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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Duck, Frenchy Things, preserving

A year and a day.

I started this blog a year ago and a day. Since then, I’ve answered dozens of questions and, in the process, improved my own cooking skills. So I want to thank everyone who reads these pages – I hope it’s been good for you, because it certainly has been good for me.

Last week, shopping in the H-Mart, I came across a beautiful display of duck leg quarters. I won’t lie to you. Breaking down duck isn’t exactly a huge pain in the ass, but the breasts are not as interesting to me as the dark meat. Breast meat, if cooked just a little too long, has a sort of liver-y quality; in my opinion, the leg meat is ground zero for that classic duck flavor. At the H-Mart, the quality of the duck varies. Sometimes the legs seem suspiciously lean – are these wild ducks, somehow? These leg quarters, however, were thickly coated with creamy white fat and smooth skin. Perfect for confit.

Confit is, above all, a preservation technique. In southwestern France – throughout Gascogne and elsewhere in the western Occitan provinces – waterfowl, like duck and goose, have for many years been salted and then cooked slowly at a relatively low temperature, immersed in their own rendering fat. The resulting product, if salty enough, could withstand storage without refrigeration for months. Today, confit is not necessary for preservation, and it tends to be somewhat less salty. It is no less rich, though, particularly when the meat is shredded and combined with some of the poaching fat to make rillettes.

In accordance with modern tastes, I don’t salt the duck legs that heavily. I like to use about two teaspoons of kosher salt for each meaty leg. Unfortunately, that’s not nearly enough salt for safe room temperature preservation. And after curing nearly eight pounds of duck legs and then slowly cooking in a 220F oven for many hours, I asked my husband to turn off the oven. Then I totally forgot about the duck and went to bed. In the morning, I went to the office. Around lunchtime, I remembered. When I got home, I threw it out. Not enough salt for safe room temperature preservation.

So we begin again. I went back to H Mart and bought eight more pounds of duck leg quarters. I salted them and layered them with thyme branches. I cured them overnight and cooked them slowly in a 220F oven. I took them out of the oven and didn’t forget.

Crispy duck confit, savoy cabbage, green peppercorn mustard sauce.

Let the duck cool in the fat for at least 45 minutes before removing it (to package it for storage, or to cook it for immediate service). It needs to cool off a little bit to firm up so it doesn’t collapse.

Savoy cabbage is aromatic, slightly pungent, and provides a great balance to the fatty richness of the duck. The green peppercorn mustard sauce brings a little acidity and the sweet, round taste of butter.

For the confit:

6 lbs duck legs (about 8 large legs)
1/4 c kosher salt
about 12 thyme branches

The day before cooking the legs, season the legs evenly with salt (about 2 tsp per leg), and layer in a nonreactive pan with thyme branches in contact with the meaty side of the duck legs. If you have a single layer, place the thyme on the bottom of the pan and lay the duck skin side-up. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 24 hours (as much as 48).

Preparing to cure.

Oven 220F/105C

Remove the duck from refrigeration and transfer to a dutch oven or cast iron pot with a lid, layering with the thyme. Place a layer of parchment between the top of the duck and the lid, especially if using cast iron (to prevent condensation from building up and rusting the pan.

Place in the oven and cook for about six hours. After 2 hours, turn heat down to 200F/95C. Remove from the oven; remove the lid and parchment. Rest the confit for 45-60 minutes before transferring to a container for storage, covered in fat, or proceeding to the next step.

Right out of the oven.

To crisp the duck leg confit, oven 250F/120C. Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, place 2 tbsp duck fat in the pan. Add 4 duck leg quarters, skin side down, and baste with the fat. Do not crowd the pan (you may need to use two pans). When the skin is crisp and deep golden brown, flip the legs carefully (be careful – they may be prone to falling apart) and place the pan in the oven. Cook until heated through (about 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare the savoy.

Butter-braised savoy cabbage

Do you hate cabbage? Try this cabbage dish. The most important thing is to avoid overcooking the savoy – like all cabbages, it becomes unpleasantly pungent and a little skunky if you let it go too long.

If you are nervous about so much butter, you can cut the amount in half. Use vegetable oil in the initial cooking.

One head savoy cabbage, cored, quartered, and shredded (1/8″)
One large leek, white and light green only, washed well cut into 2″ segments, and julienned
2 tbsp white wine (such as Riesling or Viognier)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
salt and white pepper
chives, minced

Place a large skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter or oil. Add the leeks and reduce heat slightly. Sweat the leeks until quite tender. Increase the heat slightly and add the savoy. Toss continuously to coat with oil and leeks. When the savoy begins to wilt (about 2 minutes), add the wine and toss, cooking the wine down. Once the savoy is bright green and tender, and the wine has evaporated, remove from heat and toss with the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with minced chives.

Green peppercorn mustard sauce

Pan with duck fond from crisping the legs
1/3 c white wine
1 1/2 tbsp green peppercorn Dijon mustard (or Dijon mustard if unavailable)
Optional: 2 tbsp duck or white veal glace de viande
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, divided

Remove the duck legs from the pan and drain on towels if necessary (otherwise, set aside on a plate). Pour off all but 1 tsp of duck fat. Return the pan to medium heat.

Deglaze the pan with wine, scraping up the fond. Reduce to just before au sec (a sticky glaze). Add the mustard and cook, stirring, for a minute to take the edge off the mustard. Add the glace de viande and reduce by 1/3. Remove from heat and mount with the cold butter to form a glossy sauce.

Serve the crispy confit leg with the savoy and sauce.

Crispy duck leg confit, savoy, green peppercorn mustard.

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