April 18, 2010
Follow me on Twitter

What We Ate

It's been a busy week at Eastgate World Headquarters. I had planned a moderately ambitious refactoring in Tinderbox in support of a short-range tweak in Twig and to unscramble a long-term headache in TinderWin, but there was one thing we had forgotten. Or several things. The refactoring grew like topsy. We’re finally back in business, though I’m not 100% sure the new code is actually better than the old.

Meanwhile, I’ve been planning a menu and rereading The Making of A Chef and thinking about cooking. To review the bidding: an unexpected dinner party for visiting friends who were driving a long way, and who would arrive (at best) just in time for dinner. That meant we didn’t really know whether we’d start at 7:30 or 9 or even later.

The dinner was last night; here’s the plan as built.

What made me particularly happy about this meal is that I managed to stay entirely out of the weeds. Everything got done. There was some urgency, but I never went way behind schedule – even though the consommé is a moderately silly thing to do at home.

Oh: the refrigerator ceased to refrigerate the night before, adding to the fun.

As you see, almost the whole dinner (for six) is based on one Long Island duck. So, the night before, I broke down the duck. The legs (plus four extra legs) went into a bag with confit spice (2T salt, juniper berries, allspice, pepper, coriander) overnight. The breasts went into a bag with a 5% brine (5 cloves garlic, a little sugar, some fresh thyme). The carcass, wings, and a couple of leftover duck carcasses from the freezer went into the oven to roast, and then spent the night in the stockpot inside a 180°F oven, slowly turning into stock. I also threw together the rye bread dough, which needs all night to rise.

In the morning, I browned some mirepoix, added it to the stock with a sachet of thyme and peppercorns, let it simmer for an hour, and filtered it. I took about 2.5 quarts of the stock for the consommé. I made the clarification with onion, carrot, 3 frothy egg whites, and some lemon juice. Following the advice of ImAFoodBlog – a new discovery for me and a good one! – I didn’t use any chopped meat. The consommé raft was a bit fragile but did the job; there might have been just a little turbidity in the pot but, in the bowl, the soup was rich and perfectly clear.

While the consommé cooked, I slow-cooked the duck confit and the short-rib pastrami (which had been curing all week) in a 300° oven. I shaped the rye bread, and made the dinner roll dough and the alummettes. Once the confit and short ribs were cooked — the confit simply needs to be crisped in a pan 15 minutes before serving — I cranked up the oven to cook the rye bread and the matchstick alummettes. While they cooked, I polished off the rest of the dinner roll prep and let them proof. And I finally remembered to char the onions for the custard – high time!

From here on, it was all downhill. I took some spare duck stock from the consommé, reduced it by about half, and added some blonde roux and left it on the back burner. (At this point, I knew I wanted some sauce for the duck breasts, but I had no idea what to do; duck espagnole sounded like a good place to start.) I minced a bunch of shallots, garlic, and ginger on general principles. A blood orange salad course was cancelled (we’d eaten the lettuce the night before by mistake), so I juiced the oranges and zested the orange skin for the sauce.

Hint: An Erlenmeyer flash filled with blood orange juice looks really cool in your mise en place!

I really winged the sauce, but it turned out well so I’m going to try to record it. I had about a pint of my flour-thickened, reduced duck stock sitting on the back burner. I grabbed a small sauté pan, got it hot, threw in some olive oil. Add a handful of minced shallot, about a tablespoon of minced ginger, and a little minced garlic, and cook them for a couple of minutes. Add some dried cherries and blood orange juice, crank the heat and let it reduce a bit. Add the zest, and the duck stock. Done. (Fancy sauce, essentially free as by-product of the soup!)