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.

p3: Potato Rosemary Bread

#7, Potato Rosemary Bread

20150525_112834I wish I had a garden; and I mean like a full, landscaped garden, with rows of stuff, and every year I’d pick new and different crops to grow, looking into the GOOD seed shipping companies based on natural, ancestral varietals (as opposed to plants and seeds developed and owned by Monsanto and who knows what other corporations)… god that would be great. And we have quite a few areas in the yard it could work, but that really takes a huge amount of time to do right (by my standards), not to mention we’re definitely in an area that requires some notably wildlife combative strategies.

Oh well, maybe later in life, or a retirement project. But I can’t be too sad, we still have big pots on the deck for Tomatoes! Last year I started using one or two pots for peppers, and now I’m getting back into herbs. Which really excited me since I got the chance to get some fresh Rosemary growing and available, which is easily my favorite herb next to tarragon (none available btw… the bastards).

potato-rosemary-bread-slicedPlanted last week, it gave me a nice opportunity to go for a more fun recipe on this occasion, Potato Rosemary Bread, or ‘Panmarino’ for the Italians. Being popular for both loaves, buns, and dinner rolls (which I may have to consider someday for holidays… or specialty burgers…), the potatoes supposedly help make the dough particularly soft and tender while flavor is added by the intense herb and the use of a pre-ferment. In this case, Biga, the third of the main three (including Poolish and Pate Fermente) which I finally get to use. Though this will be the first time where I have to adjust the recipe; previous pre-ferment recipes used the exact amount that was written down in the book, while this one only uses a fraction, 7 oz of finished biga instead of the base recipe that yields 18. So the recipe I’m providing here is a scaled down version, and I’ll make sure to use the full exact one on a future Italian bread from my book that requires it.

T20150525_144428here are a couple other things I decided to try out with this too. First off, as the recipe called for cutting the fermented dough in half before shaping (for bigger loaves), I wanted to try out my experiment for actually doing this BEFORE fermentation, separating the dough into two separate bowls, to see if it didn’t hurt the dough and, ultimately, helped to keep in more gas that would have been lost via later cutting.

20150527_080149Secondly, though the recipe doesn’t state the possibility, I don’t feel like cooking both loaves off at once, so I’m gonna leave one in the fridge, not just overnight but for TWO days (meeting a friend later and I thought they’d appreciate some good fresh bread). I really want to see if I can notice a flavor change from the slow proofing (being put in for storage after shaping) as bread is supposed to from my understanding, and also noting if this is something I can just do with about any recipe I want or if I really need to stick to the ones that talk about it. Boy though, did it get big and fat in there after two days! Look how it ballooned up; and I know that this is NOT a proper form to cook it in, but I decided to bake it like that anyways just for the hell of it, see what the actual result would be.

20150525_115700Finally, since I’m cooking potatoes from scratch, thought I’d take the chance to just use the now flavorful and sorta starchy ‘potato water’ left over from boiling as opposed to just regular water for making the bread. It’s little things like these that make things awesome, much like adding pasta water into your sauce! (if you still haven’t tried this, yet cook pasta with a sorta handmade sauce on a regular basis, then you need to get some things in order)

Well I’m done with that longer-than-usual intro for one of my bread posts, let’s get into the recipe!

Recipe
1¼ cup/7 oz Biga (recipe follows)
3 cups+2Tb/14 oz Bread Flour
4 Tb/1 oz Garlic, about 1½ – 2 bulbs (opt)
½ tsp/0.13 oz Salt
¼ tsp/0.3 oz Ground Black Pepper (opt)
1¼ tsp/0.14 oz Dry Yeast
6 oz Russet Potato
1 Tb/0.5 oz Olive Oil
2 Tb/0.25 oz Fresh Rosemary, coarsely chopped
¾ cups+2Tb-4 cups/7-8 oz Potato Cooking Water, room temp
Cornmeal/Semolina and Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Remove Biga from fridge at least one hour before planning to start bread, cutting into about 10 small pieces and covering with plastic.20150525_105106
  2. While this is going, boil and simmer Potatoes starting from a cold, salted water bath until tender, if not done so already.20150525_115615
  3. Cut top off Garlic, covering in oil and roasting in 350/375F oven until browned and soft inside, if using.20150525_105406
  4. Remove each, mash the potatoes (reserving Potato Water for use) and squeeze out the soft roasted garlic. Reserve for use.20150525_122333
  5. Stir together Flour, Salt, Black Pepper, and Yeast.20150525_122909
  6. Add Big, Potatoes, Olive Oil, Rosemary, and ¾ cup + 2 Tb potato water.20150525_123511
  7. Stir on low speed in electric mixer with paddle attachment for 1 minute, until ingredients form together, adding more water to gather up excess flour and more flour if too sticky.20150525_125010
  8. Switch paddle out with dough hook and knead on medium speed for about 6 minutes, adding more flour/water as needed, until soft, supple, and passing the windowpane test.20150525_125124
  9. Flatten dough on a lightly floured surface, spreading the roasted garlic (chopped or pasted) over the top, folding it in and kneading briefly to incorporate.20150525_125302
  10. Divide dough in two, or how many lobes one is looking to cook, and transfer to oiled bowl, rolling to coat. Cover plastic and bulk ferment 2 hours, until doubled.20150525_144155
  11. Remove and shape, on a lightly floured surface (helps if somewhat sticky or oily), into a boule as detailed Here.20150525_144820
  12. Transfer to a parchment-covered sheet tray that’s been dusted with Semolina/Cornmeal, mist with spray oil, and loosely cover. Proof 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.20150525_145015
  13. Heat oven to 400F
  14. When ready, lightly brush Olive Oil over the top, and lightly score/slice with razor if desired (definitely not required).20150525_164445
  15. Bake 20 minutes, rotate 180F, and then bake 15-25 minutes longer, until rich golden brown and making a hollow sound when thumped. Note this time is for bigger loaves, if cut smaller than less time is needed (but keep same temperature).20150525_172855
  16. Remove, cool up to 1 hour if desired or cut while hot, spreading with butter for easy enjoyment. Also goes good with pasta.20150525_173114

Biga (scaled to fit)
4.38 oz Bread Flour
0.02 oz (a bit under ¼ tsp) Dry Yeast
2.75-3 oz (around 3/8 cup) Water, room temp

Directions

  1. Stir together Flour and Yeast, slowly adding in water until everything comes into a coarse ball, adjusting as needed so not too sticky or stiff.20150524_103752
  2. Sprinkle flour on counter, knead 3-6 minutes, until soft, pliable, and tacky.20150524_104246
  3. Oil bowl, transfer dough, cover plastic and ferment 2-4 hours at room temp, until nearly doubled.20150524_133340
  4. Knead dough briefly to degas, return to covered bowl and place in fridge overnight or up to 3 days.

What Have I Learned This Time?

The fact that maybe I should make the effort to knead by hand for every recipe but the most annoying (ie, enriched doughs and other); pretty sure I over kneaded again after taking my eyes off the mixer to do other things, despite the fact it wasn’t for long, because it just got sticky and wouldn’t fix even after adding flour and further machine kneading. The results are still quite delicious, but it’d be nice to have that extra bit of control.

Speaking of over kneading, I think I see a commonality of results, aka the notable effect of it, between the two doughs I know I’ve done it to. The crust on both this and the Anadama both had a certain kind of thick, layered hard flake crustiness to it. Though that could just be a coincidence among both breads, it will be interesting if this result comes again in the future with other potentially over-kneaded projects.

Got a better idea and feel scoring bread, such as how deep for the ideal look, and a definite reminder on what kinds of bread this is really made for.

So far the results for pre-fermenting dough division seem quite positive! Boules seemed quite gassy for their consistency, though that probably isn’t ideally desired for this bread. I have high hopes for future projects in this sense!

The extra two days did seem to improve the flavor a bit, the final bread reminding me very much of one of my favorites, focaccia (so a little more richness and flavor depth). It is quite noted though that, unless a recipe states the ability to do this (like with enriched doughs), the dough will very likely need de-gassing at least once during this, so trying to keep a proofed shape is often unlikely. As such any future attempts I make at this will probably be just putting bulk-fermented (or pre-bulk-fermented), non-shaped dough in the fridge.

Potato bread doesn’t taste that much like potatoes… hmmmmm… further experiments must be done! (and fun, more intense potato-based recipes explored)

Any Thoughts?

My rosemary smells a bit like sage… huh. Oh, and next time I want a LOT more garlic, kept in chunks somehow… it nummy when done right.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It’s gone back to full indifference.

p1: Tartiflette

The Dish

tartSpring is back upon us, but with a couple snowfalls in March, and my days off set back to culinary-based explorations in local food and home experiments, a need and craving for something more winter-ish came to craving. I still have quite a lot of dishes to work on in my list (I know I know, I had a rough period, I’m getting back into the foodie stuff again now!), including a notable amount of the heavy, soul-satisfying stuff, but it didn’t take too long to narrow my options down to Tartiflette for this occasion. I only had a day to plan this time, so something simple like this Provencial Potato Gratin fit the bill quite perfectly, not to mention I’ve been wanting to do something ooey and cheesy from this list for a good while now.

Originally based on the old potato dish ‘Pela,’ its adjustment into the now-famously-named version of Tartiflette was, if all stories are to be believed, actually a much more recent one. Though as the orginal dish Pela, a simple potato casserole with onions and bacon cooked in a long-handled pan called a ‘pelagic’ (meaning ‘shovel’), the recent twist into tartiflette didn’t occur until the 1980’s! The Union Interprofessional Reblochon, at that time, decided to develop a recipe using their famous cheese so as to promote the product, which they named after the Savoyard/Franco-Provencal word for potato, ‘tartifles/a,’ and apparently it worked. After only thirty years people seemed to have completely forgotten the original dish in favor of this adjusted, cheesy variety; only proof that history and food culture is still being made every day.

Though I wonder if there’s not some twist to the real story in this. Firstly, there’s supposedly an account of the term tartiflette being mentioned in a 1705 book called Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois. Secondly, I find it interesting that every recipe for regular Pela I looked up actually does include the use of reblochon… so either the ‘inclusion’ wasn’t as novel as the Union thought it was, or was SO strong that it’s affect all recent online-added recipes.

Oh, I haven’t gone into the full composition yet. Potatoes, cut thick, with the traditional bacon-onion duo of the French alpine regions (this IS a mountainy-Savoy dish afterall), wine for cooking, cheese, baked until crispy-gooey and served with some sort of pickles on the side. Now, onto the long, intense breakdown I’m sure most of you will skip over (I don’t blame you).

A Word On… 20150323_160832

Potatoes: recipes HAVE varied, from red to brown to mix, sliced thin or kept chunky. I’ve already tried the mix thing with my Gratin Dauphinoise, so thought I’d go for the full potato on this occasion. And as I’ve mentioned (I think) in past scenarios, or at least seen, the red potato seems to be more indicative to French preferences. So I found a bag of nice organic ones at my local co-op (cuz it was on my way home and I was too lazy to go somewhere else for them, yay me?).

Plus I just kept getting a craving on thinking about the recipes that cut it chunky, roasted fully… instead of the super-soft russets. Speaking of chunky, yes that is indeed where I’m going with it; what’s the point of slicing it thin like any other random gratin? We’re making TARTIFLETTE here people, this is MOUNTAIN food, the kind you eat in a cabin during a deep snow. It’s big, chunky, sits in the stomach like a gooey potato brick. And it has BACON. My reasoning is sound this time.

Skins: Now, do we leave the skins on or not? Is it actually an issue? Apparently, I’ve read many recipes, for this and other French potato dishes, that stress using peeled potatoes for service, while many blogger make the noted statement of leaving them on with purpose for the flavor. Which, if I were making any random potato dish (besides super smooth mashers or the crispiest, crunchiest roasts), I fully agree. I love the flavor of the skins.

That said, the true experience with many of these gratins is skin-off before going into the oven. Reasons? Probably to keep the potatoes soft, not having pieces of skin break off and float around (finesse aspect)/visual appeal, refined flavors, better chance of getting that golden crust on top, who knows. Either way, this is where I went.

But that’s not important, as is most of the things I say. What IS important is to make sure to leave the skins on while boiling (and yes, you’ll want to stick with boiling as the main cooking method before the overall bake), peel after. This actually helps the potatoes to retain moisture and other things so they don’t ‘dry out’ after cooking (believe me, I’ve done peeled potatoes before, served simply cut afterwards, they can get all tacky and odd if not done absolutely perfect).

20150323_145253Cheese: Reblochon is of course still the most desired, and apparently easy enough for OTHER bloggers to get their hands on, but one may need to find substitutes… like me.

Those needing this substitute need ask their local cheese shop purveyor about their Washed Rind selection, particularly the soft, runnier varieties with a bit of that pungent nose, similar to Taleggio (though I would NOT go for that cheese. I love it, but not here). They should have at least one or two options from the Alps (ask for cheese from Jura or Savoie) or Burgundy, such as Epoisses, Le Delice de Jura, or St. Soleil. Though I don’t know what reblochon tastes like exactly, I suggest going for a cheese with a lighter pungency, with more of that creamy fresh dairy flavors (I was tempted by that Delice, fit great, but it also has these odd extra grassy and other flavors to it that felt like it wouldn’t mesh how I wanted); but don’t go for a brie, please, that’s more moldy than funk, it’s just not right. Whatever you do though, try to get a whole wheel, the more attractive top the better; you’ll see why in a bit. 20150323_145319

Another note on the cheese focused on how it’s based; there’s a reason to use a whole (small) wheel of it for the dish. Whereas the middle layer of this stacked potato, bacon, and cheese casserole can be sliced or scooped on however, the TOP layer is very often applied in one particular fashion (except by those deviating from the norm, bastards!). Sliced horizontally in half, the whole top of the cheese circle is placed right in the middle of the potatoes, skin up, left to seep down below, the skin getting crusty as the exposed potatoes around it also brown; which is why I got one with such a pretty cross-hatch pattern!

Oh, yeah, one LAST thing; chill the cheese before slicing. My god this thing got so much softer and runnier than I ever imagined it would, looked like an idiot trying to slice it! Ended up having to spoon half of it into the middle layer (since the top is in the very middle, I kept THAT cheese on the outer edges, keeping it even).

Bacon: During some of my brief readings this time, I came to find a post that made mention that proper French ‘lardon’ bacon is actually only cured, not smoked. Whether this is true or not I can’t ascertain 100% at this time (too lazy for extra research), but I couldn’t find any proper substitute in stores, besides maybe trying prosciutto, speck, or other similarly cured pork product (try to find ones based off the SIDE of the pig, not the ham/leg like Serrano). But even those aren’t perfect, since they’re also air-dried. So I just stuck with bacon, the good home-made kind from my local deli. They keep it in slabs so I was able to get a single thick-ass piece! Now I can finally cut them into actual big chunks to get some proper fried pieces like we keep seeing in restaurants… so num. 20150323_164854

Wine: since we’re cooking with it, most white wine will do, however I decided to actually use the same wine I was drinking with the meal that night to keep the flavors clean. 20150324_121156

Garniture: Traditionally, this sort of dish IS served with tart sides, like cornichon and other pickled, maybe some fresh onions or who knows what. Of course, I had some ready, and forgot to serve them once out of the oven…. Durnit. Well I tried some with leftovers the next day, was tasty.

Tartiflette
2 ½ lb Potatoes of Choice
½ lb Slab Bacon
1 medium-sized Onion
1 Tb Butter
½ cup White Wine, French
1 clove Garlic
8oz/1 small wheel Reblochon Cheese or Substitute, chilled
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Separate potatoes into those of similar size, only cutting in half those that one absolutely needs to
  2. Place in pot with generous helping of salt, covering with 1” cold water
  3. Move to stove and heat, covered, until it reaches boil. Turn heat down to low, letting simmer 20-30 minutes or until MOSTLY cooked (a toothpick will go in easily but meet resistance mostly through)20150323_185017
  4. Drain and peel by hand before cutting into large chunks20150323_165341
  5. On the side, dice Bacon and Onion into big cubes20150323_182836
  6. Heat pan to Medi-Hi, add Butter and bacon, sautéing until golden and crispy all over20150323_183348
  7. Transfer bacon, pouring out (and reserving) all but 1-2 Tb of rendered fat. Toss in onions, stirring often while they cook20150323_183558
  8. When soft and golden-brown colored, add Wine, letting simmer 1 minute before taking off heat, stir in bacon20150323_184309
  9. Turn oven to 400F
  10. Crush garlic clove, rubbing it around a casserole dish20150323_185500
  11. Pile half of the potatoes inside, topping with half the bacon-onion-wine mix20150323_185219
  12. Slice cheese horizontally, so one still has two discs, arranging slices or sections of one half as evenly over the first layer as possible. Sprinkle with pepper20150323_190238
  13. Top with the latter half of potatoes, bacon, and onions. Carefully place the whole other circle of cheese directly in the center20150323_191239
  14. Brush the cheese and potatoes with reserved bacon and move into oven
  15. Bake 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted, the sides bubble, and the potatoes and reblochon ‘skin’ is turning golden20150323_195640
  16. Remove, let sit at least 5-10 minutes
  17. Scoop into big bowl, serve with homemade pickles and other garniture as desired20150323_200139

The Verdict 20150323_200258

So, I’ve been trying to eat better nowadays, mostly based off of portion control and all that (obviously I still eat ‘splurge foods’, like hell I’m keeping myself away from the food I want to eat, just not often), that night in particular I knew I needed to hold back… and I went back to the dish. I mean, for the love of god, it’s baked potatoes, with cheese, and bacon and other goodness, and I’m from MINNESOTA. This is the good stuff, and it’s no wonder it has become so loved as mountain food. And it was really fun having a cliché potato-bacon-cheese dish using something besides cheddar or gruyere; the funkiness and quality of this cheese is what really made it different and stand out in the aching bites. Not to mention the thrill of sneaking myself as much of that crusty skin whenever I got the chance…

That said, there are some notable things that stood out on the not-so-amazing side. First off, as much as I do love red potatoes, and big chunks of starchy deliciousness, I DO wish I had chosen russets instead, or at least done a mix of the two. Waxy is certainly great for good roasts and mashers, but in this use their notable firmness (even when fully cooked) was not what I desired most; maybe if cut smaller, but again I don’t want small pieces in this particular gratin. Secondly, I did love the bacon, finally I got the kind of big caramelized chunks I desire, but I feel the particular strength of the funky cheese I grabbed ended up JUST covering up their flavor; so note, really keep to reblochon or substitutes that are LIGHTLY pungent. Oh, and unlike my recipe suggest, I did NOT wait five minutes after taking from the oven, haha; oh well, a shame for me, not being able to see that stringy cheese, instead getting more of the saucy element. Still nummy though.

Primary Pairing – Southern French/Provence White

The dish may hail from Savoie, and they have some AMAZINGLY fun and refreshing options to go with it, but I only have one bottle of them on my shelf and I’m saving it for Fondue. So then, looking a little further abroad, it’s nice to explore the hotter regions of the south of France. And, if you can find one crafted well enough (stay away from the cheap-cheap ‘bargain wines’), this originally mass-producing region of the country has started putting out some nicely balanced wines that can easily be appreciated in their own ways. 20150323_195844In terms of going with cheesy potato casserole, they’re almost perfect. The warmer climate makes for whites with MUCH bigger bodies than normally found in some of the finer areas, which is a necessity for such a big-bodied, chunky potato dish such as this. Though bacon and cheese are noted elements, their overall effect here isn’t TOO imposing, so finding any white with at least an average quality acidity can work to balance that out. And finally, there’s little need to drink something super deep and complex; it should be tasty, maybe a little fleshy, have some character in the mouth-feel and some strong aspects to stick through the pungent flavors in the food, but this is not a dish to REALLY sit down and think about every little flavor molecule. Drink the wine, eat the food, be happy and nommy as you ignore the snow outside, and you’re good; and that’s what a lot of whites from this region can happily fulfill (like a nice Vinho Verde, only bigger and bolder instead of tart and refreshing).

Some Mulled White Wine might not be out of the question either…

20150323_183645My Bottle: Chateau Miraval 2009 Clara Lua, Coteaux Varois en Provence

Okay, I’ll admit, the empty bottle has already been tossed and I forgot what actual grapes went into this blend! I think Grenache Blanc was one of them, maybe rolle or something else with an r… who knows. What I do know is that I’m glad I grabbed this guy from the shelf as my last-minute go-to. The alcohol content got to 14.5%, high for a white and perfectly balancing the heavy potatoes. It was floral, pear-y, with an almost nutty/yeasty uniqueness in flavor that went absolutely awesome with this hot cheesy, onion-y mess. Sipping found a few nice delights while gulping refreshed and washed down the rich food beautifully, making what to me at least was a great complementary experience. Of course they tasted well in mouth together.

Secondary Pairing – Bourbon

Beer feels too easy (and I already did it with the other Gratin), sake and cider don’t really pull at me in this situation, though of course one could easily find some amazing options to accompany this food in each category. But right now, thinking about eating this guy in deep snow, maybe in a log cabin or something, I simply feel like I want a nice glass of delicious, soul-firing spirit. Something to help digest and break down all that heavy food sitting in the gut, not to mention an intense flavor and alcohol content to cut through the rich, fatty bacon and cheese. So a lot of them will do, now we just pick the kind of booze, and bourbon seems to taunt my palate ever more right now. Just thinking of the intense smoky, toasty barrel and sweet corn flavors matched with the bacon and pungent cheese… and those sorta caramel-oxidative notes from a GOOD aged Bourbon along with the crusty potatoes… I’m not the only one salivating here right? tart1

On second thought, a Marc (French Grappa) from Burgundy could be a really tasty regional match too…

p1: Raclette

(my apologies on the delay in posting, have had quite the busy and interested last couple weeks, hopefully should get a couple of these backed up posts out a little quicker than usual)

The Dish

23I remember the one time I went to France as a High School Student, part of our trip led us down somewhere to the Southern Coast (can’t remember where, I sadly wasn’t as travel-and-culinary-focused back then as I am now). When preparing for this travel, one of the biggest memories that still sticks in my mind is a heavy suggestion from my teacher to try a local specialty, “Raclette.” It looked and sounded so good… but despite my hopes I never had the chance to actually experience it, either in the group or with the family I stayed with for a week.

Though in hindsight, as I’ve learned in recent years, that was a pretty stupid thing to expect from a dish that’s inherently from the ALPINE regions of the country, near the Swiss border… not that close to the South of the country.

Its humble origins lie on the other side of that border, the original cheese being of Swiss invention instead of French, though the French do make their own Raclette near the border. 700 years ago, the cheese was the main sustenance of choice for the area farmers. After a long day of work, local shepherds, or Valais vineyard workers (some say one started it, some the other, maybe it’s just both), would sit around a fire, jamming a big block of cheese on a wood stick and sticking next to the heat to melt and soften.

This becomes the origins of the dish based solely around grilling the cheese over an open flame until it gets gooey and crisp, before letting it melt over the choice potatoes and other sides. Originally, this preparation was actually referred to as Bratchäss, Swiss for “roasted.” At some point, though, the name of both the cheese and dish changed to “Raclette,” a variation of racler, meaning “to scrape” in French, indicative of the long scrapings of melted surface cheese from the big block before returning it to the fire.

A Word On…

20140411_173032The Cheese:As with many alpine-cheese-based French dishes on here, one has the choice of both a French and Swiss version of the Cheese in question. Thus there are raclettes from two different countries, if you can get the good ones from a local cheese shop. From what I was told, the Swiss version should be slightly firmer, with a simpler and singular flavor, wheras the French version contains a bit more of that funky personality. For the sake of keeping to the same goal as others, I of course went with a big, big wedge of French raclette. I wish I could have gotten a whole half-wheel like is traditional for better scraping, but that’s a lot of money!

On another note, in case one can’t find a “wheel” of the cheese to cut from, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some stores have it plastic-wrapped and sold in smaller blocks (like that one greek “grilling cheese”). Though it’s not as fresh and ideal, it’ll work.

If looking for a substitute, the flavor sorta reminds me of Taleggio; just make sure you get one that’s REALLY young, while it’s still firm enough to slice and/or skewer.

The Accompaniments:Often in France, this melted cheese will be scraped over a plate with Gherkin or Cornichon pickles, pickled or raw onions, sausage, some kind of cured meat, and/or potatoes. But, other than the potatoes, I wouldn’t put any of these as stringent requirements unless one is REALLY trying to stay traditional. Just use whatever you want or have lying around the house; I roasted a pan of cherry tomatoes, bacon, and a whole onion (which I then seared to caramelized goodness) for my little plate of goodies. You can put in bell peppers, anchovies, olives, compotes, etc… or just drizzle hot cheese into your mouth.20140411_180018

The Melting:There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the same goes for melting cheese… you know, just not as hairy. Of course, if one wants to make it like they did back in the day, then they’ll stick with just the one; holding it over a fire. Obviously, the bigger the chunk the better; stays on the skewer and can control the melting. Though I’ve found it can be a bit tricky to get the melting and scraping right, need a bit of time to get used to it (had quite a few messy random hodgepodges of cheese scrapings on my first attempts). But once you do it’s sorta fun.

enhanced-buzz-21238-1385761799-9Other somewhat more reliable methods exist though. Such as the very one-minded appliance made exclusively for melting raclette cheese… with these tiny little skillet pans that one sticks on what looks to be a cross between a portable broiler, toaster oven, and Panini press. Cool as it is, please, for the love of god, do not be the kind of person that stoops low enough to buy it. Just use a nonstick cast iron pan in an oven or something.

One of my favorite alternatives is just laying slices of the cheese over the desired accompaniments and broiling. It melts wonderfully, looks great, and you’re actually able to get that awesomely crispy golden crust, which I found was quite difficult to do over a fire unless one is willing to risk a higher percentage of meltage loss.

Raclette20140411_185242

One Big Hunk of Cheese (preferably Raclette)

Cooked Potatoes (optional)

Onions, raw or cooked (optional)

Tomatoes and other Veggies (optional)

Gherkins and/or Olives (optional)

Bacon (optional)

Air-dried meats like Prosciutto (optional)

Directions

  • Skewer Cheese (or just hold if large enough), holding directly over the fire until a large enough proportion has softened and melted, getting the edges crispy if possible.20140411_185750
  • Carefully scrape onto potatoes and other accompanying edibles as preferred. Repeat process.20140411_190309
  • Alternatively, arrange potatoes and accompanying in an oven-proof sauté pan.20140413_111248
  • Slice and layer cheese over top, sticking pan under a broiler set on High. Let melt until golden and crispy around part of it.20140413_111818
  • Remove and scoop onto serving plate.

The Verdict

20140413_111953I will say, using the fire to cook it is fun, but it’s a bit tricky and takes some time to get right (let alone a proper hot open-air fire, as opposed to something made in a grill box). Tedious too, gotta do one plate at a time when serving people. Though it’s cheap, I’ll admit the broiler method ended up yielding the more desired result. I actually got golden and crispy edges too, which is what I really wanted. So take that as it is and decide for yourself how you might treat it (or do like me, get a big wedge and try both!).

As for the actual tastings and result…. Omnomnomnomnom. God I loooovvveee a good cheese and potato dish. The raclette really gets that nice fond-like crispiness around its surface when hot enough, and it has a deliciously mellow yet moldy/funky undertone to it, like a milder Tallegio (think I said that before though…). When you get a bite of everything all at once; cheese, potato, tomato, meat, olives or capers, onion, etc; it all ends up that perfectly harmonized blend of flavors and senses. Maybe not all that “heavenly,” but very comforting and satisfying when done right.

Oh, and it tastes pretty good without cooking too. I suggest getting the cheese for yourself at some point!

Primary Pairing – Mead20140411_184451

There are a couple classic pairings for this rustic mountain dish, and loads of other pairings that are suggested across the alcohol board online, but I find the most interesting is in the form of “Hot Drinks.” Being a hot, crusty dish to be eaten in the cold of winter, raclette is often drunk with similarly warmed beverages, usually some sort of tea or maybe mulled wine.

I thought it’d be fun to try the use of Mead instead of others; I like the idea of honey and cheese. Not to mention who doesn’t love a good cup of mulled mead whenever they head to the Renaissance Fair on a chilly day?

20140411_173704My Bottle:Chaucer’s Mead

Mead and honeywine can be a tricky thing to pick out, I’ve found. Unless you’ve actually tasted it, you have no idea what a particular bottle will be like in the glass… which I guess is true for every wine and beer, but at least they have indications (region, grape, style and ageing denominations, etc). Mead only ever says mead… and I’ve tasted ones that are thick and musky like an oversweet Riesling and others that are dry and practically flavorless, without knowing either way. Gotta pick carefully.

So at the very least, this mead’s hanging label proclamation of “semi-sweet,” addition of spice packets for mulling, and Middle-age connotations was able to help me get an idea that it would be, indeed, much like the warm meads I’ve had at the local Renaissance Fair. And it was, and very tasty at that.

Tried it both chilled and mulled just for the heck of it, hard to say which one I liked better… notably different. Mulled lost the muskiness and gained a lighter, almost fresher consistency, sliding down easily to cut through the rustic funk with its warmth, while the chilled acted like a tender nectar to fill the mouth, accentuating the rustic and moldy flavors. It’s very lacking in the acid department, but the sweetness and filling mouthfeel easily make up for it, not to mention it’s comforting.

Either way it was good. And it’s from Cali, so should be a mead one can get in most if not every state.20140411_184541

Secondary Pairing – Savoie White

A French Alpine dish, with its own strong ties to Switzerland, one just can’t plan a meal of it without considering the iconic regions hidden in that little mountain border, Jura and Savoie. Jura’s usually quite oxidative, so I’d rather stick with the simpler, continentally acidic and fresh wines of Savoie. The good quality, chasselas based whites are said to have quite the personality, great for matching up to the unique flavor. Most of what we can find in stores, though, are of the more affordable variety, less distinct but very youthful. Again, fresh and acidic, with a simple citrusy palette to cut right through the fatty and cheese profile. As one would expect and hope to drink on a cold night, tired from a day of skiing and sitting by the fire with a hot, comforting dish of melted cheese and potatoes.

Though heck, if you can find a Swiss white wine from Valais (one of their best regions for the typical Chasselas-based drink, and origin of Raclette itself), take the opportunity to marry this fated reunion post-haste.

p1: Gratin Dauphinois

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-25038-1386024391-7Gotta love scalloped potatoes; I was going to save this dish for some other time in the future, maybe a rainy day, but I had a day full of absolutely nothing and a week to go until my next dish, this was a simple item on either list that I could whip together.

Overall, the term Gratin actually harkened back to the little fond or crust left in a baking dish after cooking, or that burned piece of cheese and cream at the bottom of a fondue pot. Always the prized piece of a dish, this would be scraped up and snacked with much affection. After some time, this word transferred to certain foods identified by being cooked in a low, wide ceramic pot that would develop an even, thick crusty top.

Though these can be made with practically anything, the epitome of the Gratin world has been and always will be based on the Potato. Gratin Dauphinois is no exception, having originated in the Southeastern Dauphiné region, being known for something quite unique as opposed to when one normally thinks of “gratin.” At the time of creation, thought to be around the 1700’s, cheese was quite the luxury ingredient, at times being used in a form of currency. A very rustic dish, made by those with not as much money to waste on luxuries for the sake of taste, thus excluded the use of the highly-prepared curdled and aged dairy product. As such it was, and still is, only prepared with Cream or Crème Fraiche and various seasonings.

There’s not much more to say about its history besides that; it became somewhat known after being served with Ortolans at a dinner for Dukes or something, but that’s about it. With a dish like this, who really cares? I just wanna dig right into it and forget all about anything else for a while.

A Word On…

Potatoes: It’s hard to say whether or not there’s a properly “traditional” potato to use for this dish, though I’ve found a few recipes that call for “Desiree,” a French Red potato that supposedly has a yellow, creamy center. What I can say is that most good and/or classic version use either only Waxy (red and sorta yellow) varieties or a combination of Waxy and Starch (brown/russet and sorta yellow), with them keeping a great structure after the long baking while still delivering a creamy flavor.017

The one thing you SHOULDN’T do is you ALL Russet/Starchy potatoes; you just end up with a soft, sorta mushy mix of potatoes and cream… which isn’t bad by any means, I’d eat it. But to make it “proper,” stick to the other kinds. For fun, and because the Buzzfeed recipe link did it, I decided to do a combo-strategy for my own, using some leftover Golden potatoes along with the firm, waxy reds.

Milk and Cream: A lot of recipes seem to differ in how much of each to use, and in fact many instances simply claim the dish uses “milk or cream.” Some use all cream, some almost all milk, and everything in between; the only thing I suggest one not do is use all Milk.

For the purposes of this post, I decided to go with a 3:1 ratio of Cream:Milk, recorded in another blog recipe as a certain chef’s claim to be a good quality, traditional mix. Plus, if I’m gonna make this dish, might as well be cream heavy right?

As for overall amount, basically everything I’ve found states the use of 500-600ml (2 ½ cups ish) of Dairy to every Kg/2.2lbs potato.

Cheese: NO! You move on now! Put the cheese down and go back to the cream! Gratin Dauphinoise does NOT use any of that stuff! If you wanna make a cheesy gratin, fine, but you will NOT slander this classic dish by gluing its name to it! The true, traditional recipe for this (and many others online say and follow the same rules, so I’m backed up on this) use only the cream and/or milk for the classic dish. You should too.

The same goes for using Eggs, a no-no.

Of course I’ve seen quite a few posts saying that, though comforting, this creates a somewhat bland potato dish. To which I say, any TRULY “bland” food is made not from the dish but from the cook who didn’t season the food properly like they should have. Don’t be afraid of the Salt and Pepper; I put it in the cream and on the potatoes as I layer them. At the end of the day it makes something that’s full, rich, with that heightening and deepness of milk and cream fats that’s simple, yes, but oh so good.

Cooking: A lot of people, when it comes to this dish that only relies on potatoes, milk, and cream, basically rely on Boiling the potato slices in the dairy for a while before layering and baking it out. This is a great technique and makes a nice, thick, blended combobulation of food, really bringing the starch content out to set the sauce. However, some researching has found that, again, a True dauphinoise gratin ONLY relies on Baking the potatoes in the hot cream. Going for the classic sense as I am, I of course am sticking with this style, of which a few things should be taken note.

First, I’d say it really is important that, in this situation, one should stick with the higher cream content strategy in their dairy (all cream would work). Secondly, since you can’t just set the potatoes directly in the boiling milk right after cutting, one needs to work quickly in the peeling, slicing, and covering in the dairy mix so they don’t start to brown and oxidize. Finally, NO WATER! No rinsing, no soaking, no doing anything of the sort, like many recipes call for to clean or whatever. Though important in many other recipes, we need to reserve as MUCH natural starch as we possibly can, and contact with water just washes off some of this. So be a dear, save it for the cream, it needs it!

A final note, this cooking is usually done for a long time on a lower degrees, about 320F, until fully baked through; supposedly needing to be turned up at the end to get a crisp top, though I found there was no problem of that for me.

Seasonings: I’ve already talked about the salt and pepper, which leaves the issue: what else do we flavor this with?

Well, if you’re trying to stay truly traditional, then nothing, other than garlic. And even that you’re only use to rub the baking pan with. However, there are a couple very classic, non-obtrusive French practices when it comes to making cream-based sauces that I think are acceptable while still keeping the dish “true.” A little seasoning of Nutmeg is always fine and increases depth a bit, and I made the decision to take the rubbing garlic and toss it in the cream while it was heating up, just so it was a bit more present.

And if one doesn’t care too much about precise historical practices, Herbs! Herbs are amazing with gratins like this, whether it’s some fresh-picked thyme between the layers or chopped chives sprinkled on top for serving. Oh, and not to forget Leeks and Green Onions, they’d be pretty good… bacon too… I mean overall this dish is an amazing canvas in which to add almost anything to customize to your own tastes or whatever it’s being eaten with. Of course at that point it’s left true dauphinoise territory and moved into just delicious gratin, but who’d complain about on a Friday night?

Gratin Dauphinoise
3 Garlic cloves
1 7/8 cup Cream
5/8 cup Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs mixed Red and Starchy potato

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 320F.013
  2. Cut or crush a clove of Garlic, rubbing it thoroughly around your chosen baking/casserole dish. Thoroughly butter the sides after and turn to your food prep.016
  3. Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.015
  4. While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.019
  5. Once the cream has come to a boil, start putting together the gratin. Layer half the potatoes into the dish, no need to make it pretty. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pour over half of the hot cream on top, straining as you do so.020
  6. If not already done, finish slicing the rest of the potatoes, arrange on top in a nice layer (if desired), pouring the rest of the hot cream on top until it comes just below the rim of the potatoes.021
  7. Move to oven, baking for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy.           Note: unless the baking dish is raised notably higher than the potatoes, I suggest placing it on another sheet, as it’ll likely start bubbling over.023
  8. Remove, letting rest and cool at least 5 minutes to settle. Scoop up and serve with desired protein, roasts work good, or grilled shrimp if you wanna go for an “alfredo” feeling.

The Verdict

I can see why this is one of Pepin’s favorite home comfort foods; when done right, it’s just soft, creamy goodness. You almost forget there’s no cheese in here, with how rich and developed that dairy comes through. Those saying that it’s bland are just psychotic, I could eat this kind of food every day and be happy; speaking of which, it really IS good cold the next day, the cream thickens up and sticks to it like a nice, gooey glaze.026

Which does come to my one issue; while cold it’s perfect, I found this particular method of Dauphinoise a bit lacking in the liquid consistency after baking. Or, put simply, the cream didn’t thicken up as much as I had wanted to while cooking. Still tastes damn good and all, but it’s a bit disconcerting seeing all that leftover sauce still in the dish and not sticking like glue to those creamy potatoes.

I think next time I might try the boiling-potatoes-in-cream-first method, see how that turns out. But either way, this guy’s already moved up as one of my new favorite go-to sides for any dinner.025

Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch

024When I’m eating something so rustic, comforting, and soul-satisfying as these potatoes, my first choice of inebriation almost always goes to a good beer. And after a brief consultation with a friend, we both agree that the best to go with this dish are gonna be the Pale, Low-Bitter and lesser Hopped varieties, Ales preferably but Lagers fit right in of course. The top two choices of course are the German Kolsch and Wheaty Hefeweizen (meaning “yeast” and “wheat”); my first pick going to the weissbier for its cloudy, creamy unfiltered body that just goes great with potatoes.

But both styles have a great, full white head, a sharp crispness and BARE hop to cut through the fat, and simpler, subtler flavors that mix and don’t compete with the gratin. Following that style, I would also advocate, and personally crave, a nice cold glass of Pilsner, especially if I was cooking/eating this with plenty of herbs to match the slightly higher hop content.

Of course final decision always depends on what protein one eats this with, if any. My friend also suggested the use of Barleywine (a big, high alcohol and super malty and hoppy creation) as an option to fully compete and contrast the heavy, rich aspect of the dish. And I myself would say it’s a perfect option if having it with a nice Roast Beef.

022My Bottle: Blanche de Bruxelles

‘Cuz I had a bottle in the cupboard, and ‘cuz it’s one of my favorite pale beers! I remember drinking a couple glasses after a day of work in the kitchen, was always one of the most refreshing items on tap.

A Belgian “white beer” that implements wheat along with its barley, this light and cutting drink brought that element of frothy, creamy texture that lifted the rich potatoes perfectly. A slight fullness, that delicate simple flavor of citrus and yeasty fruit that goes so well with cream dishes, and a bit of bitterness to cut any needed fat (and also went well with the charred shrimp I ate it with). It might not have been the “ideal” pairing, not sure if it really was strong enough to truly stand up or not, but it worked well and I had a very enjoyable experience with it, yet again.

Secondary Pairing – Southern/Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Being sorta in the Languedoc/Meditteranean coastal area of France, the white wines close to the Dauphiné haven’t gained much fame, mainly due to the changing developments in the region from mass-produced wine lakes to quality focused vineyards. Varietal choices are still across the board, as are styles and personality.

Not as close but still in the vicinity lies the Southern Rhone, mainly known for their blended Reds, also offering Whites blends made from a mix of the typical area Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and various other random grapes. Though, like the reds, overall flavor and balance varies greatly, in the glass they end up generally low key, medium acidic, slightly fatty wines when done well, and simple pitcher wine when not-so-well. Either way, they end up a pretty good option to go with the sorta-heavy, single-note flavors of these soft potatoes, a nicely neutral simple companion or a balanced glass of light florals and heady skin, something that’ll refreshingly cut through and/or fill and lift the palette nicely alongside. I had a really great white from Chateneuf-du-Pape a while back that would have held itself beautifully next to these potatoes.

On a side note, though Red wine certainly isn’t my first choice to eat with this (unless it’s paired with a protein that demands it), I will say that Buzzfeed’s choice of using something from Beaujolais wouldn’t be too bad. I think you’d have to be careful of your choice, since the unique flavors and tannins from the carbonicly macerated Gamay grapes could have really odd interactions with the fat-heavy Cream, but of the French Reds it’d be one of my first choices. Even better, the Beaujolais Blancs made from Chardonnay might yield even more impressive results.

 

 

 

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!