"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce

I was at work the other day when this guy, Otis, flagged me down.

"Hey Melissa," he said, "any tips for cooking duck? Whenever I've tried it, it doesn't really work out that well."

Turns out he was roasting it like a chicken--just throwing it in a 375 oven and letting the heat do its work. Problem was he was getting tough, stringy meat, and was kind of turned off by all that fatty skin.

How DO you cook duck? There are a few recipes for it in the book--one is the fantastic Duck Legs and Carrots, where you submerge the legs halfway in broth (and carrots), leaving the skin cresting above to get nice and crispy. Another is Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chili Sauce, which I loved so much I decided to marry. (You think I'm kidding, don't you? I'm not.)

And then of course there's the not-yet-embarked-upon Fragrant Crispy Duck, a day-long, multi-step procedure that includes the use of an electric fan. Stay tuned for that, but not today.

So here's the thing with duck. One troublesome area is the ginormous layer of fat on top of the very lean breast meat. The other is that the breast meat and the legs take to different cooking types of cooking--the legs like to be well cooked, while the breast meat is pretty awesome when it's seared on the outside and cooked to medium rare, just like your favorite steak.

I was curious to see how Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce would tackle this situation, and here's how they do it--using a Chinese technique called "twice-cooked".

And what does that mean, exactly? Well, it goes in the oven twice, but the first time is covered in a medium oven for a long time--2 hours--and then a high-heat finishing at 500 for 30 minutes or so to crisp up the skin.

This is how the first part goes: you loosen up the fat layer on the breast by sliding your fingers around in between the meat and the skin and prick it with a fork, the better to help the fat escape. Rub salt all over the duck, put quartered onions and celery ribs in the cavity, and sprinkle a little sugar around the sides. Then pour boiling water OVER the ducks (the skin tightens right up--it's kind of amazing) and fill the pan halfway. Then cover it up and throw it in the oven for two hours, pulling it out halfway to flip it over.

I have to say, my duck didn't look very promising when I took it out after this step:

It goes into the fridge after this for four hours to "firm up", and all of the cooking liquid goes in too--so the fat solidifies on top and you can get rid of it. And although this is a scary looking duck up there, take a look at the skin--looks like normal, right? No half-inch layer of fat. That's because the braising melted it all away.

When you've returned to this project after, say, doing your taxes or catching up on a season's worth of The Fringe, you start on the sauce.

That's 2 cups of fresh-squeezed clementine juice and finely sliced zest from the peel, which gets blanched in boiling water. The juice is brought to a boil with vinegar and suager, and reduced to about 1/3 cup. A little bit of this is set aside for the glaze, and then the zest and 1 cup of de-fatted cooking liquid gets stirred into the rest.

And now! The transformation! The duck is roasted at 500 until the skin is crisp, and then brushed with glaze. And--voila!

I know, can you believe it? Then there's some more sauce-finishing that involves shallots and Cointreau and whatnot--and the finished plate is--ta da!

It almost doesn't matter how it tastes because it looks so good but you'll be happy to hear it tasted as good as it looks. Which is saying a lot.

Otis--here's your duck recipe. You're welcome!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Shrimp in Coconut Milk

Hello, native shrimp. We've met before. Oh, you don't remember? Think back to a few summers ago to the Seafood Smackdown...

Where the mystery seafood, unveiled at the last moment, was Native Shrimp. Five pounds of it, beautifully cleaned, with which we made fancy little lettuce-wrapped shrimp bundles:

That were oh so tasty and delicious but lost by one point to the cream sauce-laden fried spaghetti bowls next door. Ah well, should we really be surprised?

You may not know that the North Atlantic has shrimp. I actually got into a big argument with my first husband once when I said that I had seen a little shrimp frolicking in the tidal waters and sea grass behind our cabin on North Haven. No shrimp around here, he said. Oh yes there are, said I.

This is what they look like, uncooked:

That's right, in their natural state, they're pink. Unlike the shrimp we buy from the supermarket, which look like this:

...and then turn pink. If you would like to read a boring paper about different types of shrimp and where they live, what they eat, where they spawn, and how they're affected by temperature, go here.

So if I didn't get these fancy shrimp in the supermarket, where did I get them? Regular readers know that I participate in a CSF, or Community Supported Fishery, where I pick up 4-6 lbs of whole fish once a week (well, every other week since I'm splitting it with my friend Elizabeth) and the winter share includes shrimp. Yay for winter!

Except, boo for winter because 4-6 pounds of shrimp turns out to be really time consuming to behead and beshell! So I'm finally getting back around to one of the points of mentioning the Seafood Smackdown up there, which is that you'll notice that I said we were given 5 lbs of beautifully cleaned shrimp, and NOW I KNOW how tedious that process is. Thank you, anonymous shrimp-cleaner, whoever you are!

So finally we come to the meal of the day here, which is Shrimp in Coconut Milk.

Mmm. You might be thinking coconut milk = southeast Asian, but you'd be wrong--this was inspired (say the headnotes) by a trip to Brazil, (where some cook there was probably inspired by a trip to southeast Asia.) How do you make it? Like so:

Make a shrimp stock by boiling your shrimp shells in water, and while you're doing that, mix up the shrimp with some lime juice and salt and throw it in the fridge. Then saute garlic, bell peppers and onions in a pan, add a little flour for thickening, then a big can of diced tomatoes, a can of coconut milk and 2 cups of shrimp stock. Let it cook until the veggies are tender, then toss in the shrimp. Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions, serve over rice, and you've got dinner!

How was it? I screwed up the rice. I combined two types of long-grain white rice and somehow half the rice was over cooked and the other half was undercooked and all I could think of was This Would Totally Get Me Kicked Off Top Chef. Fellow chefs, former chefs, would-be chefs, don't tell me you don't think exactly the same way, imagining Tom Colicchio shaking his head in sorrow and disbelief that you could have screwed up something so basic, which we all do from time to time. Piss off, Tom Colicchio, and get out of my head--I lost all respect for you when you started shilling for Diet Coke. And I'll cook the rice better next time.