer and maintain at a bare simmer. Cover if necessary to prevent evaporation.

Mise en place.

Place a risotto pan (any deep pan with somewhat rounded sides will do) over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp duck fat or butter. Add the onion and leeks, season lightly with salt, and sweat until tender. It is not necessary to brown the vegetables.

Leeks and onion.

Add the rice to the pan and sauté until the grains are all coated well with oil and becoming somewhat chalky-looking, about 5 minutes (tostatura).

Tostatura.

Add the wine to the pan and stir continuously until the wine is absorbed. Add some salt – perhaps 1/2 tsp – and the simmering duck stock, a ladle at a time, stirring slowly and well until virtually all the liquid has been absorbed before adding any more. Each addition should take several minutes and the rice should release starch into the stock.

Releasing starch into stock.

After about 30 minutes, while the rice is still firm but nearly tender enough to the bite, add the savoy cabbage and stir well to continue cooking, adding the remaining stock. Taste for salt at this point and season lightly if more is necessary. The rice takes about 30-35 minutes to cook and, when properly cooked should still be firm as opposed to mushy, but must not be hard in the center of each grain.

Adding savoy,

As soon as the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and stir in 4 tbsp cold butter and the Parmigiano. Beat well to coat with the butter; add 1 tbsp water if necessary to loosen. Your goal is to form an emulsion between the residual liquid in the pan and the butter, slightly thickened and stabilized by the starch (mantecatura). Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with additional salt as necessary and pepper to taste.

Plate the risotto and add the sliced duck (see below). Garnish with herbs. Serves six as primi or as a component with additional vegetables or meat.

Risotto integrale, savoy, duck breast.

Duck breast

This duck breast was cooked at 140F/60C, but the duck may be cooked conventionally on the stovetop and/or finished in a warm oven.

If cooking sous vide: Vacuum pack the duck breast with 2 sprigs of thyme on the meat side. Place in a water bath with an immersion circulator set to 140F/60C for between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove and dry on paper towels.

Place a skillet over high heat. Score the fatty skin (you should encounter virtually no resistance when attempting to score the fat). Lightly season the duck on both sides. Place fat-side down in the hot pan and allow the fat to render to the desired extent (I do like some of the fat under the crispy skin, but if you prefer to render more, just continue to render the fat). Turn over and sear the meat side for about 15 seconds. Slice.

140F duck breast.

Searing duck breast.

If you prefer to cook conventionally: Place a skillet over high heat. Score the fatty skin. Lightly season the duck on both sides. Place fat-side down in the hot pan and allow the fat to render to the desired extent (I do like some of the fat under the crispy skin, but if you prefer to render more, just continue to render the fat). Turn over and reduce the heat. Cook until just shy of medium rare; remove to a board and rest for about 5 minutes. Slice.

*Thanks to Marx Foods for the integrale!

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Italian, Leftover Recycling

Arancini.

Who doesn’t love risotto fresh out of the pot? It’s creamy and filling without being too rich or heavy, and makes a great first course.

Leftover risotto is another story. Unlike plain steamed rice, risotto can’t be reheated without losing most of the qualities that make it great. The rice grains lose their al dente bite, becoming mushy and gluey; herb and cheese flavors become dull, absorbed into the starch. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to go to waste. You can make arancini.

Small fried balls of rice encasing some filling – a ragù, mozzarella cheese, peas, or butter – resemble little oranges, or arancini in Italian. These are most commonly found in southern Italy – Rome down to Siciliy – and are not necessarily made with leftover risotto. Arancini are the best use for leftover risotto, though – the rice is firm enough to surround a moist filling. Plus, I’m a big fan of recycling.

Try these two recipes, one filled with mozzarella and the other with a little cube of herbed butter, which melts when the arancini are fried. What? You don’t have any risotto on hand? Use this recipe, omitting the marrow, sage, and brown butter and substituting minced chives and a squeeze of lemon juice.

In each recipe, I have provided two breading alternatives. The simpler alternative involves simply rolling the formed risotto ball in a seasoned breadcrumb mixture. This method yields a lighter arancino, and the rice on the exterior becomes a bit crisp. If you prefer a more traditional breading, dredge the risotto ball in flour and then egg before coating in the seasoned breadcrumbs.

Arancine con formaggio

2 cups cooked risotto, according to the above recipe, or any other leftover risotto
2 ounces mozzarella, cut into 16 pieces
Optional: 2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp water, and 1 c flour
1 c fine breadcrumbs (you may substitute crushed panko)
1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 c vegetable and olive oil (total. A combination of 3:1 is nice)

Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano in a pan or bowl.

Cup the palm of one hand and place about 2 tbsp risotto in your cupped palm. Form a well in the risotto and place one piece of mozzarella in the center. Enclose the cheese with the risotto and form an even ball.

Heat a deep pot containing the oil to 350F/175C. Have a wire skimmer ready.

If using the flour and egg, dip the arancini one at a time in the flour, shake off excess, into the beaten egg (again shaking off excess), and finally in the breadcrumbs. If not using the flour and egg, simply coat well in the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess.

Fry in batches, turning over as necessary (the oil may not completely submerge the arancini), until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pot or the arancini will be oily.

Drain on a rack and hold in a 200F/95C oven until ready to serve. Do not drain on towels – this tends to steam fried foods and makes them soggy. Serve with a simple red sauce.

Arancine con burro

2 cups cooked risotto, according to the above recipe, or any other leftover risotto
2 ounces salted butter
1 tbsp minced chives
1 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
Optional: 2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp water, and 1 c flour
1 c fine breadcrumbs (you may substitute crushed panko)
1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 c vegetable and olive oil (total. A combination of 3:1 is nice)

Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano in a pan or bowl. Combine the butter and herbs, and form into a small cube or brick. Roll in plastic wrap and chill or freeze until solid. Divide into sixteen equal portions and keep the butter cold until ready to use.

Cup the palm of one hand and place about 2 tbsp risotto in your cupped palm. Form a well in the risotto and place one piece of herbed butter in the center. Enclose the butter with the risotto and form an even ball. Take care that the butter is completely enclosed or it will leak during frying.

Heat a deep pot containing the oil to 350F/175C. Have a wire skimmer ready.

If using the flour and egg, dip the arancini one at a time in the flour, shake off excess, into the beaten egg (again shaking off excess), and finally in the breadcrumbs. If not using the flour and egg, simply coat well in the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess. Fry in batches, turning over as necessary (the oil may not completely submerge the arancini), until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pot or the arancini will be oily.

Drain on a rack and hold in a 200F/95C oven until ready to serve. Do not drain on towels – this tends to steam fried foods and makes them soggy.

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Italian, Veal

Ossobuco.

After the big snow, I found some good-looking free raised veal shanks at the market, and thought about making ossobuco, which I haven’t cooked in years. Ossobuco alla milanese is a classic Lombardian pairing of braised
veal shank with risotto alla milanese – risotto flavored with saffron. The “buco” refers to the hole in the shank bone, filled with marrow, which partly disintegrates into the braising liquid – the remainder is a rich,
fatty treat to be eaten with a small spoon.

Veal is young calf (usually under 24 weeks), and has a milder, milkier flavor than beef. Because it is so delicate, I like to pair it with earthy flavors – truffles, mushrooms, brown butter, sage. As it happens, I had a large quantity of frozen sage brown butter in the reach in, and some mushrooms to use up as well. So I decided that, rather than the classic milanese preparation, I would prepare a braised shank with meaty king oyster mushrooms, paired with a brown butter and sage risotto. The astringency and slight bitterness of the sage balances the rich milkiness of the veal, and the earthy mushrooms accentuate its meatiness. To enhance the risotto and tie the components of the dish together, I incorporated the marrow from the prepared shanks.

Braised veal shanks

4 veal shanks, about 10 ounces each
2 medium carrots, diced 1/4″
1 small onion, diced 1/4″
1 large or two small ribs celery, diced 1/4″
1 c dry white wine
4-6 canned plum tomatoes (I use San Marzano DOP), depending on size)
2 c white veal stock, or chicken stock
several sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
olive oil
salt and pepper

Oven 275F

Season the shanks on both sides with salt. Place a deep, heavy pan over medium-high heat and, when hot, add a little olive oil to film the pan. Add the shanks, browning well on both sides (about 3-4 minutes per side).
Remove the shanks and set aside; lower the heat to medium low.

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Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary (it should not be) and add the vegetables. Sauté the vegetables until tender and golden.

Deglaze the pan with wine, stirring. Reduce the wine by 2/3 and add the tomatoes, breaking up as you go. Add the herbs and stock and bring to a simmer. Return the shanks to the pan.

Cover with a parchment lid with a hole in the center. Place in the oven. Turn the shanks over every 45 minutes, for 3 hours total braising time. Test the shanks for tenderness; if they require more time (they should not), return to the oven until tender.

Remove the shanks to a plate, remove the marrow, and set aside for the risotto. Strain the pan contents through a chinois, pressing well to extract as much liquid as possible as the vegetables disintegrate. Reduce
the strained braising liquid until beginning to thicken, reduce heat to a simmer, and return the shanks to the pan to glaze well. Hold for service (cover with parchment lid if necessary and hold in a warm oven.

King oyster mushroom

1/4 lb king oyster (eringii) mushrooms, washed well and sliced 1/2″ batons
2 tbsp butter
1/4 c dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
several sprigs thyme, leaves only
small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
salt (black truffle salt is great) and pepper

Place a deep, heavy pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms, browning well.

Add the white wine to the pan and cook until the mushrooms absorb the wine; finish with lemon juice, parsley, and thyme and season. Hold for service.

Brown butter risotto

3 oz butter, divided into 4 pieces
1 small onion, diced 1/4″
3 cloves garlic confit, pureed
1 1/2 c carnaroli or arborio rice
1 c dry white wine
6 c white veal stock, or chicken stock
8 chives, minced
about 20 sage leaves, washed and dried
bone marrow from prepared ossobuco
salt and pepper
1/2 c or so grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

About 25 minutes before service, bring the stock to a simmer and maintain at a bare simmer.

Place a risotto pan (any deep pan with somewhat rounded sides will do) over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp (1/2 oz) butter. When foaming and beginning to brown, add the onion, and sweat until tender.

Add the rice to the pan and sauté until the grains are all coated well with oil, about 2 minutes (tostatura). Add the wine to the pan and stir continuously until the wine is absorbed. Increase the heat somewhat and
add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring slowly and well until virtually all the liquid has been absorbed before adding any more. Each addition should take several minutes. The rice takes about 20 minutes to cook and,
when properly al dente, should still have a little resistance but not hardness in the center of each grain.

While cooking the rice, heat the remaining butter in a small pan until foamy, slightly brown, and nutty. Add the sage leaves and fry until bright deep green and crisp. Hold.

As soon as the rice is cooked al dente, remove from the heat and stir in the reserved marrow, half the brown butter, and the Parmigiano. Season with additional salt as necessary and pepper to taste.

Plate the risotto and add the glazed veal shank, mushrooms, and drizzle with a spoonful of the remaining brown butter. Garnish with several fried sage leaves.

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