28 November, 2007

The Jersey Report: Confit de Canard

The good stuff's in there.

[Dear MAC]

I finally got a whole duck from the Chinese grocery store recently($8). Once it had thawed, I cut off the leg/thighs, breasts, and wings (minus the tip) for confit. I roasted the carcass and bits at 350 for an hour or more to brown them. The skin and fat I rendered down to a couple cups of pure, white, snowy fat. I felt bad throwing away the giblets but I'm not THAT rustic or poor. I salted and seasoned the parts for confit and let them sit overnight. The next day I made the confit in the oven at 180 for 7.5 hours. I threw the roasted bits into a Dutch oven with about 4 quarts of water and left them in the oven for 4-5 hours too. I finished the stock with onion,etc for the last hour. At then end of all that cooking, I had nothing to eat for dinner but I had a pot of confit and a few quarts of duck stock in the fridge. I can't wait to try the confit in a couple weeks. I may try the wings earlier than that if I can't wait.


Dear Brian:

Thanks for writing, you inspire me. In cooking class a few weeks back we boned ducks. We also roasted the bones and bits to make stock. Chef had us put the fat into a pot. We used the first and second joints of the wing for stock, with the third joint we worked the meat loose from the bone then pulled it over the end to make lollipops. The next day Chef made a confit of the
lollipops and the gizzards (confit de foie, cœur et mou est très bien) we ate them on the spot.

When were in Des Moines last weekend Bonne Femme and I dined at Sage . Our favorite dish was the duck. I'm not much for fancy pants descriptions but the menu said: "Pan roasted marinated breast over a duck leg confit, roasted shitake & tart cherry risotto & a duck stock reduction." Yahoo.

Anyway I'm all jammed up with the end of the quarter and a certain someone's b-day next week, but duck (and confit thereof) is on my horizon. They have ducks over at Walt's, I just have to walk over and get one.


21 November, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Internationale

Jolie taking a turn on the long flight to Hyderabad

Ekarhu's Thanksgiving choices in the international section of a Düsseldorf grocery.

Happy Birthday Mom.


14 November, 2007

MAC's Holiday Turkey Tips

So you're bootin around the web looking for Turkey Tips? Well you found the right place. I am not going to give some fancy pants preparation, just straight talk so that you can keep cool during a time when it feels like all heck is about to break loose.

1. Plan ahead.
The name of the game is preparation, play it right and the only thing you'll have to do on T-day is drink a beer and watch the smoke curl off the barbecue (okay maybe there's a few things to do). Start out by getting a Turkey. What you don't have one yet? Go now go go go. Most turkeys you'll find at the store are going to be frozen and they take several days to thaw. 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of meat, says this month's Gourmet magazine. Placing an order for a bird (about a month ahead, too late now) is always a good idea, supermarkets usually provide this service and you can request that they thaw it for you. In the past, I have ordered Kosher turkeys which can save you some prep time (I'll talk about that in a moment). You can also snoop around to find locally produced turkeys. For second year in a row, we ordered our turkey from the Dickmans. They have a farm down by Kankakee were they pasture raise poultry.

2. Selection.
Think small. Don't worry about leftovers, pick the smallest bird that will feed your crew. We cooked an 11 pound turkey recently that fed 6 adults and 2 children and still had half a bird left. I think you should be able to serve 8-10 with a 12 pounder. A smaller size is easier to handle, and cooks quicker. Maybe right now you are thinking, jeeze that's small, I don't wanna run out of meat; I get the same feeling every time ("It's not enough food!"), relax, let's chant together: Pick the small guy, pick the small guy. It works.

3. Cure yer bird.
You don't need fancy pants seasonings, you don't need a flavor injector, I don't have a turkey baster, I don't own a basting brush. Here's my secret ingredient: Salt. A brine cure changes the flavor of the meat in magical ways. It's juicer too. Both Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated and Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman have good discussions on brining, but here is what I did: Dissolve 225 grams (1 cup) of Kosher salt per 4 liters ( 1 gallon) of water, make enough to cover the turkey. I used maybe 8 liters for my 11 pound pullet, make sure you use a non-reactive container: Stainless steel, glass or plastic. Put a weight on it to submerge. Let it soak in the fridge for 18 hours. Be careful on the time, leave it too long and it can get too salty. Some brine recipes call for sugar, it doesn't do much for me and I think it causes the skin to brown (read blacken) quicker. You don't have a bucket that big? Here are two alternatives: Order a Kosher turkey, they are already salted, most supermarkets can get you one. Do a salt rub, the November 2006 of Cook's Illustrated from has a salt rub recipe, I never tried it, but Novak did and he was happy with the results.

3. Give it a rest.
After the briny soak let your tom dry in the fridge uncovered for 12 hours. This will give the brine in the bird time to balance and the skin a better chance for crisping during cooking. Before resting, truss the turkey. Towards the end of the 12 hours brush the skin with some olive oil.

4. Let's take it outside.
Nothing finer than smoked turkey, my weapon of choice is the Weber Smokey Mountain, but you can use a kettle grill, gas, whatever. The important thing is to create indirect heat and a hood temp of 350F. You skoff? yeah I said 350, I wanna have my turkey sometime today and the skin will be crispy and it will have plenty of smoky flavor. Before putting it on, brush it again with some olive oil, if you have a thermometer that you can leave in while cooking, stick that in, and start cooking. Plan for three hours, check it every once in a while, make sure one side isn't cooking faster than the other, but try not to peek too often. When the internal temp reads 165F pull it off and let it rest. If you can't do it outside, cook it in a 350F oven, maybe stick some fresh herbs in the cavity like rosemary, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and some peeled cloves of garlic. I haven't cooked a turkey in an oven in a long time, but that sounds good.

5. Carving.
Unless it is chiseled in stone on the dining room wall, don't carve the turkey at the table, put the whole bird on a platter, present it to your guests, then take it back to the kitchen for the wet work. Pick out a long, thin, sharp knife and cut up one side at a time. Remove the leg and thigh together at the thigh joint then find the then remove the wing at the joint. Now the easy part: Remove the whole breast from the side you are working on. Start by making a longitudinal cut along the breast bone then work the knife along the ribs so that you have one big boneless piece of meat. Now can cut straight across the boneless breast for 3/4 inch thick slices. I think the pros call em cutlets. Cut up the thight meat serve the drum whole. Serve the turkey warm, enjoy the company.

To Review: Get it, thaw it, cure it, dry it, cook it, cut it, serve it. What could be easier?

Here is a sample thanksgiving menu:

Brine cured smoked turkey
Cornbread mushroom stuffing
Mashed potatoes with roasted parsnips
Sauteed Swiss Chard with garlic and red pepper flakes
Giblet gravy
Cranberry sauce
Pumpkin Pie

Please don't make yourself crazy with the holiday, good food is important but taking time to be with friends and family is what really matters. if the turkey burns, make spaghetti.


07 November, 2007

The Ethiopia Report

Raw goat served here with mitmita. Eating tere sega is similar to eating sashimi.

(Jolie cabled from the continent the following report)

From September 2006 to September 2007, I had the opportunity to work on food security related issues while living in Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, Ethiopia usually conjures up visions of starving, fly-in-the-eye children and a general mass of helpless hungry humanity. I came to appreciate that while Ethiopia is a poor, densely populated rather drought prone country, food is actually readily available. I’d spent the greater part of the last ten years living in Washington, DC, so I was not unfamiliar with habesha (ethiopian) cuisine. This assignment did prove to be my master class in ethio-style eating. I learned that habesha food is a relatively simple cuisine, but with powerful spices and flavors that make it sophisticated and some of the most interesting food one can experience. Some of my favorites . . . .

Finely minced beef (chop by hand, only high quality lean cuts such as tenderloin)
Kibey (spiced garlic, cumin, coriander, basil, clarified butter)
Mitamita (spicy-salty blend of chili peppers, salt, ginger, onion, garlic, cumin, cardamon)

Kitfo Lebleb with lab (cheese) and gomen (greens).

Kitfo is a very special food in Ethiopia. It is traditionally eaten by the Gurage, an ethnic group from the south-western part of the country, but now-a-days it very much a part of the greater culture. It is a dish especially eaten by urban dwellers (men and women alike) who have been more exposed to mixing cultures and have the income to afford them this delicacy. Kitfo is a simple dish of minced beef, butter and spices that is most often served raw or gently warmed. There is something powerful about raw meat-- it evokes feelings and associations that are much more vivid that its cooked counterpart- perhaps a way the human animal expresses its dominance over other species.

Kitfo is served one of three ways: raw (tere), warmed (lebleb) or fully cooked (abasala). Most people will tell you there is not point getting the fully cooked version, it is still quite tasty but it is not the full experience. The kitfo is accompanied by fresh, homemade cheese not unlike fresh ricotta called lab and served along with gomen, similar to collard greens. The kitfo is arranged in a clay bowl atop a banana leaf doily. There is usually a puddle of butter gathering in the banana leaf as you work your way towards the bottom on the bowl. Kitfo is eaten by hand with injera, kocho (a fermented enset bread) or with a very long spoon. Kocho is supposedly an acquired taste that I loved the instant I got it into my jaws. Some have compared kocho to eating carpet padding. I find it has an interesting texture and a cooling effect that is welcome while eating fiery kitfo.

It is a sight to see a group of smartly dressed people gathered around a lunch table, elegantly brandishing long spoons, eating this dish. Many non-ethiopians I met in Addis were hesitant to try Kitfo, expressing concerns over disease, sickness and parasites-- “why would I eat that? I don’t want to die” a friend told me. You want to eat it because it is absolutely delicious. It is better raw than cooked and probably completely safe to eat in most restaurants, especially in the US where there are strict meat handling regulations. Note-- you dont need a lot of this to fill-up. Four of us ordered three portions and were experiencing serious belly-swelling before the third bowl could be finished. The butter makes kitfo a particularly rich food.

Derek Tibs (fried goat)

Amharic for ‘fried’, tibs are most ubiquitous chomp in Ethiopia. And they are delicious because what is not to love about pan fried meat? Ethio-tip number one: if you find yourself in a sketchy restaurant, get the tibs, your intestines will thank you. Tibs are made from many different animals, but mostly goat, sheep and cow. Fish tibs refers to an entire whole fried fish, which was confusing for me. . . . . Before frying, the meat is prepared by chopping various cuts in to bite sized chunks (though there are variations such as the finger shaped zilzil tibs). The meat can be mixed with rosemary, onion, jalapeno, tomato, bebere* and then pan fried in butter or oil. The ‘derek’ or dry tibs is a delicious variation where by the meat is simply pan fried to a crisp all on its own, raw shallots are added after frying. Derek tibs are frequently served in a clay dish set over coals. Each order of tibs should be accompanied by a set of riblets. It is proper ethio-etiquitte to eat the riblets after having consumed the rest of the dish. I insist on eating my tibs with plenty of mitmita, otherwise its just the burger without the cheese. Others prefer awaze (berbere paste) or sene fitch (Ethiopian mustard).

*Berbere is the most essential element in ethiopian cooking. It is a blend of chilies, onion, ginger, bishop’s weed, cloves, coriander, etc. Most households prepare their own berbere, thus the exact ingredients will vary according to tastes and family recipes.

Bozena shiro

Shiro Wat.
My bread and butter, shiro wat, is the mac & cheese of Ethiopian cuisine. The prepared packets of roasted ground chickpeas and spices need only be combined with oil, water and shallots to provide a satisfying and comforting meal. Nothing feels quite a nice as warm shiro on a chilly day. If you’d like to try shiro at your local Ethiopian restaurant, you will probably see it in either of its two basic forms: Bozena shiro (shiro with chunks of meat) or vegetarian shiro (without the meat). I prefer straight shiro with butter. If you’d like to try shiro at home, it’s quite easy to whip up if you are able to find shiro flour in your locality. Here is a link to a recipe: http://www.ethiopianmillennium.com/SHIRO.html. Shiro is best served piping (boiling!) hot in a clay dish with a lid to keep the sauce warm-- then you gradually spoon out the wat on to the injera waiting to soak it all up. A regular sauce pans works fine too. If you find yourself in Addis, the best shiro I found was at the Crocodile Cafe located near the National Theatre on Churchill Avenue. Though owing to the fact it is a most basic cheap and delicious ethio-staple, it is available at most food outlets.

Shiro flour:
roasted chickpeas

There are many more wonderful and exciting dishes in the habesha kitchen. If you have the opportunity to try tere sega (raw meat), dulet (a mix of minced tripe, liver and beef), doro wat (spicy chicken stew) or the variety of vegan fasting foods, take full advantage, especially if you love spicy, exciting food.

Playing pool with a horse in Addis.

(Thanks Jolie. For more photos check out Jolie's Flickr page)