Sunday, January 30, 2011

Duck Confit with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

During last month’s Daring Cook’s cassoulet challenge, there was much chatter in the forums about what to do with the rest of the duck confit people were making. For us, that’s generally an easy one. Aside from continuing to eat cassoulet leftovers, the legs can be pulled out and cooked within about 10 minutes for a quick midweek dinner.
One of our favorite recipes, worth a batch of confit in it’s own right, is this very simple warm salad of duck, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. It’s not really the prettiest thing to photograph, but of course, we’re really all about the taste here in the Monkeyshines household.
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Serves 2
2 duck legs, confited
12 oz Brussels sprouts
8 oz mushrooms (we generally use king trumpets, though chanterelles are also good and regular field mushrooms are fine too)
2 Tbsp shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the duck from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
Wash and trim the sprouts, then cut in half. Microwave the sprouts 2-3 minutes so that they’re still crisp, just starting to get tender, then remove and set aside.
Rinse the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces.
Remove the duck from its container and wipe off any visible fat. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then cook the duck, skin side down for 5 minutes. Pour off excess fat as needed. Turn the legs over and cook just a minute longer, then remove to a cutting board to cool.
Drain excess fat from the skillet, then add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic. Cook until the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms are starting to soften. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until they are nicely browned.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
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While the sprouts and shrooms are cooking, pull the duck meat from the bones and tear or slice into bite-sized pieces. Slice any crispy skin bits into strips.
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Spoon the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts onto a plate, top with the duck and garnish with the crispy skin if desired.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Le Vrai Cassoulet

We <3 <3 <3 cassoulet.
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We chose our wedding location to be near our favorite restaurant for cassoulet, The Ledford House. Well, OK, also because that same restaurant is on the Mendocino coast, a place that we love. And where we first fell in love. But you really can’t discount the draw of their cassoulet. As Tony, the owner, says, “It’s to live for”.
For the uninitiated, cassoulet is a French winter stew. It’s peasant-type food, made with the ingredients on hand during the cold winter months: beans and preserved meats for the most part. There are as many recipes as there are French grandmothers and devotion to any one recipe is as fierce as one feels to one’s grandmother.  For my part, tomatoes are verboten in the cassoulet – probably because the Ledford House doesn’t serve theirs with tomatoes. Others will swear that they’re essential. So when Lisa Michelle and Jenni announced that this month’s Daring Cooks challenge would be cassoulet – I was overjoyed. But I really couldn’t bring myself to follow their recipe – it looked like all the main elements were the same - but it would be like visiting someone else’s grandmother on Christmas. To bring something new to the table, though, we did make our own sausage.
Below is a pretty steady roster of the ingredients we use in our cassoulet. The specific cut of meat varies based on what looks good at the butcher or what we have on hand. Sometimes I use a lamb shank, more often I use lamb steaks or a chunk of lamb leg – then the preparation approach will vary based on this decision. As with any traditional type dish, you should adjust as needed to suit your taste, ingredients and time. This isn’t a dish to rush, but it also isn’t one that requires much fuss or attention – nearly all the time involved is idle while the duck brines, the beans cook, etc. We hope that you fall in love over it too. And like true love, it’s even tastier the next day.


Prep and Cook Time: Approx. 3 1/2 hours plus overnight to soak the beans. Not counting the extra day or two to confit your duck, if you’re doing that yourself.
Serves 4 + generous amount of leftovers
1 pound dried white beans
1/3 pound bacon or pork belly
1 large onion
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 – 6” sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
5-6 large cloves garlic
1 pound lamb steak
1 pound garlic sausage *
4 legs duck confit
1 Tbsp Salt
Garlic breadcrumbs to garnish
* The ideal sausage is a fairly coarse Toulouse sausage. In the US ‘garlic sausage’ seems to cover a gamut from hot dogs on up. a mild Italian sausage could work too – avoid anything too spicy as it’ll really change the nature of the dish. And, please, no hot dogs..
  1. Rinse and soak the beans overnight. I have learned to salt them during the soak (though not during the cook) and they come out consistently creamy and nice.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  3. Dice the bacon or pork belly, peel and dice the carrots and onion, dice the celery. In a large Dutch oven, heat the bacon gently to render out some of the fat, then add the vegetables and sauté until just starting to brown.
  4. Drain the beans, then add to the Dutch oven and add just enough fresh water to cover the beans and vegetables. Add the thyme and rosemary. Peel the garlic cloves and add them to the pot whole (they’ll disintegrate on their own by the time this dish is done). Cover and bake for an hour. cassoulet 002

          beans and aromatics before baking

  5. Stir the beans and check to see if you need to add more water. If your herbs have already come off their stems, pick out the stems now – or any time before you serve.
  6. When the beans are soft (usually after an hour and a half of cooking), dice the lamb into approx. 3/4” squares. Sauté the meat separately to brown it on all sides, then add to the beans and cook, covered, for another hour. You can also salt the mix at this time.  Don’t bother to wash the sauté pan, as you’ll use it again later. cassoulet 003

    after an hour we added the lamb to the beans

  7. At this point you can continue to cook the cassoulet or turn it off if dinnertime is still far away. I like to start prepping the sausages about an hour before I plan to serve the meal – enough time that the flavor integrates, but not so much time that the sausages disintegrate.
  8. Sauté the sausages until lightly browned. Add water to braise them if they’re cooking too quickly – try not to cook all the way through. When firm, remove from heat and slice into rounds about half an inch thick. Add the sausage to the beans and stir to incorporate. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed. Continue to cook with the lid on. cassoulet 006

    An hour before serving we add the sausages

  9. Remove the duck legs from their container and wipe off any surface fat. Sauté over very low heat with the skin side down to render the fat out. I find that I have to pour off fat several times during this process. When the duck has come to temperature and most of the fat is poured off, raise the heat and cook to just bronze the legs on both sides.
  10. Remove the beans from the oven and raise the heat to broil. Arrange the duck legs on top of the beans, top with garlic breadcrumbs. Return the pot to the oven, uncovered this time and cook until the duck browns and crisps and the beans start to crisp around the edges of the pot. cassoulet 009

    The final dish – cassoulet topped with duck confit and breadcrumbs

  11. Serve a generous scoop of the cassoulet topped with a duck leg. Garnish with more thyme if desired.
Blog checking lines: Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Saucisses de Toulouse

This was our second ever attempt at making sausages (as to the first attempt – the less said the better…) We wanted to try something for our most recent cassoulet (a Daring Cooks challenge) and so went hunting the four corners of the Internet for a suitable recipe. The traditional sausage for cassoulet is the Toulouse sausage, made from pork, smoked bacon. wine and garlic; we chose to use this recipe which also includes nutmeg as a flavoring.

Start by grinding a piece of pork shoulder, making sure to include some of the fatty bits to substitute for the pork belly in the recipe. Thorougly mix in garlic, salt, sugar, white wine, white pepper and nutmeg (using roughly the proportions in the recipe) and leave in the fridge overnight so that the flavors are well integrated:

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Next day, it’s sausage making time. We obtained some casings from our favorite butcher (Guerra’s – we love these guys!) and since we don’t have any bespoke sausage making apparatus we broke out the piping bag with a large nozzle. By holding the rinsed casings onto the end of the nozzle, we were able to fill them without too much trouble:

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The end result: Beautiful links of Saucisses de Toulouse!

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Duck Confit

Duck confit is one of those magic dishes that keeps well (as in up to 8-10 weeks), tastes rich and delicious, but is shockingly simple to make. It’s the kind of thing I like to have on hand during cooler months because we can make a nice meal in just minutes – perfect for those days when you just don’t feel like cooking.

Although it’s traditional to use duck fat in preparing confit, here in San Francisco, duck fat costs more than the meat itself. And you really do need a lot of it. Unable to justify that sort of expense, we use lard instead. We’ve had duck prepared with real duck fat and have not detected any noticeable difference.

We generally make 6-8 legs, which carries us through a few meals over the course of a couple of months before its time to make a new batch. Some of our favorite ways to serve the duck confit include:

  • Cassoulet
  • Warm duck salad with mushrooms and Brussels sprouts
  • Duck with lentils, spinach and bacon

Making the confit is a two-day process, but it’s nearly all idle time. I personally like to let it set for a day or two before serving too, though I don't have any specific data to support this preference. Here is our recipe:

Duck Confit

8 duck legs
4 lbs lard
12 fresh bay leaves (or 6 dried bay leaves)
about a dozen juniper berries
1/4 cup parsley
6-8 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
half cup of coarse salt

Day 1:
Grind half the bay leaves, half the juniper berries, and the parsley, thyme and peppercorns together in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor with a small bowl. Mix in the salt and stir until blended. You should have a lovely green salt.

herbed salt

Rub the salt over both sides of each duck leg – you want about 1 Tbsp of salt per leg and set the duck into a non-reactive pan. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

duck confit

Day 2:
Heat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Rinse each duck leg thoroughly and place in a roasting pan. Don’t skimp on this rinse or your end result will be overly salty. You could also use a slow cooker for the cooking, though you might encounter issues with the legs falling apart on you in that more cramped environment.

rinsing duck confit

Tuck the remaining bay leaves and juniper berries among the legs.

preparing duck confit

Spoon maybe 3/4 of the lard over the duck legs and place the pan in the oven. I don’t bother pre-melting the lard or trying to smooth it as it’ll take care of itself in the gentle heat over time.

preparing duck confit

Check the duck after about 45 minutes to determine if you need any more fat or if you need to remove any before the pan overflows.  Cook for 6-7 hours until the duck legs are golden brown. The pictures below show the duck at 1 1/2 hours and again at 3 hours.

baking duck confit

Carefully lift each leg out of the melted fat and place in a sealable container (I use a big rectangular Tupperware). Try to avoid getting any of the floaty bits, spices, or duck juice into the container and these can contribute to causing spoilage. Spoon or pour the lard from the pan over the duck to cover it completely. I scooped the fat using a coffee cup and poured it through a strainer to keep the bits out.

duck confit

Let the duck cool, then refrigerate until you’re ready to use. You’ll likely have extra fat in the roasting pan – separate out the duck stock and then you can reserve the remaining fat for another use – in this batch I refilled my lard bucket about 3/4 full after completely covering the duck legs for storage.

To serve, gently pull as many legs as you want out of the container, scraping any surplus fat back into the container. It can be challenging to pull the meat out without it falling to bits. Heat in a dry skillet over low heat at first to render out excess fat. Pour off the fat, then raise the heat to sear the meat.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grace Needs Help

Our lovely friend Grace has a rare kidney disease and is in dire need of a transplant from a donor with type O blood. Unfortunately, neither Dave nor I have the right blood type, nor does Grace's delightful husband Tim. Tim’s frantically trying to arrange a multiple-donor scenario where he gives his kidney to someone and creates a chain that leads to her receiving the one she needs. I’m really hoping something simpler than that can happen.

grace We know it’s a stretch to ask a virtual friend of a virtual friend for help in this way, but we all know that the world does work in surprising ways. If you want to know more, check out Grace’s website. you can also talk to Nancy Salonpuro, the kidney donor coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.