Duck Liver Mousse – Whole Animal Series

IMG_2022.JPGThe concept of whole animal cooking is intriguing and satisfying but it does take me out of my comfort zone. One of the few things I don’t naturally enjoy is organ parts, so using them when cooking is a stretch for me. But the whole point of this adventure is to figure it out, not waste food, and create great flavors.

I started with the easiest parts and will go from there. Foie gras is one of the few organs that I have enjoyed, so as part of the duck whole animal series I made a mousse. Even four ducks from Bar 5 Meats did not give me enough liver to take an honest try, so I supplemented with organic chicken livers.

If you are going to bother to make a mousse, you should also make a gelle to seal the deal and find a presentable container. The Wedge Coop has a number of nice glass containers near their produce department. Both are an easy step and add some serious class to the endeavor.

I often adapt recipes or am inspired by them. In this case, a knowledgeable butcher recommended a recipe from the Meat Hook Meat Book which I followed verbatim. I also found a gelle recipe online. 

The result was silky with a layered flavor. Definitely a good start to adventures in organs.

Mousse – From the Meat Hook Meat Book

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/08/twenty-minute-chicken-liver-mousse-from-the-m.html

Gelee (I only used the gellee portion of this recipe, and substituted Cynar for Riesling to offset the silkiness of the duck with a bit of bitter flavor)

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chicken-liver-mousse-with-riesling-thyme-gelee-368955

 

 

 

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Stock – Whole Animal Series (I wish that I had duck feet)

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During a great conversation with Lenny Russo a few years ago, when he was hosting Lidia Bastianich, we chatted about some of his tips for home cooks. He really urged making stocks and cooking simply with the great flavors of the Midwest. He loves duck stock, and emphasized finding duck feet for the base of the stock due to their level of collagen with a few carcasses for the best flavor. This conversation stuck with me, and if you get to know a duck producer you may be able to get your hands on some really nice duck feet. Having home made stock in the freezer makes me feel more connected to my cooking, and I was thrilled when my young daughter developed a stock habit. Initially it may feel a little weird to have a freezer full of bones, and may take a little explaining to guests searching for a bottle of vodka, but this is absolutely part of the adventure.

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Recently I had a stock day where my freezer was emptied of mushroom parts, chicken, duck and lamb carcasses. I decided to also make beef stock and Jonny Hunter of Lowry Hill Meats kindly sold me a beef leg cut to order. Butcher shops that purchase whole animals are worth seeking out because of the flexibility in what they can cut for you on the spot.

My basic stock recipe is to roast bones for ~30 minutes at 400 degrees and then bring a healthy amount of aromatics to a simmer with the bones. Heavier meats like beef and lamb could use a bit of tomato paste in the roasting process to bring out flavor. Aromatics could include onions (with skin), celery, leeks & fennel – especially with birds, some carrots but not too many to keep stocked balanced, a few whole black pepper cloves, a few bay leaves, parsley and/or thyme. Sometimes I will add some chicken wings and lamb necks to the stock, and sometimes I just use the bones.

Since this is the whole animal series, this round of stock started with whole duck carcasses from Bar 5 Meats. I have found that poultry stock needs 4-6 hours, lamb stock needs 6-8 hours and beef stock could go 10+ hours. If you really get serious you could use a large pressure cooker. Strain it through cheese cloth and a strainer and allow it to cool – you may use an iced water bath if you like – prior to freezing for future use. I tend to store my stock three ways in the freezer: ice cube tray sized portions,  pint sized portions, and heavily reduced portions that I can spoon out and add water to for a quick pan sauce.

My favorite non-meat stock is mushroom stock, and I save stems, clippings from interesting mushrooms that don’t quite make the cut as meal worthy, and dried mushrooms. 30 minutes in the pressure cooker with aromatics does the job. I like leeks, a little garlic, some white onion, and thyme as my aromatics but you can really use a wide variety. Just maintain a balance, and don’t use too much of something with a strong flavor.

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Homemade stock in the freezer is the secret weapon of a home cook, especially in the North where we rely on soups, stews, sauces, and braises for much of the year. Our two year old daughter is also a big fan, and “soup” was her favorite food group this past winter.

 

 

Duck Two Ways – Whole Animal Series

IMG_1266_edited.jpgThis is the first installment of a whole animal series. In this case, I purchased a few ducks from Bar Five Meats, which is about an hour southwest of the Twin Cities in Sibley County, MN and is a sixth generation operation. They do their own butchering and smoking, stress 24 hour pasture access, and everything I have had from them has been of the highest quality. They sell at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market year round, along with a few other markets.

As I seek a greater connection to where my food comes from and have tried some excellent dishes prepared with lesser used parts, it only seems natural to learn how to cook with every edible part of the animal. Future posts will cover stock, rendered duck fat, and organs. After wrapping up the duck series I will move on to lamb.

Earlier this year I learned how to properly break down a chicken. When I cooked a whole chicken it was often “under a brick” or smoked and pulled, which required less break down. Previously it was just one of those things I struggled through when I had to do it without knowing to “follow the knife” and find joints, which a fellow cooking class participant kindly taught me. Of course, he then taunted me with a video from local temple of fried chicken Revival that featured a trained assassin breaking down a bird in less than 30 seconds. Watching it still humbles me. 

Ducks are a little more of a project to break down than a chicken as their bone structure is thicker and the flesh is much tighter than on a chicken so “following the knife” is not quite enough to get the job done. After thinking about this it was clear that birds that fly are built differently than those that don’t.

IMG_1262_edited.jpgConfit was a new technique to me and was really easy, and just required a day or two of inactive time with salt, parsley, shallots, and thyme rubbed into the skin, and then covered and kept in the fridge. I then covered the legs, thighs and wings in rendered duck fat. (Lowry Hill Meats is a great resource to purchase rendered duck fat if you don’t have it on hand.) The rendered fat was warmed until liquid, and then the parts were added after rinsing. Then into the oven at 225 for about three hours. I now have some of the leftover confit in the back of my fridge protected by the fat that was used in the process for future use.

The breasts did not require much active time either. Score the skin side of the breast and cover in salt and pepper. The easist way is to cook on the stovetop, starting with a cold pan at medium to medium high heat, with caution not to overcook and a quick flip near the end of cooking (not more than 130 or 140 degrees internal temperature for rare to medium rare). I have also gone the sous vide route and cooked them to 110 degrees with some duck fat and thyme and then finished in a skillet that started cold. The fat then rendered over medium heat until a nice crisp ensued, and I gave the other side of the breast a quick sear and finishing around 130 degrees. In this case sous vide seemed like overkill given how well the stovetop breasts turned out. 

The breast and confit were served on a bed of risotto with a garnish of a sage leaf fried in duck fat remaining in the pan. Depending on the season I will throw in a nasturtium leaf from the garden. More on the risotto, a favorite recent find, and herb garden in future posts.

At the end of the day, the result was a very elaborate meal that did not require a lot of active time. 

 

Beet Salad Three Ways

This post combines the larder, fermentation, simple oven roasted beets, and a few other finds.

IMG_1895.JPGBeets are an amazing vegetable with many uses: thinly shredded to complement a salad, sautéed greens for a side dish, and roasted beets that can be their own salad. A salad featuring beets can be transformed to something amazing with a couple of beet preparations. A mixture of red and orange beets adds a lot of pop to a plate.

Fermented beets: I shredded some beets and fresh horseradish, a black radish and and salt. This all went in a very clean mason jar and sat on the counter for about a week with a very loose lid. It did bubble over a few times…. (You could also use shredded beets that aren’t fermented.) The Wedge Table often has fermentation classes, and Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation is a go-to print resource.

Pickled beets: There are a lot of pickling recipes on the Internet, and beets are one of the few things I prefer to pickle for long term storage versus refrigerator pickle to be able to always have them on hand. Traditional pickling (some people call it canning but that isn’t quite accurate) leaves cucumbers and red onions – two staples in our house – a little soggy for my taste.

Roasted beets: I will typically wrap them in foil and put them in the oven until they are soft. When I am using my Big Green Egg I will also throw them on when smoking something or even cook them afterwards as the grill maintains its temperature for at least an hour after putting out the fire.

The dressing is about two parts olive oil to one part vinegar with a little salt and pepper. I use a sherry vinegar and a fully flavored olive oil but almost anything will add its own flavor.

Micro greens are a lot of fun. They add color, a little flavor, and a lot of pop to a dish. When I can find them I like Weed’s Greens.

Whenever I am in Midtown Global Market – often to attend a cooking class featuring a local chef at Kitchen in the Market – I usually stop by Salty Tart for bread and or treats as well as Grassroots Gourmet. One of the best things Grassroots Gourmet has is Marieke Gouda from Wisconsin. Nettled and truffled gouda are some of my favorites. This time a thin slice of the nettled gouda is nested on top of the beets and dressing.

Presentation is important, especially with vegetables. Slicing, layering, and making sure that everything is placed on the plate  on a way that is visually appealing. That’s about it.

 

A Proper Larder

Over time, a home cook builds ingredients. I started by buying spices. Then interesting olive oils and vinegars. Mustards – not as many as Wisconsin’s zany Mustard Museum, but quite a few none the less.  A second freezer comes into the equation. Friends will occasionally offer game they have harvested. Stock gets made, and frozen. Mushroom ends and carcasses are frozen for “stock day”. Spicy mayo is discovered. Making preserved lemons is really easy, and they are incredibly versatile. Experiments in pickling and fermentation. Learning how much I like refrigerator pickling, and how much I have to learn about fermentation. One year, the gas company relocated our gas meter from an inside closet to outside our home. For my birthday, my wife put in shelving to supplement the other places in the house that I stash the components of the larder. Within a few months it was full.

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Here are my essentials. While some are expensive, only a little is used at a time and these ingredients can represent some of the best bang for your buck in home cooking.

  • Home made stock
  • Preserved lemons, which are better after a few months of rest (lots of recipes are available on line – the simplest are quartered Meyer lemons packed in salt and the juices from the lemons, possibly with a little fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to top off your clean mason jar)
  • Refrigerator pickled red onions
  • Fermentation experiments
  • Pickled beets
  • XO sauce, Momofuku style, or chopped cured ham ends.
  • Hot sauce. Current favorites are Mazi Piri Piri and Co-op Hot Sauce . The perennial classic that I grew up with (and always have on hand) with is Clancy’s Fancy, which has been made in Ann Arbor MI since the 1970s.
  • A nice assortment of spices. Recently I have been using a lot of sumac; aleppo pepper has been a long time favorite, and I keep a few blends on hand.
  • Honey. There are many great local purveyors, and Beez Kneez has a very cool zip code series and they are great advocates for honey bees.
  • Interesting olive oil and vinegars. We haven’t purchased salad dressing in a long, long time. Two or three olive oils with different flavor profiles on hand (peppery and sharp, full bodied, or soft and smooth) can dramatically enhance a dish or some simple greens. A white wine or champagne vinegar is my go to for salad dressing, and the best bang for your buck is probably a sherry vinegar. Balsamic is a nice treat and can really range in flavor profiles.

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When watching Mind of a Chef Season 2 in my basement during a cold winter on a stationary bike Sean Brock pronounced that “he who dies with the biggest larder wins”. To modify his statement, “s/he who dies with the most interesting, and highest utilized, larder definately wins.”

It goes without saying that the freezer is a natural extension of the larder. Check out Mark Bittman‘s brilliant overview of the power of the freezer.

More to come in how I use these. They are the foundation for my cooking.

 

 

Winter Root Vegetables from the St. Paul Farmer’s Market

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Winters are long in Minnesota. To thrive here, it is important to embrace winter. For me, this means cross country skiing, playing with our daughter in the snow, and walks around Lake Harriet with a stew in the oven that will be ready when we arrive home. It also means limited fresh vegetables. The easy answer to limited vegetables is to buy from other climates. Leafy greens like chard and spinach are a fixture at coops and our winter table.

It is also still possible to find good local root vegetables in the winter, and a fixture at the winter market in St. Paul is Schwartz Family Farm. The owners of the farm have figured out how to preserve their harvest throughout the winter by keeping it in soil. While we’re seeing signs of winter departing, this year’s root vegetables are still months ahead of us. They also brave the weather on Saturday mornings to provide access to their pristine produce in the dead of winter.  On Saturday mornings at the St Paul Farmer’s Market, you will find a variety of food treasure, including amazing sheep milk cheese from Love Tree, fresh root vegetables from Schwartz, and a variety of meat and eggs from Bar 5.

Schwarz Family Farm.jpgBy limiting focus to what Schwartz has available, I have learned to love turnips this winter. Baked in thick slices, pan fried in cubes or smoked in planks or half moons. Piccolo,  a champion of seasonal cooking, often has smoked turnips on their menu in the winter, which has been a great inspiration. Schwartz also has beets, carrots, potatoes and rutabaga throughout the winter.

IMG_1836.JPGGo simple, and roast some beets, carrots, and turnips covered in olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some Aleppo pepper at 425 until soft with a slightly charred exterior. This might take a half hour, depending on thickness. You could cube and serve at this point, or mix with a cooked grain and a light dressing (apple cider or champagne vinegar would work well here). Throw in a handful of fresh herbs if you have them. Wheat berries are very inexpensive and add a nice crunch to the experience. For a real treat, smoke half of the vegetables and roast the other half.

What will you be doing with the last of your winter vegetables?