Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mission: Lamb Shank Confit in Duck Fat

We are still working through the "low hanging fruit" category of the book - things that are easy to source, with tastes we are familiar with, and techniques we've used before, sort of. So this week, we made Lamb Shank Confit in Duck Fat. It's lamb cooked sous vide in duck fat. How delicious does that sound? Super delicious.

Sure, neither of us had done a confit before. Sure, we don't have a "proper" immersion circulator. But hey, we can get around that stuff easy, right? Right? So here's our mis en place to get things started -- right before the lamb shanks went into the brine.


Lamb confit mis en place

We got started by vacuum sealing the protein, fat, and aromatics. Note that while this is not a recommended use for Foodsaver bags, we didn't have any problems. So we'll do it again. And again! And again! Bwwaaah ha ha!

All sucked out and ready to go

Here, we have the garlic creme sauce simmering away in our saucier. This is sauce one of three for this dish.
Garlic and cream

Now we sliced up some tomatoes and let them marinate for topping two of three.

Tomatoes on the marinate

Several hours after getting dunked we retrieved the lamb-bags and separated the juices from the meat. We put the meat in the fridge and by now things are starting to smell gooooood.
Juice and Lamb

Then we strained the juices... which we then stuck in the freezer for a half hour or so to separate the duck/lamb fat from the jelly.
Strain'n


Then we spooned the fat from the top of the juice and are left with this: "lamb jelly." This will be a part of sauce number three of three.
Lamb jelly

Speaking of sauce... remember that garlic sauce? We've blended it now and are putting it through that heroic kitchen tool, the chinois. It smelled so delicious, it was all we could do to keep ourselves from sipping on it. Mmmm... garlic cream.

Chinois Chinois

Now we took the lamb jelly, added to some tomato sauce and homemade lamb stock (thanks for the lamb neck, Avedano's! you guys rock!), and set to reduce for a little bit. Look at that color!
Lamb jelly and tomato sauce, reducing

Moments later, mushrooms get thinly sliced through the mandolin (good results, but somewhat nerve racking for Jacob and his fingers).

Mandoline action!

Shanks (split by the butcher for better access to the marrow) and sauce three of three in Big Copper and into the oven for a slight warmup.
Lamb shank in sauce three of three

Here the action really started to rev up. We had put some lentils on heat, and when they were done, we drained them and put them atop the sliced onions and the mushrooms to heat things through. Then it got a vinaigrette tossed in.

Lentils drained and ready

Then we started the hot plating action. First, lentil salad!

Lentils, onions, mushrooms - waiting for lamb

Then lamby, sauce one (tomato), two (garlic cream), and finally sauce three (marinated tomato), for the final product:
Lamb Confit

Well, wow. MMMMMMMMM.

This turned out awesome. The just-softened mushrooms and onions played well with the lentils. The fresh diced tomato sauce worked well with the warmth of the rest of the dish. The vinaigrette cut the richness of the garlic cream, and most of all, the lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender. Our guests were thrilled and so were we! We thought it would be a heavier dish but we were pleasantly surprised - it wasn't so heavy after all - and the sauces were all really quite wonderful. Well worth the effort! Jacob was especially happy with the garlic sauce, though he didn't want to pick a favorite.

Note to selves:
Read carefully! We very nearly missed that we were to chill the lamb juice (which allowed us to separate the fat from the jelly). This would have resulted in some very greasy sauce! Luckily we noticed the seemingly throwaway phrase ("set aside juice to cool") just in time. Schwoo!

Time, mis to eat:
About 24 hours, as there was some brining that we had to do the night before. Not counting that, about eight hours - six of those being the lamb sous viding.

Cost of the components of the dish: $56 (excluding things we already had in the pantry). The majority of that was spent on the lamb shanks - we went with fancy free range goodness. Oh, and goodness it was!

What's next:
La Coupe PDC (pork loin with sauerkraut!)

Blast from the past: Check out our new feature, "Out of Scope," where we took the dive into beef marrow.

Mission: Marrow (Out of Scope)

Four times the marrow

We've heard that bone marrow is God's gift to the serious eater.

We've heard that bone marrow is one of those things that people who like don't talk about... so that there's more marrow for them to eat. (We've also heard this about morels. And macaroni and cheese. But we digress.)

We've heard that bone marrow is, maybe, the apex of richness and decadence.

So when we saw some marrow bones at our friendly butcher, though not an official recipe of The Good Book, we thought we'd give it a try. They were cheap and good looking - a good combination - so we picked them up without much of an idea how to prepare them, much less consume them. But what the hell! Might as well! So we did.

We did a fair amount of research in an effort to find the best way to prepare our four little troopers. Keller was consulted. eGullet was consulted. Fergus Henderson was consulted. Various other Printed Authorities were consulted. And in the end we decided that a simple roast in the 400 degree range would do the trick. So we stuck those suckers in there and hoped for the best.

Some minutes later we plated our four amigos, garnished with some chopped parsley and lemon juice and served with some home-made rosemary herbs de Provence salt:


Rosemary salt and marrow


Then we passed the plate around, removed the marrow from the bone, spread it on some crusty bread, and there it was.

And it was... rich. Like foie gras, but more so. It was pleasing, absolutely, and really very good, but none of us were sure that we could have more than the portion that was available to us (which we believe would be considered a half serving, traditionally). Undoubtedly this is a great food, one that really isn't like anything else, sort of like meat butter. And rich... so rich, as to be nearly overwhelming, such that we were at marrow-pacity when we finished eating it.

After our main meal (lamb confit - which could be termed rich as well!) was done, and our guests had retired, we discussed the dish further and agreed that we weren't sure we'd go out of our way to try it again in the future. As the meat buzz wears off, we then reassessed our position and would like to try it professionally prepared some day. Certainly as the first offal we've prepared for direct consumption it was quite an experience, and one that we were pleased to share with friends.

(Jacob felt some strange hesitation in eating this dish, having lost his father to leukemia about a year ago. But in the end, he ate and did so heartily, sopping up left over juice from his plate with a piece of crusty bread. He went forward because he was quite sure that his father would have appreciated the irony, and even more sure that his father would have snatched the marrow from his plate had he shown any hesitation in eating it whatsoever. Once again food reigns supreme at our house. Gene would be proud.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mission: Onion Soup

We came home at the same time last night, and after a quick jaunt to a new-to-us local butcher (more about them soon, I'm sure) we dove right into our first proper mission: PDC Onion Soup.

First and formost: BEHOLD! The power of mis! Here's our ingredient depot, with everything ready for abuse. The brown stuff in the pitcher is the pork stock from a few nights ago: note the wonderfully gelatinous texture it has taken on.

Mis en place

So with all of these things ready and in hand, it's time to start the manly (or womanly) work of chopping up some funyons, thin style:

Onion Cuttin'

Even with how good this looks, Jacob was crying by about the halfway point. Luckily our friend Mr. Coppola has a special elixir to deal with such things, so everything turned out fine and ended up in the dutch oven. Low and slow for a couple of hours (really, this part took a little longer than we thought it would - thank goodness for pita and hummus to get us through) and we ended up with this:

Mmm, carmelized

At this point the onions are delightfully sweet and delicious and, we decided, at the right color. So it was time to add in some more components, which brought some protein, some fat, and some aromatic goodness to the party:

More items added

And after a little more time on heat it was time to add in the stock. This was the fun part for both of us, where we got to have an idea of what our soup was going to look like. And like most french onion soups... it doesn't really photo well. But the smell coming up from the pot? Amazing. Pleasing. Super-moo-rific.

MMMmmm?

Some more time on heat for everyone to co-mingle and for us to get settled in for our weekly Top Chef ritual (we're from the Drink Wine and Watch Church of Top Chef, Reformed). And then, after everyone put their utensils down and hands up in the quickfire, it was time to do the finishing work: putting the croûtons on top and cheese on top of it, and then putting the whole thing under the fire. Here it is before:

Ready to be fired

And after:

We present... French Onion Soup!

SUPER DELICIOUS.

As for the success of the dish, we liked it very much. It was different from what we're used to - the broth was definitely improved tremendously by the use of the stock we made. The onions ended up being quite good and the addition of the lardons to the recipe added some interest that we both remarked positively upon. (Though next time, we'll probably cut them a little smaller and remember to remove the skin! Ooops... user error.) Using croûtons instead of slices of bread was a great addition. It made them bite sized and super manageable in the broth - especially for any family members with braces. We loved the cheese - it was subtle, coming through just enough, and really added to the rest of the flavors. We ended up adding a bunch of salt at the end of the process, as advised in the recipe, and found it a welcome boost to what was there.

Some thoughts on the process: other than the length of time it took us to caramelize the onions - an technique that neither of us have really done successfully, until now - we were really pleased with the process aspects of this recipe. It was straightforward and demanded the level of expertise (a little, but not too much) that we thought it would. The next time we make the dish, we will be slightly more heat aggressive with the onions or start the process before, oh, 7:30 on a weeknight when we are both hangry for some yummy soup. (Jacob will probably opt to slice the onions with the cuisinart, or a mandolin, next time as well.)

All told, a successful dish. Perhaps the best part of all was that we both had little balls of warmth and happiness in our bellies for about an hour or so after finishing the meal. Mmm... onion soup.

Note to selves: no more starting long recipes on weeknights!

Time, from mis to eat: 3 hours

Cost of the components of the dish: $24 (excluding things we already had in the pantry), but um, at least half of that was cheese. We subbed a Tomme au Savoie for the Emmenthal cheese ... and would do it again in a heartbeat! "Go big or go home!" is a motto of our household, so we WENT BIG (on the cheese)! Melty and delicious.

What's next:
Lamb Shank Confit (#2)

Blast from the past:
Check out the super-delicious pork stock we made for this dish.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Prologue: Pork Stock


Upon initial review of PDC: The Album, we realized we may face some sources challenges. (Good thing we like a challenge!)

There's the "Can we find it?" kind of challenge. And the "I'm ready to start cooking! Oh, crap! I don't have any [insert ingredient we thought we might have but actually have to make it in advance instead] on hand" kind of challenge.

We have high hopes for beating the "Finding it" challenge, given that we live in a food-loving city with lots of resources. It may not be easy, but we can do it! There are some game dishes that we're already actively searching for sourcing for now. (Anyone know where we can get venison tongue in the Bay Area? Anyone?)

"Having it" is something different altogether. In reading the recipes, most involve some multicomponent item that needs to be prepped the day before or longer. (Another challenge that can be remedied by planning! Good thing we love lists! Woo hoo for planning!) One of these items is pork stock, and lots of it. It is listed in a good half the recipes (without a recipe for the stock itself), so by golly, we intend to be come experts on pork stock making!

Having never made pork stock before (we are mere chicken stock makers, but still firm believers in the power of homemade stock), we looked around for some guidance with the big G (a search engine that rhymes with zoogle) and found a promising recipe on Serious Eats. (They even mention the very soup we are about to make!) Coincidence? You decide.

So, we dove on in and made some pork stock to get this party started!

Pork Stock adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook, adapted from Serious Eats.

Ingredients:

  1. pigs feet
  2. pork shoulder
  3. water
  4. garlic
  5. onion
  6. carrots
  7. bay leaves
  8. peppercorns
  9. and of course, some white wine.
Here's what it all looked like before we began to fire it up:
Mis en place


Instructions (or at least how we did it)


Rinse the bones, then brown them with onion and garlic in a roasting pan for an hour or two while you talk with your potential future architect and trick her into believing you actually know something about cooking with delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. (Mu-ha-ha-ha!)



They come out looking like this. Mmmmm...

Roasted Pieds

Move bones to giant stock pot, add more onions and garlic, carrots and spices, cover with cold water. Meanwhile, add some leftover white wine to deglaze the roasting pan. (Leftover wine? Yes. It's true. It was an accident, we promise it will never happen again.) Add the roasting pan bits to the stock pot.

Starting Stock

Simmer (don't boil) the stock, and then go grab a beer and relax. Check in on the stock periodically and stir and skim as necessary. Get a solid 8 hours of sleep while the stock simmers and eventually the meat looks like this:

The solid bits after 12 hours

Then pull the big chunks out with your handy dandy pasta insert. (As you can see, it still has a bit of fat on it - we'll deal with that after it cools)

First strain

Then give it a good go with a chinois or some other fine mesh sieve.

Three of our favorite tools

Allow to cool and refrigerate and salivate at the idea of finally making the first recipe from this book!!!

Note to selves: Homemade stock ROCKS! We should remember to use it more often.

Time, from mis to eat: 14 hours

Cost of the components of the dish: $8 (excluding things we already had in the pantry)

What's next: Onion Soup (#1)

Blast from the past: Read about us and what the eff we're doing with this project from his and her perspective.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

About Us: His Take

She's right. We do love pork. And it goes back a long way for both of us. Ham steak was a staple when I was a little kid - one of the few things I would eat willingly, I guess. After that, sausage - I had the real privilege of growing up a block a way from a real live 2nd generation Italian butcher who made some of the greatest sweet and spicy sausages, real monsters at over a foot long per and thick as you want them.

The first dish I ever learned to make involved those sausages - and while fettuccine in butter sauce and grilled sausages isn't the most sophisticated dish ever, it was enough for a 10 year old to realize that he liked to cook. (And hey, it was good, I'd have a plate of that over a lot of other things I've eaten.) Later, I started eating another delicacy from this butcher: stuffed pork chops. These were big, thick chops with some really good stuffing stuck in there, the kind made from scratch with raw eggs and bread and yummy seasonings. It was a trick to cook these right - to get the stuffing warmed through and not end up with bone dry meat - but very much worth it.

It was around this time that I realized that a little pink in the pork* actually made it taste better, juicier, more... porky. And that's when the doors really started to open and I started an eating adventure that eventually led here.

I love this food. I really do. I hope that we're able to convey some of that joy as we work through these recipes. I hope that some readers (provided we get more than one) think that maybe they'll try something we've tried here. I definitely hope that some others decide to spring for the cookbook we're working from (it's worth every loony). But really, truly? I just want to make this food and eat it. I want to figure out the sourcing, the processes, and the little things that make this food so goooood. Sure, we're sharing it with you online, and we're sharing it with whatever friends come to help us eat it, but really there's nothing noble going on here: we just want to make it and eat it.

Now let's get started, shall we?

*Mandatory CYA: Fully 12 cases of trichinosis were reported last year in the US alone - and while these were mostly from bear meat, there was probably one of these that came from eating pork! Specifically, pork from a pig that was raised eating raw garbage. So if you think, or suspect, or imagine, that your pork provider is feeding his livestock raw garbage, then by all means cook that pork till white and dry. (Or consider paying a little more for better quality meat that wasn't raised eating garbage.)

About us: Her Take

We like pork. And we like it with a vengeance. Our collective pork pedigree includes curing our own bacon (Canadian and American! We are so multicultural), making pork sausage and air curing chorizo. (Thanks, Michael Ruhlman!) We've had a membership to the Bacon of the Month Club and own uni-taskers for pork related production like this and this. We've shared our pork love with friends with pork themed parties, like "Pink or Pork" (with prizes donated by the National Pork Board) and the annual JTR Ranch Pig Roast.

All of our pork adventures have been awesome learning experiences. Some recipes had great success, some not-so-much. (Not recommended: Guinness & dark chocolate bacon, so many great tastes, not so great together.) But let's face it, Everyone Loves Bacon. It's time to take our pig love to the next level. The Pied.

We first learned about Au Pied de Cochon from our tiny, Singaporean friend (that can out-drink us all and devoured all the pig skin at The Pig Roast) who raved about deep fried things stuffed with foie gras and pork and duck fat and everything good in the world. Luckily, a few years later, our friends got married in Montreal (Thanks, Kris and Lisa!), so we were able to try the deliciousness. It lived up to it's fabled awesomeness and then some. So, when we found out about the cookbook in English, we decided to eff the crappy exchange rate and get one for ourselves. (Plus, it looks like we won't be going back to Canada any time soon, so we may as well bring Montreal to San Francisco!)

Where to start? What to cook? As founding members of TEAM Excess and longtime readers of the cookbook-at-home stylin's of Carol and her French Laundry Rock Starness, naturally, we decided to do it all. Because it's fun. And we'll get to get our learn on. And it's a great excuse to share good food with good friends. And c'mon, there's pork and foie gras involved. What other reason do you need? None, thankyouverymuch.

Come, let's celebrate the pig!

-M