p1: Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur

The Dish

b840179a361e48ef94435b49a7c01546I’m no longer allowed to make ANYTHING lamb when my mother is around, since SOMEONE’S sensitive about it being ‘not as old’ as Mutton… doesn’t matter what age it may be, but nooooo more lamb allowed in the house. So for a particular recipe I’ve been gearing to make for a while, I’ve had to wait for that perfect opportunity where 1: the folks are out on vacation, 2: I’ve got enough time in my schedule to plan and set up a night to cook it, and 3: have the opportunity where I can bring in at least a few friends and family member to make it a fun food gathering, as it should be. Yay me I got a perfect evening on the LAST weekend that I had the whole house just to myself.

And what is this dish? Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur. Translated as “Weeping Leg of Lamb Roast,” the whole idea is that it’s indeed just a simple roasted lamb leg… sitting on a rack over a bed of potatoes, so every little ounce of melted fat, dripping juices and other goodies fall onto and absorbs into the delicious tuber as they cook. A full on foray into the indulgence and epitome of a pure meat and potato dish.

Now what’s the history of this dish? Truthfully… there really isn’t anything significant that I can find at ALL. The time that sheep became used often for food in France is the time these roast dinners would have popped up. And there’s no real particular region for this either; it’s famous in Bordeaux, grass-eating sheep in northern Normandy form delicious rich flavors, and the particular Buzzfeed list this came from has it under the southern reaches. So no help there. Not to mention it comes in many forms; the whole ‘roasting over potatoes’ thing is really only just one of a few twists to the preparation next to just cooking the lamb on its OWN. It’s not necessarily THE most traditional form of it, though gotta admit it’s one of the most rustically beautiful and delicious.

One interesting thing I’ve found. The French word for leg of lamb, ‘Gigot,’ comes from a root that means ‘fiddle.’ Rather apt considering the shape. But the thing is this word, ‘gigue,’ derives from Middle High GERMAN term ‘gige.’ Potential past influence via European neighbors/invaders? Considering the potatoes… possibly.

A Word On…

20151213_120924Lamb: This is rather simple, we’re just looking for a leg; so long as you’ve found a favorite and reliable butcher/deli, it’s a snap just to order. Though I doubt you’ll be getting a whole leg unless you’re willing to put down a LOT of money [my partial leg at 5+ lbs set me back 60 bucks], so a partial/center cut section of leg is fine. Just make sure there’s a big bone inside for flavor! That and to make some soup afterward.

Flavor Infusion: Garlic and rosemary are the boss here; there may be some use of OTHER herbs a la thyme, oregano, bay leaf, parsley, etc [mixtures known as ‘herbes de provence’], but truly these are the only two used consistently and to the best, most distinctive effect. Plus you just gotta love rosemary [oh how I wish I still had my pot of it…]. But the main consideration here isn’t what aromatics to use, but HOW to use them.

There are two techniques. One of the more classic and sort of ‘fancy,’ or presentable, ways of doing it is to literally push big chunks of garlic and rosemary INTO the lamb, ‘studding’ it with flavor that will then permeate as it cooks. This is what I’m doing as I’ve been really wanting to try it out for meat flavoring, that and the whole compound-butter-under-poultry-skin thing. The second technique is, quite simply, cutting a big bunch of each up [maybe making a paste with some butter/oil] and rubbing it all over the lamb as a seasoning/marinade. This is used quite often too, and I actually wanted to do BOTH to really ensure an awesome flavor all inside and crusted outside… but of course I didn’t properly check my garlic stocks until last minute. Soooooo nowhere near enough, I get to see what JUST studding will do for me.

Roast Time, Lamb: So, interesting, my favorite super-classic-French-food-‘encyclopedia’ states that a roasting temperature of 425F with a time of 20-22 minutes per lb of lamb yields a perfect pink center. But all other recipes seem to hang at 350-400, mostly leaning towards the latter half, stating 18-20 minutes at MOST for the pink insides. By the way, you want the pink… ‘fully’ cooked at brown throughout, that’s just wrong. You ‘well done steak’ people are monsters, you do understand that right? Ahem, anyways, I’m attempting mine at something close to what my book states, 400F with an average of 20 minutes a lb, of course giving the poke test around that time to see if it’s where I want it to be. With luck, it’ll be beautifully golden brown on the outside and tenderly medium-rare inside!

Roast Time, Potatoes: 2 hour maximum, if not a little less. It’s something that needs noting, as some legs of lamb can go for even longer. In which case, you’ll have to roast it in or over another pan before transferring the taters into the oven at the appropriate time. Which has a great benefit in that you can use the other pan, filled with some lamb juices, fat, and hopefully the crusty fond, to make…

Sauce: There’s nothing really traditional ‘have to have’ with gigot d’agneau a la pleureur, but I just don’t see doing a lamb and potato dish without some good sauce. But in these scenarios, one can’t beat a simple pan sauce. That’s when you’ll take your roasting pan with that beautiful fond in it, or a sauté pan that some of the meat has been seared in, put it over a hot stove and add some wine and, preferably, a related broth/stock. This will dissolve all those delicious goodies from the meat that’s sticking to the pan, adding their flavor, and cook down into a perfectly thick and flavorful liquid. From which one can adjust with any number of herbs, spices, or other aromatics. I ended up making my own last-minute kind of pan sauce with some scraps, a ‘recipe’ which I added after the gigot to give an idea on what you yourself can do at home.

Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur
1 Bone-in Leg of Lamb
4 large cloves of Garlic, at least
6-10 Rosemary Sprigs
4-6-ish Russet Potatoes
½ an Onion
Salt and Pepper
1 stick Butter
Pan Sauce [a recipe follows]

Directions

  1. Remove Lamb from wrapping, rinsing off thoroughly in sink, drying just as thoroughly with paper towels
  2. Start cleaning the lamb. With a sharp boning knife, or other delicate blade, carefully slice off as much skin, film, and fat from the surface of the meat as possible, still leaving a bit of fatty outside sections for rending and flavor. Reserve for sauce20151213_120834
  3. On the side, cut each clove of Garlic into 4 slivers and break Rosemary stems into 2-3 solid bunches each
  4. Taking your boning, or some other thin sharp, knife, carefully stab around 16 deep slivers into the leg. Into each of these, force one piece of garlic and rosemary, leaving the newly studded meat to rest at least one hour before cooking20151213_125434
  5. Preheat oven to 400F
  6. Thoroughly rub butter all around the lamb, judiciously seasoning the outside with a light crust of salt and pepper20151213_151505
  7. With a mandoline, slice your Potatoes and Onion into 1/8-1/4” rounds. Layer these in roasting pan with dabs of the remaining butter and sprinkles of salt and pepper20151213_151105
  8. If lamb is expected to cook for OVER 2 hours, set it on a rack over a separate roasting pan, preparing to move to potatoes later on in the baking. If UNDER, rest lamb on rack above potatoes and slide into oven now
  9. Roast as directed, 18-ish minutes per pound, until brown and delicious on outside and almost fully cooked, thus nicely pink, inside20151213_165644
  10. Remove lamb, setting to rest on cutting board at least 10 minutes [w/ foil tent over ideally] before cutting. Leave potatoes in oven to cook further as this happens20151213_170520
  11. Cut lamb into slices after removing potatoes, working carefully around the bone
  12. Plate meat and potatoes together, finishing with a prepared Pan Sauce
  13. Enjoy20151213_171010

Andrew’s Substitute Pan Sauce
Leftover Lamb Scraps
Another ½ an Onion
1 cup or more, as needed, Red Wine [preferably French]
1 Sprig Rosemary, Chopped
1 tsp Capers, Chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a pan to a high, but NOT scorching/smoking, heat
  2. Throw in Lamb Scraps, the cut off fat and skin, letting it sear and sauté for 5-10 minutes with minimum stirring20151213_152335
  3. Once the stuff is somewhat browned and, more importantly, the pan has started developing a fond, remove almost all the lamb and pour off most of the excess fat. Feel free to leave in any little chunks of meat that may have been attached to the fat20151213_152517
  4. Dice Onion, tossing in to sauté in the rendered lamb fat, 2-4 minutes or until somewhat soft20151213_152855
  5. Deglaze with Wine, adding in the Rosemary and Capers, leaving to boil and reduce until the wine has thickened20151213_153923
  6. Remove from heat, taste, and season with Salt and Pepper as desired
  7. Reserve for lamb

20151213_171144The Verdict

I love it when a lamb comes together [get it!? Like the A-team… yeah I’m not proud of me either]. And darn if this didn’t come out… just like I wanted it to. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, the cook-time estimates I found had it go a BIT beyond what I personally wanted; would much rather prefer having more pink, but it was still there closer to the bone. Besides, the not-so-pink meat was still juicy and tender, and damn if it wasn’t full of flavor. Perfectly rich lamby taste, seasoned good… and I admit I didn’t expect MUCH effect from just the studding-infusion of the garlic and rosemary without also having a rub, but they actually gave a notably gentle aromatic addition to the flavor.

THEN we get to the potatoes… a bit on the fatty side of the flavor, so a big plus in my books. Flavors have officially soaked in. But it’s when you take a giant scoop of meat, potatoes, and sauce together that it’s best. What starts off as a fancy-like, seemingly classically haute-dish reveals its highly rustic charms as all I wanted to do was shovel more and more of it into my mouth. I just love when I fully enjoy one of these recipes like so. I could and probably should try to talk about other ‘elements’ of it and execution, but this is about all I want to really say.

20151213_170236Primary Pairing – “Koggen”

One of the epitomes of French Meat and Potato dishes, I’ve gotta use a beer sooner or later [I’ll try not to use one in the next meat-potatoes-ish one]. Something dark, malty, and heavy would do the trick, but I feel anything porter/stout-related might be a bit too much. Which is when I happily ran across a beer in a specialty shop known as ‘Koggen.’ One of the few true German-only styles, it’s a wheat-based style which, if I’m correct, can be seen in the lighter hefeweizen or heavier dark versions. The idea of having something simple and German with this very rich, heavy, and gamy meal felt just perfect, hopefully combining in the same way it did so in my Cassoulette adventure.

My Bottle: Apostelbrau Naturally Cloudy Koggen

To continue, upon pouring of the beer I was able to discover the delightfully malt-heavy flavor profile it displayed. Though I didn’t expect it to be REALLY hoppy, the aromatic greens were barely seen at all except for the subtle support structure you knew it had. The drink itself turned out almost dense, concentrated with that sweet, almost caramelly-savory profile which helps cut through and pair with the perfectly golden-roasted game meat. Part of the flavor make me wonder if I remembered it wrong and that the beer was mostly RYE focused vs wheat, but either way it was good, simple, letting the subtle notes of garlic and rosemary shine from the lamb while matching it’s heaviness. Just rustic perfection.

Bordeaux_1680129cSecondary Pairing – Right Bank-based Red Bordeaux

To be more specific, Bordeaux wine from one of the renowned riverside ‘Haut Medoc’ communes. Those are the ones that actually ARE mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, creating that image of the big, heavy, tannic reds for which the French region is so well known for. These are also the ones that are so famously known as the drink of choice for one of the region’s most famous dishes… which also just happens to be a giant, heavy roasted leg of lamb. Truly it’s evolved as one of the most delightfully perfect dinner pairings in the world. The bodies match, the heavy tannins work with the chewy game meat in encouraging our own salivation to its limit, and the strong acid backbone cuts through the still-present fat character. Not to mention the very spicy, herbaceous, wild eucalyptus and ‘garrigue’ flavors which were made to compliment the meat just like, and next to, the garlic and rosemary we love so much here. For those interested, and able, look for Boreaux wines with the names St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, or Margaux on the label. Those are your best bet, though aren’t always perfect. Otherwise, as money for these bottles isn’t always on the easy end, Haut-Medoc or Pessac-Leognan labels will work too.

p1: Moules a la Mariniere

T224120856_8018e66351he Dish

I’ve been wanting to do a particular dish for a while now, but since apparently winter is the best time to do it for seasonality purposes, I’ve had to wait… and then wait again since other people kept pushing plans off (you know who you are!). But, I finally found a reason and time in this dreary winter to cook up a pot of French-style mussels, Moules á la Marinière.

There’s not much history I found in this dish, a very simple, quick-to-put-together pot recipe of mussels, wine, garlic/shallots and butter, finished with parsley, steamed together only a few minutes since, I mean, it’s mussels. Did find talk of an Irishman in the 1300’s who’s claimed to have invented the first methods of mussel farming (something about finding a whole bunch clinging to some shipwreck wood), though it’s semi debated as they usually are, and not the kind of history I care much about. But that’s fine; I got to go down to our awesome local seafood specialist shop, and with me starting a brief vegetarian diet soon it brought me to wandering some other fun markets nearby that I rarely get the chance to explore anymore. Oh, and still had to re-do the escargot for some family, so yet another boon (two great dishes to have side-by-side).

So yeah, think that’s all I gotta say on the matter. Let’s get to yummy mussels.

A Word On…

20150209_125952

Mussels: Whether there’s a way to figure out what French species is historically used in the northern part of the country, along with a way to obtain them, or not is out of my range of study at the moment. What I can tell you, however, is that one usually sticks with the common small-shelled, blue mussels you normally find en masse at restaurants and the seafood section. And it was this style I was going for, and would have had if I was able to do the dinner a few week back as planned… but of course this meal got pushed back so many times, and I was quite determined to do it while it’s still winter and thus proper shellfish season, that the final day I was ready to do it, they had absolutely none.

Now, I should pause to say that yes, I could have likely drove to a Whole Foods or other place of business and gotten some blue mussels there. But I would much rather get a notably different mussel type at a Seafood-focused shop that only gets in product that is good quality, highly fresh, sustainable and in-season, and as such a place that I know has great items and is one I want to support, than to go to a place that, though I’m sure is also quality, still leaves me wondering.

20150209_150121So instead of the classic Prince Edward (typical species of the blue/purple/black mussels we get in), I got the notably bigger Swan Island, at times known for having simpler and perhaps even earthier/muddier tastes to it. Which gets me into talking about cleaning mussels, cuz these guys are DIRTY!

Those who are somewhat familiar with, or have heard about, handling mussels know they always need a bit of cleaning. Unlike clams, probably want to avoid soaking though, with how wary one has to be to make sure they get the salt level content right (put simply, soaking could kill them). In which case, we need to rinse off all the mussels to get any dirty and grit from the surface; and in the case of the swan and other ‘wilder’ species, which often will still have spots of lichen or other growth on them, this also should be accompanied by a nice shell scrubbing, getting them nice, smooth, and pretty for the pot.

20150209_145540

20150209_145552After that we need to take care of the Beards; basically a hairy-looking tendon sticking out from the side, this normally helps them grip to surfaces, and is not only fully inedible but could also shed into the broth. They’re best removed by tugging off to the side and pulling down firmly; they are a bit tough let me tell you, I myself thought I could just do it with my fingers, as so:

20150209_150440Boy was I a moron! Pliers worked MUCH better, especially when only a little bit was sticking from the shell. After that they ripped out much quicker and cleaner, now leaving me with a nice bag of happy little bivalves. Don’t they look adorable!

20150209_152539

Now they just had to survive until cooking time. And I’m sure you’ve all heard by now: don’t cook any dead mussels or clams, which you can tell if they’re open and STAY open (a few raps on the counter will convince an alive one to re-close… though I did have quite a few cheeky bastards who kept laughing and mocking me while cleaning. I ate them last….), or ones that have broken shells. And they can turn rather quickly and fast, which is why we buy them on the same day, and the closer to cooking you can wait to buy and clean, the better. One can pick them up the day before, I heard, think there was a strategy of keeping alive with a bag of ice over the top, colander set over a bowl and such… but I’ll just keep it fresh. No risk, tastes better.

Wine: Ideally, one would use a French white wine for the broth, of a decent quality (doesn’t have to be great or pricey, but not horrible), which I probably would have looked to use myself. But I had this bottle of random Italian roero left in the fridge after a few weeks… it was convenient and good mainly for cooking now (still better than cheap cooking wine in stores). Don’t you judge me!!… I do enough of that myself.

Fat: One could say there are two types of moules mariniere; those finished with butter and those with cream. I’ve seen about equal showcasing of each, and can’t find any proof of one seeming more traditional than the other, so right of choice simply goes to personal preference. As my last dish, Coquilles St-Jacques, used a cream-finished sauce, I thought I’d go for the butter finishing, wherein one tosses in some cold butter into the broth at the end, whisking to emulsify.

Or, in this case, some Compound Butter; not for any particular reason of keeping to French culinary practices, but because I apparently forgot to buy fresh parsley on my gosh-darn shopping trip to sprinkle on at the end. Whoops! Good thing I still had leftover Escargot Butter, full of the garlic, shallots, and herbage, exactly the flavors I needed anyways. Though now that I think about it, seems I’m making slight substitutions and allowances for every part of the recipe tonight. Hey, what’d I just say about judging me?

Moules a la Mariniere
2 lbs Prince Edward or other Blue Mussel
4 oz Butter, Chilled
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
3 Shallots, Minced
¼-1/2 cup White Wine (by personal preference)
2 Tb Chopped Parsley
Salt and Pepper

-OR-

2 Tb Butter
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Shallots, minced
¼-1/2 cup white wine
3 oz Herb-Garlic-Shallot Compound Butter

Directions

  1. Clean mussel shells under rinsing water, set aside. 20150209_174506
  2. Heat pot on stove to Medium. Throw in 1 oz of butter, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 minced shallots, and sweat until softened and translucent.20150209_175031
  3. Add one, letting it come to a strong simmer before turning to the mussels.20150209_175403
  4. Check mussels, throwing away any dead bivalves (opened and will refuse to close, the snobby bastards), and throw into the pot along with any remaining garlic and shallots. Cover and let simmer 3-5 minutes, as needed, until all or almost all have opened and cooked.20150209_180131
  5. Remove from heat and add chilled regular or compound butter, mixing and swirling quickly to emulsify into the broth (Note: may be best to remove mussels before finishing the sauce).20150209_180252
  6. Season with salt and pepper, garnish and toss with chopped parsley, and transfer to serving bowl.20150209_180405
  7. Enjoy along with a good chunk of crusty baguette.

The Verdict

20150209_180847It’s hard to give a total verdict when I wasn’t able to use the ideal mussel varieties, but I found some pleasant results in the ones utilized. Firstly, the big size meant a lot LESS shells I had to clean (though there’s a possibility I wouldn’t have needed to scrub the other ones…); secondly, the flavor perhaps wasn’t the same, but I found nothing unappealing about the swan meat at all. In fact, it was big, plump, and had this fatty richness to it that I can’t quite decide. With the butter and wine sauce and bread, it was a delightfully scrumptious experience; the almost raw garlic/shallot flavors of the compound butter cutting through and brightening the deeper see and fat flavors nicely, while the subtle cooked flavors bolstered the base. Obviously the best part is dipping the mussel, still in shell, into the broth to get all the juicy, rich, wet flavors at once. And of course who can argue the delights of taking leftover baguette and just dunking it in pure mussel-wine-butter broth at the end of the meal? It’s just sinful…

Points of change? I think I may have added more wine that desired, I probably did at LEAST ½ a cup. Probably should have taken the mussels out before adding the butter, it didn’t really emulsify like I wanted. And of course I would have rather had fresh parsley to do this the simpler, more classic way that I initially desired. But still love the outcome nonetheless.

20150209_175653Primary Pairing – Sancerre or Pouilly Fume

A white wine based off of Sauvignon Blanc made in the far eastern edge of the Loire River, just north of France’s center (and NW of Chablis), this somewhat chilly continental climate area produces a clean, refreshing version of this intensely aromatic grape varietal, often foregoing a lot of the pungent fruit, grassy, and richer flavors seen in good Marlborough and California styles for something that usually focuses purely on minerals, green berries, a grapefruit or other citrus. Strong with character and acid, but with leaner body style from the shorter ripening periods, it’s often a great wine to cut through delicate dishes that also contain rich fats, much like seafood with a good presence of cream and/or butter. The tightened, raw green flavors often compliment the herbs and other aromatics, the noted mineral notes (the twin regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume often characterizing a certain extra quality from the unique silex, flinty soils their grapes are planted in, sometimes almost like light gunpowder), and a bit of fleshiness that one can rarely get rid of from sauvignon that I just love with that extra bit of meatiness from mussels and clams.

If you can get a bottle it’s definitely worth it; both a great wine on its own or with food, even pairs well with cheese. However they can be pricey, but if you find the right store, there are a few sub regions within Eastern Loire close by that also offer similarly styled white wine at much better prices (it’s been a while since my studies so I forget specifically which, just ask one of the employees and they should be able to help).

20150209_175606My Bottle: Pierre Prieur & Fils, 2011 Sancerre

Something I got at a better price, and by now maybe a year after when I’d look to drink it myself (though the great thing about Sancerre, so much acid it’s a notably longer-lasting white wine), it came with an even richer, sort of more fleshy/viscous mouthfeel than what I normally come to expect. Which I think turned out to my benefit with the larger Swan Island mussels I grabbed; with that soft, almost fatty texture to the meat, the wine blended and heightened this happy experience even further when mixed on the palate. And of course it still had plenty of acid to stand up to and cut the richly tart broth, alongside certain herbal-ground notes that complimented the compound butter and garlic flavors. A very pleasant companion for the evening.

Secondary Pairing – Lager

I’m not sure when the last time I offered a lager for one of my dishes was, it could have been really recent, but February in cold regions deserves cold-fermented beer. And opposite to the nights where mussels are treated as a fine, delicate course in a romantic evening, it also contains the personality of just being attacked in large bowls while enjoying a relaxing afternoon at a café. At those situations, sometimes you just want a cold, frothy, creamy light beverage to gulp down along with the salty-rich flavors. Especially if eating this with their truly classic partner, the fried potato strip (moules-frites anyone?).

p1, Pissaladiere

enhanced-buzz-29835-1385791378-15The Dish

This particular little flatbread comes from Provence, along the southern coast, in particular focused in the town of Nice. Though I’m not quite sure why or how its regional identity gravitated to that specific city, Pisssaladiere’s origins are not surprisingly shared with the close neighbor of Italia. Supposedly the “day of creation,” much like with Ceasar and his Coq au Vin (just switch the countries), a French Pope named Clement (those who’ve studied Chateneauf du Pape are familiar with him) travelled to Rome for business (his Chateau and office were still in France), upon which the local cooks had to scramble to make something with the new ingredients he had brought over. After taking some salted fish that was brought over, they turned it into a paste and spread it over a local flatbread, likely foccacia, finishing with cooked onions and sliced olives (local or French is unsure, likely local). The new dish was a hit, and the rest is history, with families making versions of the dish on both sides of the border. Nowadays, at least in France, the anchovies are used whole, often criss-crossed like one of our own pies, instead of sauced on.

What I find most interesting, and amusing, is the name. One’s first thought when reading it, and seeing the thin flatbread-with-toppings, is its obvious connection to “pizza.” Which, apparently, there is none. Absolutely none. I know right? I mean it’s got it in the name, just s instead of z.

Well, the name actually comes from the Latin (once more some Italian origins, and yet still no technical relation to pizza evolution) pissalat, “salted fish,” as well as pissala which is similarly “salted fish/anchovy paste.” And though the true origins of the term “pizza” is in debate, there being multiple words that it’s thought to evolve from, my research has turned up that not ONE of the theories links to Pissaladiere. So I guess we’ll just have to settle with a boring, non-pizza related French history of a salty flatbread that technically originated in Italy.

A Word On…

20140625_155844Anchovies:It’s not much of an anchovy dish unless one can find the GOOD anchovies. Though I can’t say much for ordering specialty French-caught and hand-preserved fishies, I know any decent quality store or market (Italian ones too) should stock some good options. Got this little jar at my local seafood place, and god they were delicious; the ‘chovies were HUGE, and actually sorta thick (not those steamrolled strips of salty paper) and meaty… so good. Did NOT get as much from the container as I thought, though, so the resulting pie was a bit lacking in toppings. Which is fine, the flavor’s quite noticeable.

Olives:I just love a good, tasty, cured olive. Whenever I find myself in a certain Italian shop, sooner or later my mouth ends up hanging over the giant buckets filled with the whole fruit in their oil/brine to sample. So when I was at a local wine and cheese shop, and saw similar quality Italian Green olives in their case, I couldn’t help buying some ahead of time for the unique dish I knew I was soon to create.

Then I actually did some research and found out that pissaladiere usually uses Black French Olives… oops. Probably could have found some too, or at least a better substitute. Oh well, at the end of the day, as far as I care with any olive dish, all one needs is a delicious, good quality variety that you love. Pretty easy to find, just don’t do it from those long buffet-trays in the nearby supermarket.

20140625_163101If you’re not familiar with preparing un-seeded olives, it’s easy, but depends on how attached the seed is to the flesh. Usually it’s pretty simple to smash them under the flat of your knife and pop one out, then cut your thick, not-so-perfect rings. Some will NOT cooperate, so you will have to cut around.2014-05-08 18.45.39-2

Onions:Looking through recipes, I’ve seen two main ways to cook the onions (white or yellow), without any real highlight on which is properly classic. There’s sautéing with herbs and garlic until soft, then getting those edges nice and golden; and then there’s just caramelizing it to the max. Due to my unsurety, and the ability to work with a whole round, I thought I’d just go ahead and do a half-and-half, see what I prefer. I mean all I needed to do was separate half the onions partway through cooking; capers, instead of heating through like the soft onions, should just be sprinkled on top of the caramelized before cooking.

Dough:Like the Flammekeuche, most recipes out there focus on some form of bread dough as the base. It’s not the only kind used though; quite a few sources list this dish as made with either Bread or Shortcrust dough (basically pie dough). In fact, when debating which style I should use, I ran across an article mentioning the commonality between French and Italian pissaladiere. Seems the only difference seen between the two, other than potential inclusions of red veggies across the border, is the French’s use of Shortcrust. Thus my decision was made; though the origins of any topping’d flatbread would begin with simple bread dough, the shortcrust makes a fun differentiation that’s still classic with the culinary interests and trends of the last couple centuries. If you want to go with a bread dough, then I suggest any decent looking recipe that uses olive oil (yeasted or not, it seems to be the one commonality).

Pissaladiere
1 Stick/4oz Butter, chilled
7oz Flour
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Tb Water and/or Anchovy liquid
3-4 Yellow Onions
1 Tb Olive Oil
1-2 Bay Leaves
Thyme Sprig
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Tb Capers
3-4 oz Quality Olives
1 Jar/Tin Anchovies, however much needed/desired
Black Pepper

Directions

  1. To make the dough, chop the cold dough small and rub, with fingertips, into the flour until mostly “cornmeal” texture, leaving some larger lumps for flake purposes (can also do this in a food processor).20140625_155858
  2. Mix in enough of the Egg, Water, and Anchovy Oil/Liquid to bind everything together. Reserve remaining egg to the side.20140625_160347
  3. Press into a firm, flat round, chill in fridge for at least an hour.20140625_160921
  4. While this is cooling, chop onions into the desired size (I like large chunks, thin slices cook up very well though).20140625_161049
  5. Heat a pan up to Med/Med-High heat, while at the same time preheating the oven to 400F, with baking stone.20140625_162331
  6. Add Olive Oil, Onions, Bay Leaves, and Thyme, cooking until soft, 5-8 minutes depending.20140625_162555
  7. Add in Garlic and continue cooking until edges are nicely golden and caramelized. Chop capers fine, mix in, and continue to cook about 2 minutes more or until flavor is well incorporated. Turn off and let chill.20140625_163937
  8. Prep other ingredients, slicing Olives as needed and draining Anchovy Filets on paper towels.20140625_163525
  9. Remove Shortcrust dough from fridge, transfer to floured countertop, and roll to ¼” thickness. Trim to a large rectangle or circle, rolling up the edges to form a rim (one could also roll the leftover dough into thin strips and attach).20140625_172759
  10. Move to a well floured and cornmealed paddle/baking sheet to start filling.20140625_174306
  11. Fill the bottom with a thick layer of the soft onions (herb stalks removed), sprinkling the desired amount/concentration of olives on top. Arrange anchovies over in a cross-hatch pattern.20140625_182350
  12. Wash the edges with the remaining egg and transfer to baking stone in oven, cook 20-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crust is set and flaky.20140625_182428
  13. Remove, let cool a couple minutes, slice and enjoy.

The Verdict

I can’t say I was able to reach the ideal of what this dish should be, I mean obviously I needed WAY more anchovies (I swear it looked like there was a lot more in that jar), but the elements were still very satisfactory. I officially prefer the golden, not-completely-caramelized onion base in terms of bringing that overall Provencal flavor; plus it’s still soft without hiding the beautiful onion flavors under pure caramel. The nice, pickled and salty garnishes come out even more and make for a nice appetizer, particular with that super-flaky pie crust base. Speaking of which, I wonder if the result I got was still “traditional;” if anything I feel like I wanna go for dough more reminiscent of what’s used in many of the dessert Tartes, crispy and semi-flaky but nice and firm. If I have any leftover from one of the desserts I am sure to make in the future, I might go ahead and use it to make another pissaladiere. Because it’s delicious.

20140625_181648Primary Pairing – Muscadet a Sevre et Maine

If I were to pair this dish Regionally, I might have gone with something like a Rose, as Buzzfeed well suggests, or potentially find a random white wine from the oft-unseen, not-well-known little regions that rarely meet our market to much acclaim. But I only have one rose at the moment, which I already have a specific dish in mind for, and the latter would be a giant pain to research, and even then I wouldn’t have enough confidence in my palette expectations of these wines which I’ve had no experience with.

Besides, at the end of the day I found myself craving a certain little region on the western coast of the Loire River known as Muscadet. Using the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the wines of this region are known for a particularly unique identity, especially those of the Sevre et Maine AOC. Made near the sea, using a method known as “sur lie” where the wine is allowed to rest on the settled yeasts and other particulates, it develops trace amounts of both salty and yeasty notes, along with an almost imperceptible fizz or effervescence; aspects which make it great to match the briny anchovy-olive pizza and buttery pie crust. Followed with a light body and refreshingly crisp acidity, a good Muscadet would be able to stand through any hints of richness and pungently preserved flavors without overpowering, a perfect aperitif choice.

20140625_181344My Bottle: 2012 Selection des Cognettes Muscadet S-et-M, Sur Lie

Always a great, readily available and affordable bottle from this region, the Cognette vineyard is able to keep flavors clean, with nice notes of elderflower and pears alongside the typical yeastiness, without getting too much of that “fatty” skin feeling I find in most low-end white wines (it’s hard to describe really). Made for a nummy accompaniment to the flaky tartlette. I coulda sworn I took a picture of the glass with the sliced triangles of the pissaladiere too, but somehow it’s disappeared…

Secondary Pairing – Fino/Manzanilla Sherry

What better drink to pair with a light, super salty, coastal dish made in a hot southern region than a Fino Sherry, made in the white albariza hills of Southwest Spain, the sea breezes wafting over the stockpiles of sherry casks in the giant Solera system. Such versatile fortified wines they produce, and the completely uncolored, notably salty and acetaldehyde notes (unique yeasty, nutty, creamy notes subject almost solely to Flor-affected products, like sherry) go amazingly with a myriad of dishes, especially this anchovy-laden tarte. The body may be a bit high, but its acidity and pure, clean flavors can cut through to make one reminisce of a lighter experience. Taken in sips, like a fine brandy, a chilled Fino or Manzanilla mixes with Pissaladiere to make a stimulating start to any day of leisure.220px-CatavinoEnMano

p1: Escargot de Bourgogne

enhanced-buzz-16649-1385769921-4The Dish

The thought of Snails in food culture, if we were to ask practically anyone, is inherently considered a solely French interest, as the eponymous “Escargot.” And yet these adorably skin-crawling critters have been found to have ancient culinary use in multiple Mediterranean societies, particularly those of Roman and Cistercian focus. For those in the know, both of these regions and cultures have great acclaim as some of the biggest influence in the development and, most important, spread of grape vines through trade and travel. We could likely theorize that it was through these same journeys that the use and taste for snails spread from the Mediterranean to France.

Here they’ve found a stronghold in a certain Burgundian recipe, simply baked with garlic-herb butter. Whether the growing environment was ideal or the regional dish was lucky enough to explode in popularity, the fact remains that Escargot de Bourgogne has become the global example for cooking snails. In fact, of the two most common type of snails eaten today, the variety known as “Escargot de Bourgogne” stands at the forefront (the other is known as Petite-Gris, or “little grays”).

They’re certainly a scary thing to think about eating for those not-so-epicurious, especially if they haven’t had it yet. But believe me, same with any offal meat, if you have one that’s prepared properly, and don’t think hard on what it is before murder and fire, this tender and buttery-delicious dish can be a sending from heaven. So put your fears in the back seat and let’s cook something odd.

A Word On…

20140415_153134Snails:Really the only important thing in this highly simplistic French classic… and we can’t even get it over here. Well, not the Fresh and still-alive ones anyways, or at least not without some serious digging. What we DO have is a choice: canned or frozen. Pre-cooked and pre-purged (they’re diet makes them naturally quite toxic if eaten without purging), it takes the major effort of the lengthy and important snail prep away, but then again we also lose the joy and better flavors of cooking something from fresh. Oh well.

Canned is probably the better way to go. Frozen one has to of course worry about damages during defrosting; not to mention that all frozen escargot I’ve found already come “pre-stuffed” with a butter I’m sure isn’t quite as good as what we can make at home, not to mention it takes away the one thing that we can make by hand. If you’re lucky, you can find a canned version that comes with a tube of empty shells like I did at a special seafood shop. Funny story, at first I thought all the shells were already filled, and the can on the bottom was just a label; then I found out otherwise.

If, somehow, you can find still-alive snails to work with, there are some very special considerations that need to be taken into consideration. To keep it simple, here’s what needs to be done. Fast/Starve them for at least one day, up to 3 is best (if you want to feed them, use thyme and other flavorful herbs). Rinse and Cover with Salt and Vinegar for 3 hours. Rinse again, boil in shells 10 minutes ish. Remove from the shells, then boil and sanitize the empty containers. Rinse snails again, removing a black part at the end of the tail. Simmer snails slowly in a flavorful liquid for about 1-2 hours, until tender. Drain, pat dry, and use.20140427_155505

See? So much more work than rinsing canned snails off in water.

Cooking:Traditionally this is a dish “a la Bourguignonne,” the most famous and commonly seen version of snails, simply stuffed with the garlic-herb butter in its shell and baked. There are other ways to cook these snails though; the Bordelais (Bordeaux region) with “stew” piles of in-shell creatures in a broth of wine, herbs, and stock, sometimes tomato-based. If one has the time, interest, and resources, they should look into playing around with it (I just might).

People don’t always have access to snails with shells, as mentioned earlier with most pre-cooked, canned versions we can get. My suggestion is simple, toss the meaty buggers in an open baking dish/casserole, cover in enough butter to submerge and bake until it’s all melted and sizzling.

Which is something to diverge off of. I’ve found, even in shell, there is no such thing as a set cooking temperature or time; from 350F to 450F, the only set rule is that it should bake in an over until all butter is melted, bubbling, and you’re sure the snails are hot.

Compound B20140424_201648utter:Basically, any butter mixed with seasoning, aromatics, etc. The traditional compound for this dish, as mentioned, consists of lotsa Garlic, some Shallots, and Parsley; a couple recipes I’ve found also include Brandy or a bit of White Wine.

The main consideration here is how these are all combined; usually this is done by hand or with electric mixer. However, we want to get all these herbs and garlic pulsed fine and thoroughly, thoroughly blended into the butter. If it’s strong enough, a Food Processor works well for this; normally this would be where I wax and wane over my handy-dandy-tiny-processor, but it’s sadly not sharp or strong enough to shred those herbs and garlic up into the paste I need. As such, if you’re in a similar situation or just don’t have a processor, make sure that these ingredients are chopped VERY fine for the ideal butter.

Also, don’t be afraid to make a big batch! Make sure you have enough to stuff into the shells, and if there’s leftover just roll it up in a little bundle and store in the freezer for later use; it’s great on top of a freshly grilled steak, or pushed under the skin of a chicken that’s about to be roasted. Or just more snails.

Baking Dish:Cooked in-shell, these garlicky baked snails are known for being baked and served in a special “casserole,” a baking dish with semi-spherical holders (sorta looks like a takoyaki grill… or those pans that make spherical pancakes). Obviously not everyone has one of these, and I think it’d be ridiculous to buy one just for this use (unless you do indeed eat snails relatively often, and if so GOOD FOR YOU!!). One could probably just crowd them tight together in a regular casserole or baking tin without issue. I refer the use of a muffin tin, thus giving each shell its own holder. If only it would look as pretty to serve in, but oh well, nothing wrong with snails on a plate (Lamest. Movie Ripoff Name. Ever. But the most delicious though).20140427_131337

Escargot20140424_200057
2 Shallots
1 small head or ½ large head Garlic
½ Bunch Fresh Parsley
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) Unsalted Butter, softened
3 Tb Brandy (Cognac preffered)
1-2 Tb White Wine
Salt and Pepper
Cooked and Prepared Snails + Shells

Directions

  1. Finely, finely mince Shallots, Garlic, and Parsley and much as possible.       Note: a tip for the Parsley is to run it under water first, damp with paper towel and then proceed to de-stem and chop. It’ll stick together and mince easier. Will need to squeeze out some excess water though.20140424_201702
  2. If you have one that’s strong enough, combine everything besides the Snails in a food processor, blending until the aromatics are chopped fine and fully incorporated. Note: if this step applies, you don’t need to chop the aromatics so finely in the first step, just roughly.20140424_202756
  3. If no (strong) Processor is available, combine aromatics, Butter, Brandy, Wine, and a healthy seasoning of Salt and Pepper in bowl, mixing thoroughly until fully incorporated (electric mixer helps).20140427_162318
  4. Transfer to container or roll into log via plastic wrap and store for later use.
  5. Remove from fridge at least an hour before ready. Turn over to 400F once close.20140427_130758
  6. While it’s still somewhat firm, stuff the Empty Snail Shells with at least ½ tsp of thecompound butter, pushing towards the back.20140427_155833
  7. Prepare Snails as needed. Push deeply into the snail shells.20140427_161437
  8. Scoop big wads of the softened butter up and into the shells, topping the meat with a smoothed out later.20140427_175406
  9. Transfer shells to an escargot baking tray or, more available, muffin tin. Place in Hot oven and cook until ready.20140427_180418
  10. Once butter is melted, bubbly, and snails are heated through, about 12-15 minutes ish, remove and serve.20140427_180723
  11. Plate up with warm, crusty pieces of baguette and tiny forks.

20140427_181032The Verdict

I think I needed a lot more butter, these guys should be “swimming” in it. Other than that, the flavor was delicious as expected, not as garlicky as I thought (and somewhat hoped) but it was noticeably present and didn’t overpower anything so that’s a plus. Eaten with the baguette it filled its role that evening as a very satisfying appetizer. Oh, and it wasn’t chewy or anything, so the snails used were of good quality. Overall very enjoyable and delicious.

Would love to try handling my own fresh snails sometime though… now just have to figure out how to get me some.

Primary Pairing – Aligoté

A surprisingly spot-on revelation from the Buzzfeed team! And for such a seemingly unknown grape, those aware of it all know of the awesome pairing it makes with some select Burgundy dishes, such as a jellied ham thing and of course these garlic-butter-baked-snails.

20140427_180639Though Burgundy is known for peppering their slopes with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Aligote grape is still seen in certain environments; usually on the higher, colder elevations where quality Chard won’t grow (aka it’s relegated to the crappy terroir). As such, it’s historically known to be grown along the same terroir as their black currant bushes, and Kir was born. The classic cocktail is mainly considered nowadays to be a mix of Champagne and Crème de Cassis (product of those same currants), but in reality Aligote wine is the first and proper ingredient to mix with the liqueur. Sharply acidic, herbs and stone fruit, with a lightly creamy body, it’s like a Chenin Blanc or Riesling only minus the noted petrol/cleaning chemical smell and crossed with a bit of Chardonnay. A good version would cut right through the thick-bodied sweetness of the cassis while lending a bit of mouth texture, all from a cheap, rustic grape that’s not seen as “fit” for drinking straight like the other Burgundy grapes.

But those in the know see it otherwise, and this fella, when done right, leads to a delightful and fun little mouthful of tart deliciousness. The same qualities that made it great for cocktail also lends it to eating with this garlicky, butter-rich dish; if anything one could add that both have a bit of a “uniqueness” in flavor, one being the oddly seafood-y snail and the other being the somewhat malolactic-chenin-reminiscent wine. Whatever the reason we can ponder, the fact they’ve both worked for decades is solid.

20140427_175628My Bottle: 2011 Jean-Claude Boisset Bourgogne Aligoté (Les Moutots)

Due to its not-so-esteemed status in Burgundy, there aren’t really any specific “regions” that make it, except for one: Bouzeron, located in the Côte Chalonnaise and known for being the only all-Aligote wine AOC in Burgundy. It makes fantastic versions of it, though sadly can be somewhat tricky to find (though I do know we get bottles of it in Minnesota, just not sure where yet), and can end up a bit pricey. It is an area-specific wine in Burgundy, afterall (still better priced than a Gevrey, Santenay, Pomerol, Chambolle-Musigny, or any other one, but still).

So most of the time you’ll have to find a general Bourgogne AOC, where the grapes are picked from wherever along the long region (likely from the southern areas not counting Beaujolais, where it’s more likely to be grown in mass). Luckily for us, there are still some non-Bouzeron focused winemakers that put their attention into making decent quality, drinkable Aligote, and Jean-Claude is one of them (at least he seems like it, this particular glass was quite num). The glass came out nice and crisp, cutting through the butter, followed by a certain Burgundian chardonnay-reminiscent fullness that makes me think it either had a small amount of Malolactic Fermentation applied (the process that makes those really Buttery chards) or had spent time in old oak barrels before bottling. Amazing, no probably not, but it went great alongside the garlicky-herb food, crunchy bread, and as glass to gulp down after the meal. So if you find yourself in Haskell’s like me and they only have 2-4 bottles, none of them from Bouzeron, I can safely say that THIS bottle is very satisfying and works well. If they don’t have it, then… good luck!

207025_bout_DomaineGuillotBroux_FineDeBourgogne2001_500Secondary Pairing – Fine de Bourgogne

Did you know there’s more sparkling wine in France outside of Champagne? Though since they can’t call it Champagne, the French had to settle on a different designation, and the lusciously tempting name of Cremant was born, to be attached to all other region’s name for their bubbly (Cremant d’Alsace is particularly well made).

The same concept is applied to their Brandy. Though we all, of course, are much familiar with Cognac and its sister region Armagnac, but only distilled and aged grape alcohol made in these regions can use the names. And there are so many other wineries throughout the country that make interesting Brandies, often out of “leftover” grapes that aren’t suited for their regular wine (and who wants them to be when you can make this?). These brandies are referred to as “Fine,” a suitable name consideration the levels of succulence and playful creativity one can find in these not-as-restricted brandies.

I love pairing fun and quality spirits with food, especially such simple and strong-flavored dishes like the escargot. A younger Fine, with some grainy oak flavor, that hint of maderization via the distilling action, and strong but simple flavors (usually some sort of cooked stone fruit or something) would pair nicely with this garlicky goodness, served in a small aperitif glass to sip and savor.

Give it a try, Fine de Bourgogne if you can (Burgundy particularly makes good ones), or any other non-Cog/Armagnac Brandies.

p1: Magret et Confit de Canard

A perfect 2-for-1 adventure, why pay the extra money for buying breasts and thigh/leg meat separately for different days when you can just get the whole poultry and do both? Costs less AND you now get the wings, neck, giblets, and the whole carcass (bones and all) for your own stock.enhanced-buzz-20628-1386088111-22

The Dish

I LOVE Duck. Besides the fact that it’s, well, delicious, the big bird is FULL of fat-thick skin (I mean just look at the huge overhang flap from the neck) for amazing rendering. That, and this dish actual holds a bit of nostalgic importance to me. When I was in culinary school, Pan-Seared Duck Breast was the first recipe and technique I was able to really nail; it was the first technique I was able to take pride in. But enough about mislaid attempts at justifying myself, let’s talk about the actual food!

What’s become viewed as a specialty of Southwestern France, the art of Confit started, as many recipes featured in my giant Garde Manger cookbook have, as a way to preserve food. Yes, despite what the history books may say, people didn’t always have electricity and refridgeration, nor any access to gathering ice, difficult or non (or maybe I just had really shitty history books in my school…). Many a meat from days hunting needed to be able to last a long time, both to stretch out meals and simply on those times they couldn’t eat it all in a few days time.enhanced-buzz-4157-1388097660-0

So methods were developed to “cure” these proteins for the long months ahead. Smoking over fires, drying in the air, storing it in the ground with loads of salt (very popular with fishies), and the method we’ve come to know a “Confit,” the past tense form of “confire,” to preserve. After rendering off gobs of fat from the animal in question, usually very thickly-skinned birds like goose, a large cooking pot (traditionally copper) would be filled with cuts of partially salt-cured meat and the detached lipids (…. fat). This would be heated to cook the meat through, then transferred to a clay crock, covering the meat in an even, thick layer of the skimmed and clean oils. Stored, this coating of solid fat would keep out anything, both good and bad, that tried to get in; providing a rusticly air-tight seal on the now stable cooked and cured meat, protecting it through long winters and up to the spring, when hunting was easier and farmed animals were mature enough.

There was another benefit to this, of course; the meat tasted amazing. It is said a “Gascon will fall to his knees for a good confit,” it being a favorite technique of the region and showing just how tasty this tender, succulently prepared preservation can be. And its melding from a technique to survive towards finer French cuisine was assured.

Up and throughout this point, it was tradition that the entire animal would be used; with Duck being considered purely for confit in the south, its parts were all indefinitely stuck in the delicious but thick swamp that was its fat. It was only until a couple centuries ago, when restrauters served portions of the “magret,” or Breast, of the duck in the traditional country style: grilled, skin side first. The fat melts, the skin crisps up, its thinning layers insulating the delicate yet flavorful red chest meat from quickly overcooking, rendering a final product that’s tender, juicy, and full of all the flavors that have encapsulated the heart of every duck lover.

A Word On…SAMSUNG

Duck: There’s not much I can say for quality duck. It’s not that easy to find it fresh; I WAS able to figure out a place that I could get a whole duck fresh. Sadly, it was really out of my way, cost an extra $2 per pound, could only get it on a certain day… it was just easier to get a frozen one. It’s relatively available in a lot of markets, I’ve even gotten whole ducks from Cub (better ones from smaller meat markets or co-ops though). And after all that confit-ing (is that a word?), especially if you’re using most of it for dishes like, oh I don’t know, cassoulet, then I think it’s acceptable to take a SLIGHT loss in quality just this once.

As far as substitutes go, there really isn’t many worth it. Chicken tastes absolutely nothing like duck, game birds are usually tiny and, again, barely resemble it. The few things that do, namely Goose and some Pheasants, actually cost MORE. So just get duck, unless you wanted a higher quality/local bird version.

Skin: The two main factors in the final product of our magret lies in how cooked the meat is and, more importantly, how crispy we can get the skin. I.e., how much fat we can cook out of it. If left to “traditional” or “proper” senses, this basically means taking ALL the fat out, which I will be doing for this particular circumstance.

Which I just think is so bull. Every single damn time I see a cooking competition where a judge complains that there’s still fat on their duck… that’s the point! Come on! It’s delicious and amazing! Of course you don’t want this thick, barely cooked layer, but get rid of like half of it, have that full brown crust over the surface and a soft ¼” of fat underneath , and that’s just a slice of heaven isn’t it? Eat it and tell me I’m wrong.

SAMSUNGRant aside, no matter how much fat we need to cook down, we need to be able to control it. And besides heat application, that means one thing: Scoring. Carefully pricking or slicing through the fatty skin in evenly distributed lines, opening the insides up to better release the fat. How deep or thin it’s cut will determine how much comes out during cooking, simple as that.

Pan-Cooking: When I originally learned this technique, I was given the opinion that it was the only way to do it right. Get a pan searing hot, pop the duck (skin side down) for a bare minute or two and turn it down to medium-ish for a LONG time, like 15 minutes, before finally flipping onto the other side for one last minute.

Apparently that’s not the only way anymore. There are some that apply the exact opposite idea, starting in a low (if not cold) pan and gradually increasing the heat. Some have it on the flesh side for half the time and quick-melt the fat later. However the actual method one chooses works, so long as you’re able to find one that works and is comfortable for you, then do it.

But try mine first.

Doneness: There’s a bit of a debate as to what a properly cooked duck breast should look like in the center. I’m firmly footed in the camp that it should have a nice, even pink, sort of like a medium-rare steak, while there are many others who like it completely “grey” (often it’s still able to retain moistness and has flavor, unlike a fully cooked steak, but still grey). And then there are betweens.

I can’t say what specific stage is “proper” and “best,” because I don’t know. What I CAN tell you is what you DON’T want. First, there should NEVER be any still raw meat, even a small spot; it can still be pink but actually “firm” and cooked (don’t worry, you’ll know when it’s under). On the opposite end, it should never be full-blast, dark grey, DRY, noticeably overcooked. The whole technique of cooking it on its (very thick) skin side for most of the process and VERY briefly flipping over to the flesh is meant to keep either of these from happening. Giving enough heat to the delicate underside to push it through without having been blasted over the border throughout the hot process.

Resting: Those familiar with meat cookery know that the meat should rest soon after leaving the heat before it’s sliced, otherwise the delicious juices inside “burst” and flood everywhere before gathering back in the center. I will say, though, that doesn’t mean keep it on the counter for 6-10 minutes, because even with the best intentiSAMSUNGons it’ll get cold on the plate, and likely you’ll STILL have some blood leaking out onto the board. What I’m clumsily trying to say is that finding the “perfect resting spot” for these duck breasts is difficult as hell if nigh on impossible; to keep warm, you’ll have to let go of some of the juices. But luckily it won’t affect the final plated meal at all; look how much I lost and mine was still succulent.

Fat: Duck fat is obviously the traditional lipid of choice, and you can get it too! I have noSAMSUNG idea how easy or difficult it is to find in stores, but with how much skin and fat is on a whole duck, rendering your own is a simple task. Just cut off as much of the skin from the bones, wings, and excess breast and leg fat that you don’t need, and as described in my post on Coq au Vin, start rendering. A little bit of water in a pan, on medium-low, adding more until enough fat has melted out to cook the skin the rest of the way.

ISAMSUNGt’s okay if the pan is crowded; these guys will shrink down a LOT as time goes by. Which WILL take a while though, especially compared to how fast the chunks of salt pork rendered out. And when done, you’ll have yourself most of a cup of your own amazingly delicious fat and a couple handfuls of the best duck cracklings in the world.

SAMSUNGSadly, there’s a good chance this won’t actually be enough for the confit, unless you were cooking JUST the legs in a pretty small/tight pan. If you need more, I suggest first looking for other rendered fats; I made sure to keep my leftover chicken skin and salt pork stuff from previous projects, along with a nice bunch of bacon fat that had yet to find a purpose.

And in the case of no other rendered fats or still needing more, it’s okay to use commercial oils; Olive Oil is the best suited (I’ve found some pretty awesome recipes that use it), and Vegetable Oil will work too. I suggest adding your other fats first, waiting for them to melt in the oven, and topping the rest off with the other oil to ensure you only use JUST as much that’s needed. It can feel wasteful (I had to use quite a bit), but think of it this way; when you’re done with all your duck, you now have a whole bunch of your own ducky, aromatically, salty fat goodness that you can use in place of veggie oil or butter in any recipe. Just make sure to strain it first.

Oh, speaking of which, NO BUTTER. Good chances of burning, plus there’s the whole separating milk solids. Maybe if you clarified it first it’s okay, but at that point I’d prefer it for poaching fish and seafood over confit.

Confit: Though the general procedure for confit is basically the same no matter where you go (lightly salt/cure duck, cover in fat, cook for long period of time, store), cooking temperatures seem to abound. I’ve seen ones that cook a 300F+ for 90 minutes, 200F or so for 3+ hours, and 180F cooking that lasts a whole day. Classic French recipes say to “simmer” while some procedures leave the fat perfectly still, and others blitz it at the end to actually try and crisp/brown the skin in the fat. It makes it hard to tell which you should actually use, so ultimately I say it’s up to your opinion and what sort of constraints you have.

All I advise is that, at whatever temp, the duck cook until it is tender and soft through and through; a paring knife should slide in easily. I myself stuck to 200F for 4 hours or so, took one leg out early to eat with the meal and left the rest in there for another 5+ hours just for the heck of it.

Sides and Sauce: Doing a bit of research online and in my big Larousse Gastronomique book (after I made the whole dish, of course, gah), I’ve found there to be quite a few different sauces and sides that can be traditionally served with either of these duck preparations. There are not too many things in common here and there, other than a couple factors IF you want to consider them (I was mainly focused on cooking the proteins, as neither entry in the 44 placed importance on what theySAMSUNG were served with).

Potatoes seem very popular as a side, usually in a whole or chopped/sautéed fashion; I myself chose to go the opposite route and mash mine, take advantage of using those ever so soft cloves of fat-roasted garlic and onions. The sauces themselves are all pretty French, and sometimes use Capers; I just kept to a very simple and traditional French Pan Sauce using a demiglace from homemade Duck Stock.

Magret de Canard avec Confit de Canard
1 pair Duck Breasts
Salt and Pepper
Duck Leg and/or Thigh Confit (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Heat a large, thick bottomed sauté or cast-iron pan to Medium-Hi, practically smoking.
  2. Carefully score the skin of your duck breasts however desired, making sure not to injure the flesh.
  3. Lay skin-side down in pan, letting sear hard on the high heat for 1-2 minutes, and season the flesh side liberally with salt and pepper.SAMSUNG
  4. Turn heat down to Medium-Low, allowing the duck breast to gently heat and render the fat for 10-18 minutes depending.                      Note: if using an electric stove, may need to turn heat down immediately.
  5. Lay your desired cut of Confit, skin down, into the hot fat about halfway through cooking, letting it caramelize as it heats up.SAMSUNG
  6. When skin is properly rendered and crisped to your desired, quick flip over and cook on the flesh for 1 minute.
  7. Move onto the cutting board to rest, pouring the SAMSUNGfat from the pan to make your Pan Sauce (recipe follows) as it does so.
  8. Slice Magret on a bias and serve with whole or shredded Confit, a potato-based side, and French sauce.

Confit de Canard
Duck Legs, Thighs, and other Miscellaneous Parts
4-5 Tb Salt
½ Head Garlic Cloves
½ Head Red Onion, Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tb Peppercorns
3-5 Sprigs Thyme, dry or fresh (preferred)
Rendered Duck Fat
Other Rendered Fats and/or Oils (Optional or if needed)

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Prick the fatty skin of whichever Duck pieces one is using, particularly the thicker fat layers, to better melt out while cooking.SAMSUNG
  2. Combine with Aromatics in pan, rubbing them down with your salt (may need to add more; looking for the area between “heavy seasoning” and “thick cure”).
  3. Cover, leave rest in the fridge, at least overnight and preferably over 24 hours.SAMSUNG
  4. Remove Thyme Sprigs and Bay leaf, lightly rinsing the meat if it seems needed, making sure to drain off any fluids/juices in the pan.SAMSUNG
  5. Top with Rendered Duck and/or other Animal Fats and move to oven, turning it onto 200F.SAMSUNG
  6. Once melted, top off with additional cookable lipids if needed to fully cover the meat.SAMSUNG
  7. Cook Minimum 3 hours (after heated) until tender, when a small knife is able to insert and pull out cleanly and with ease, skimming the “skin” stuff on the top if desired (it is nummy).
  8. If one desires to brown the skin while cooking, turn oven to 375-425F after it’s turned tender, leaving to “simmer” under the heat about 20-40 minutes (again, depending).SAMSUNG
  9. Remove, let cool on counter, cover, and store in fridge until needed. Ideally it should sit as long as possible, months even, to develop flavor.
  10. Add to recipes or enjoy as is by heating up in oven or sauté pan.

Pan Sauce
1 ½ – 2 cups homemade, thick Duck Stock
¼ cup Wine
Thinly sliced preferred veggies (optional)
2 Tb Seasoned Garlic Compound Butter, chilled

Direcitons

  1. Reduce stock to ¼-½ cup thick, gelatin-like Demi.
  2. Turn recently empty, still hot cooking pan to Med/Med-Hi heat, pouring in wine to deglaze the crispy Fond on the bottom.SAMSUNG
  3. When reduced by half, add in your prepared Demi and any Veggies, Capers, or other garnishes one desires.SAMSUNG
  4. Once bubbling, remove from heat and toss in your Compound Butter (butter mixed with salt, pepper, and the confit-cooked garlic), quickly stirring to emulsify as it melts.
  5. Pour over Duck or other desired cooked protein.

The Verdict

SAMSUNGNow this is why I love duck; that juicy, sorta-red meat but also a bit porky-game bird-y flavor, with that tender chew that you just love biting through over and over. Though the color was a bit darker than I usually try to make it (you should see it when it’s perfectly pink in every single slice), it still tastes damn good, thus proving the incongruity of the “right level.”

I still think that, at the end of the day, I much prefer my skin to have a good, even, noticeable layer of that awesome fat on top. It’s already hard enough getting it “properly” crispy after practically rendering ALL the fat off, so why bother? Save some on the meat for your own guilty pleasure; plus it helps control the temp even further.

And the Confit was delicate, tender and tasty; I can’t wait to see how it tastes after sitting in the fridge for over a week. I’d be curious to try out some other cooking temps for it, like heating it up at the end; “luckily” for me it seems there might be more than one other 4SAMSUNG4 dish besides cassoulet that requires the fat-cured protein. Might just have to revisit it then.

Oh, yeah, and that confit garlic and onion make some pretty damn good mashed potatoes. All it needed was some of those small, crunchy cracklings I made on top… if only they were able to last an hour after making them…

Primary Pairing – Junmai/Honjozo Sake

Another instance where, while thinking and searching for the most desired wine to go with this week’s adventure, my mind decided to sidetrack itself towards something different. I think what probably struck the embers on it this time, besides Surdyk’s pretty damn good selection of sake, was a craving for that perfect mouthfeel to go along with that oh-so-important chew factor of cooked duck. Not to mention it does draw me back to Peking Duck….

And I do love pairing sake with non-asian recipes, really show its versatility in mirroring similarly desired factors in wine. It’s a great substitute for the naturally earthy flavors of a French red; and much like I wouldn’t look for a big, deeply tannic red wine here, I also want the particular musky characters of sake reduced, but still present as a major character. So Junmai-level seimaibuai (how much the rice is milled down) gives that perfect median amount, often carrying with it a rich enough body and more rice character to emphasize the similar weight in the food. It’s not too difficult to find one with enough acid to match the fatty richness.images

Where junmai is a little stronger, but muted/even tone in flavor and aroma, great for underlying and supporting the flavors of the dish, the Honjozo (made by adding alcohol in after fermenting to change aromas) provides a wild aromatic aspect of those mushroomy, barky, only slightly floral/fruity notes to celebrate with this duck. So whether you’re looking to celebrate the Duck or the Sake as the main aspect, the choice is yours (Junmai is a great style for those not yet into sake, for this or other instances).

Oh, by the way, no serving it hot. Step away from the microwave!

SAMSUNGMy Bottle: Tozai “Living Jewel” Junmai

So happy I ended up picking this bottle, it ended up as practically THE perfect sake to have with the meal; always remember how risky choosing sake can be if you know nothing about the specific bottle or brewer.

Good, solid undertones of the forest with such a refreshing body and creaminess, refreshing my palette while standing up to the softer weight of the meats. Light herby characteristics tie in to the French aspect of the meal, with just enough tannin from the rice to take care of the protein. Though that’s just the beginning; I found a few fun little surprises in store.

Duck always works well with fruit, particularlySAMSUNG stone and other tree fruits like peaches and apples; with a little punch of something reminiscent of apricots and Japanese plums, this little pleasure is still enjoyed. I actually forgot about the sweetness factor when choosing; the sake is a bit off-dry, if not sweeter, which worried me in offering it in terms of balancing the food. Luckily, this actually turned out to my benefit, as my highly reduced Demi Pan Sauce provided a noted salty character, begging to be cut by a bit of sweetness (this aspect would be even more perfect if I had the duck cracklings on top). Finally, the starchy rice flavor sprinkled throughout ate perfectly with the mashed potatoes.

So if you want a sake to pair with this or similar food and aren’t sure what to get, this is a good bottle to zero in on.

Secondary Pairing – St. Emilion and Satellites

I think this is the third dish in a row where the wine pairing suggestion was Cab Sauv or Cab Sauv dominated by Buzzfeed… at least this item’s suggestion was partially right, but at the same time oh so wrong.

There are two things wrong with listing “Red Bordeaux” as a pairing. First off, unlike Burgundy where the whole region’s red is characteristically made with one grape, Bordeaux is a region of blends. Not only that, but the actual style of that blend and the final balance varies hugely and very distinctly from one section to the next. Most people aware of Bordeaux know the concept that “Left Bank” wines are very big, rich, Cab dominated with some smooth Merlot, while the “Right Bank” are much gentler, softer Merlot based blends with little or no Cab Sauv (they use the highly floral and aromatic Cab Franc instead).

Which brings me to my Second point; where it can be clearly seen even from this description that a Right Bank wine WOULD work well, thus lending credibility to the idea of “red Bordeaux,” the fact is when most people DO generalize it’s always concerning the COUNTERPART. The big, overly bodied and overly tannic Cabernet-dominated blends. Which I’m quite sure of are Buzzfeed’s initial assumptions on the style.

God, I just can’t help being mean to these guys sometimes can I? Maybe it’s just bad luck in choosing some of their more ill-fated concepts early on… it’ll probably get better later.st_emilion

Let’s get back to where they COULD have been right though; being a southwestern/bordelaise dish, both confit and magret have affinities for certain reds of the region. And I can’t quite think of a regional wine better than one of the simpler, fresher St. Emilions. With a base that sticks traditionally around 85% Merlot and 15% Cab Franc, we have a wine very similar in body, acid, and tannin level to a Pinot Noir, great for matching the structure of these dishes.

At the same time, the unique qualities of the grapes brings a smoother lushness from the Merlot, the importance of the mouthfeel that I also found in sake. Cab Franc helps emphasize the super ripe and tart fruits and brings accompanying flowers of red and pink, bolstering the aromas nicely like the Honjozo.

But you want to stick with the simpler bottles in the right bank; Pomerol and quality Crus of St Emilion make amazing wines, but along with their depth they bring in added body, tannins from ripe grapes and oak, and other aspects which can skew it away from the ideal pairing. Not to mention price of course; St. Emilion Satellites (regions surrounding it that are allowed to append their name) come in at so great price deals for the quality of the wines, and can bring in that nice refreshing aspect I find.

Other options, if you can find them, are Fronsac or Blaye wines (other less-notable regions along the Right Bank). And personally, I’m tempted to ignore Bordeaux all together and hitch a ride to Loire to pick up one of their Pure Cabernet Franc-based red wines. Ah, screw the merlot, give me all those aromatics, small but tight tannins, and that stony taste of graphite and tart fruit down my gullet. That’s how you drink with duck right there.

Don’t forget to stay tuned in a couple weeks when I turn all my leftovers into Cassoulet!