Surprisingly manageable duck confit

28 April 2017

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‘Why on earth make duck confit in the first place?’ Fair question. ‘Why on earth make duck confit again?’ Even more to the point. And again?! Because there is a happy ending.

Many moons and about a decade ago I made duck confit. Why? Well, I was in New York, where confit duck is not, as in France, available on every supermarket shelf. I must have been in an experimental mood. And I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I remember the experience — faintly (the worst ones fade) — I see endless vats of rendering, handling, splashing, filtering duck fat (it was actually probably goose fat). It took hours, days, perhaps weeks? In the end the thighs were much too salty.

And yet, I did it again. — Why?

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Perhaps because so much time had gone by that I had glossed over the experience? Because I was again/still in a country where duck confit is somewhat elusive? Because I don’t like to leave things on a frustrating experience?

Because in April Bloomfield’s book A Girl and Her Pig there is a duck confit recipe that fits on one page.

It works. It’s not that hard. It’s worth the adventure.

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Duck confit recipe from A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield adapted for 6 duck legs. The process takes 2 days and is best made some time in advance.

36 peppercorns
36 juniper berries
8 dried pequin chilies or pinches of red pepper flakes
1/2 small cinnamon stick
Small handfull fresh thyme
10 medium garlic cloves
1/3 cup coarse sea salt
6 duck legs
About 1.4 kg duck (or goose) fat

In a mortar, crush together the peppercorns, juniper, chilies, and cinnamon. There should be fine and coarse bits. Add the thyme leaves picked from the stems and the garlic and crush some more to obtain a coarse paste. In a small bowl, mix the spice mixture with the salt.

Place the duck legs in a shallow dish and rub the salt/spice mixture all over the legs. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, very slowly heat the fat in a small pot that will perfectly fit the duck legs (I used a 10″/25cm pot). Rinse the duck legs and pat them dry with a paper towel, then carefully put the legs in the fat. The legs must be completely submerged — if they are not, use  a smaller pot or add a bit more fat. Cook on extremely low heat for about 2 1/2 hours. There should be barely a simmer. Adjust the heat as necessary.

Remove the pot from the heat and leave the duck legs in the fat to cool completely before placing in the refrigerator, covered with a lid. The legs submerged in fat will keep for a few weeks.

When ready to eat, remove the legs from the congealed fat, and carefully scrape off as much of the fat as possible. Thoroughly heat a heavy skillet/frying pan, add a few generous spoonfuls of the duck fat, and fry the legs over high heat, skin side down, until deliciously crispy. Turn around and fry the other side of the legs too. Serve immediately.

Crispy duck confit is best served with roasted potatoes and a salad of bitter greens (traditionally frisée, but also escarole, radicchio, arugula, etc…).

Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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A soup in shades of green

17 January 2017

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Sometimes color is the guiding principle when I cook. Or let me correct that. Color is always a guiding principle when I cook, but sometimes it is the main thread that weaves the inspiration of a dish. As in this soup. It comes together through the shades of each one of its elements. From a palette of wintry and tender greens to the pale yellow potatoes and onions.

The result is an effortless, delicate, everyday soup.

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A soup in shades of green recipe

2 medium onions
3 celery sticks
3 leeks
2 small celeriacs (celery root)
1 fennel
Bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel and dice the onion. Wash and slice the celery sticks finely. Remove the leeks’ outer leaves, wash the stalks well to remove all grit, then slice the stems finely. Remove the outer leaf of the fennel, cut in half lengthwise, then slice very finely (or with a mandoline). Peel the celeriac, cut in half, then each half into 2 cm wedges, and slice each wedges as finely as possible to get —approximately— thin two-cm pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces of the same size as the celeriac.

Heat some olive oil at the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Let the diced onion and sliced celery sweat on medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes (they shouldn’t get brown). Add the rest of the vegetables, give it all a good swirl with a wooden spoon, add the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper, cover completely with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (the vegetables should be soft but not mushy).

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Christmas baking

8 December 2016

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There is nothing terribly new or ground-breaking about our Christmas baking. These are tradition, which is as it should be.

I say ‘our’ and ‘we,’ because my mom is the standard-bearer, she is present in each one of those painfully pressed out and carefully cut out stars. I find cookies a bit tedious, and many Christmas cookies are especially fiddly with an unnervingly sticky dough and precise shaping requirements. But they are custom, and the most exacting ones are also the very best (the cinnamon stars — but, hush, don’t tell the others).

Luckily my mom gets on with it, and before I’ve had the chance to write out the list of ingredients for the Stollen, the almonds are already ground, and the scent of cinnamon awaft.

Marcelle’s cinnamon stars

But lest anyone catches on to the fact that I am a lazy cook, here is my valiant  contribution to the Christmas spread: Stollen. I’ve rarely broken the promise, I’ve baked Stollen in Berlin, I’ve baked it in New York, I’ve flown it home across the Atlantic, I’ve made it through the night watching films while waiting for the dough to rise, and I’ve made it in London with yeast a few days too old, watching anxiously as the dough barely became plump. It’s a whole day’s (or night) work and worth every minute.

My grandmother’s Stollen

But for the indolent cook, here are little shortbread cookies that are a cinch to make and endlessly adaptable. I’ve known them all my life simply as ‘almond and currant cookies,’ but I’ve also used pistachios and saffron, and, here, pecans, cranberries, and orange blossom water.

Classic Christmas almond and currant shortbread cookies

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Finally, I have in the archives the recipe for another Swiss confection, small footed aniseed Chräbeli.

Swiss aniseed Chäbeli

Happy baking!

Quinces poached with honey and bay

20 October 2016

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For someone who has named their blog after the fruit, I have far too few quince recipes on this site! So if you have made too much quince jelly, if you have no time for quince paste, if you are still waiting for the lamb and quince tagine promised some six years ago (blame this, like so much else, on Thomas), here, finally, is a recipe for poached quinces.

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Poached quinces recipe
Recipe inspired by Alice Waters’ poached quinces in Chez Panisse Fruit and Skye Gyngell’s baked quinces from A year in my kitchen

2 cups golden/caster sugar
4 medium quinces (about 2 lbs)
3 Tbsps flavorful honey
1/2 vanilla bean
One bay leaf (I used a fresh one)
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 untreated lemon

Make a syrup with the sugar and 6 cups (1.5 liters) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer briefly until the sugar has dissolved.

Meanwhile, wash, peel, core, and slice the quinces lengthwise into quarters then eighths (this must be done at the last minute as quinces tend to turn brown very quickly).

Slice one half of the lemon very thinly, and juice the other half.

Add to the simmering syrup the honey, the vanilla bean after scraping out the seeds into the syrup, the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, the lemon slices, the lemon juice, and finally, the quince slices. Cover the liquid with a round of parchment paper and place a weight on top if possible to ensure that the pieces of quince are submerged in the liquid as they cook. Let the quince simmer for approximately 45 minutes until they are tender.

Once cooked, carefully strain out the pieces of quince and place them in a bowl or canning jars. Return the syrup without the quinces to the heat and simmer down for a good 20 to 30 minutes to concentrate the liquid (there must be enough left to cover the fruit!).

If preserving, sterilize the canning jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and close the jars immediately after pouring the reduced hot liquid on top of the fruit.

If using immediately, pour the hot liquid over the fruit and let cool to room temperature.

In both cases serve with thick Greek-style yogurt.

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