Duck Confaux

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I live in Decatur, which I’ve been told is greater. I’m uncertain on this point, but I do know it has amazing food. Leon’s Full Service is one of my favorite Decatur restaurants/cocktail bars/gastropubs. I went for dinner recently with a couple of friends and ordered the special for that evening, which was duck confit. It was incredible. I decided I was going to make it. So, I went to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market and got a pair of duck thighs and set to work.

I assumed confit was Spanish for “with fit,” much in the same way that Malaysia is Spanish for “bad Asia.” This assumption seemed correct as most of the recipes called for preparing it in a baking dish that fits it tightly. However, upon further research, I discovered that confit is actually a method of preserving food by slowly cooking meat (or fruit) over a long period of time in fat (or syrup). It was apparently all the rage in France back before refrigerators were a common thing.

In modern times, duck confit is one of the crowning dishes of French cuisine because it tastes wonderful. Also, it’s apparently pronounced con-fee, which does sound much more French. Many of the recipes require a whole duck and multiple days of work. I had neither, so I instead dug around until I found a simplified recipe courtesy of NPR and David Lebovitz. It only took 8 hours of brining/marinating and around 3 hours of cooking, which was much more do-able.

Shopping

  • 4 duck thighs (thigh and leg attached)
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon gin
  • 1/4 tablespoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tablespoon allspice
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Needle or straight pin

As I said before, I only bought 2 duck thighs. I probably should have halved all the rest of the ingredients, but I didn’t because I figured it probably needed all of this for it to be seasoned correctly. Next time I’ll probably go with 4 just to see if it changes anything. It was much cheaper than expected, only being about $3 for each thigh, so this seems feasible.

I found out through this recipe that allspice isn’t just all the spices combined. Just kidding. I found that out like a month ago. I thought I had some, but I didn’t. Given how little is used, I figured I could just find a replacement for it. I did some googling and found out you can replace allspice with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I didn’t have any cloves, so I googled a replacement for cloves. Turns out the best replacement is allspice. It’s like when you’re in school and you look up the definition of frustrating and find out it is “something that causes frustration” and write that down and you get no points because it’s not the actual definition.

I decided to just go with extra nutmeg and some cinnamon. Next time I make it I’ll be sure to get allspice to see if it changes anything. If you can’t find a needle, just buy a cheap dress shirt at Walmart. It’ll come with like 40 of them.

Preparation – Night before and/or morning of cooking

  • Find a baking dish that tightly confits around the duck thighs without leaving much space.
  • Use the needle and poke the duck thighs all over so the marinade/brine can get in there.
  • Mix the salt, spices, and gin together in said baking dish, place the duck flesh-side down, and then rub the duck with the mixture all over. I’m still not entirely sure what flesh-side down means. I put it skin-side down when I did it, because I read flesh as skin, but I believe it’s wanting you to put the non-skin side down. I also saw one recipe that said there’s a fat-side. I wish someone had a photo of the anatomy of a duck thigh I could reference, because it seems they have like 7 sides.
  • Pick the duck thighs up. Cut the garlic in half lengthwise and place it and the bay leaves on the bottom of the dish and place the duck thighs on top of them. This was easy with 2 of them, but I don’t know if you’re supposed to tear the bay leaves in half if you have 4. I’ll cross that river when I come to it.
  • Wrap the dish in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for 8 – 48 hours. I just left it overnight.

Cooking

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  • Unwrap your cooking dish and put it in a cold oven
  • Set the oven to 300 and cook it for 2.5 hours, opening up the oven occasionally (I did it every hour) to baste the fat on the duck. Yes, that’s right, the duck is cooking in its own fat. Apparently turning solid animal fat into liquid is called rendering. Bacon does this, as do many other meats.
  • At this point, you have made duck confit…sort of. If this were 17th century France or a more traditional recipe, you’d have cooked it at a much lower temperature for much longer (like 6+ hours) and would have a lot more fat from the rest of the duck. You would then completely submerge said duck thighs in the fat in a container of some sort and the meat would stay good for a few weeks. Meat goes bad because it gets bacteria or fungus on it. The fact that you cooked it means it is pretty much clean of bacteria, and pure fat keeps any additional bacteria from growing on it. Read more about the science of confit here.
  • To finish the dish, bump the oven temperature up to 375 and bake for 15 minutes. The skin should be brown and crispy.

Sides 

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Traditionally, duck confit is served with puy lentils. I didn’t have any of those, but I thought that putting it on grit cakes would be fun. I made 1/2 cup of grits via the recipe on the box (substituting chicken stock for the water), added a tablespoon of butter, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and put the grits on a baking dish in the freezer for 10 minutes to let them get solid. I then threw them in the oven for about 6 minutes at 300 and they formed nice grit cakes.

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I’ve seen duck served with fig sauce before. That sounded like a good idea. I didn’t have any figs, but I did have some sharon fruit I picked up at the farmer’s market. Sharon fruit is a mellow variety of persimmon also known as Israeli fuyu. I grew up eating figs, and the sharon fruit’s taste is somewhat reminiscent of a fig to me. I found a fig sauce recipe and tried replacing the fig with sharon fruit. Big mistake. It turned out disgusting. Like, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. I think I’ll have nightmares about it for a while. Having failed miserably at that, I just cut up the other sharon fruit and put it on the plate. Much better idea. I highly recommend this pairing. It worked great together.

Eat

The duck was wonderful. It was a little salty on the skin side, probably because I left it in the brine with that side down. I’ve realized that I notice the taste of salt more and more as I’m cooking more and more. I think it’s because I don’t use much when cooking, but most frozen and restaurant food uses a ton of it. True duck confit is supposed to melt in your mouth. Mine wasn’t quite there, but it was definitely very moist, very tender, and very wonderful. The sharon fruit went perfectly with it, and the grit cakes were a great base. I’d probably omit the parmesan cheese in the grit cakes next time just to let the flavor of the duck be even more of the focus. I give it an 8/10 and recommend giving it a try sometime.

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Butter Chicken

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So, I feel like a jerk now posting about all the things I’m cooking. I don’t think I’ll post nearly this much in the future. However, I just had a 3-day weekend in which I visited the Dekalb Farmer’s Market and discovered H-Mart, so I just have a lot of things queue’d up to cook. Anyway, nearly 4 people told me they liked my post yesterday, so I figured I’d go ahead and do another for those 4 people.

There’s apparently an ancient proverb that says “never trust a skinny chef.” I’ve gained a few pounds in the past few years, and I assume the inverse of that saying applies, so in an effort to gain credibility, tonight I made the least healthy meal I’ve ever made. Yes, even worse than the cheesecake. One time in college, a friend was going to make Indian food for me. I had a new food processor that I’d gotten for Christmas and wanted to try it out. So, I tried to run some onions through the food processor to mince them. However, I didn’t understand the power of those things, so I ended up with onion purée instead. I’ve wanted to redeem my Indian food failure ever since.

I found this recipe for butter chicken and bought the ingredients over the weekend. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go back this time because I didn’t forget anything. I did have to pick up two kinds of masala powder, which was pretty cool. I feel like I should give some sort of history of masala here, but I really would just be copy/pasting from Wikipedia, so I’ll just link to the Wikipedia article instead. I do know it’s definitely not the same as marsala, which is a type of wine used to make chicken marsala, which is my favorite dish from Olive Garden. Sometimes I go to an Indian place for lunch while at work, and I’m always self conscious I’m going to pronounce the “r” and someone is going to judge me for it. Masala is just kinda awkward to say, though. It’s begging for the “r.” (English major friends, what do you do when you’re putting a single letter in quotes that ends a sentence? Does the period go in the quotes as usual? Do you put it outside the quotes to keep the emphasis?)

So, on to the recipe. It was pretty straightforward.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, divided
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons tandoori masala

When I first saw this recipe, I confused divided butter for clarified butter. I almost didn’t even try it because I have no idea what clarified butter is. I’ve been meaning to look it up for a while. It sounds complicated. However, I realized it was just trying to tell you to use butter in 2 different steps, so that made way more sense.

You may notice that the recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter and 3 cups of heavy cream. Hence, the unhealthiest recipe I’ve ever made. I plan to use the way better for you recipe in the comments next time, but I wanted to be a purist this first time.

Cooking

Garlic and onions

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  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Melt “a few tablespoons of butter in a pan”…which I took to mean 1. You’re just using it to sautée onions and garlic here. You don’t need like…a whole stick. Actually, I’m not sure if this is sautéeing or something else. Probably something else. Just move on to step 3.
  3. Cook the garlic and onions until the onions are caramelized, which apparently is 15 minutes on medium. Don’t burn the garlic. You always burn the garlic. You can either set it on medium-low and then turn it up after you add the garlic or you can dump the garlic and the onions in together and stir a lot on medium. You still burned the garlic a little. It’s ok. You’ll get it one day.

Butter sauce?

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  1. I assume since this is butter chicken that this is butter sauce. The assumption seems pretty good, given that you put a whole stick of butter in the saucepan, though it’s probably called something else because cooking is just like that. Melt the butter.
  2. Add 3 cups of heavy cream. Kiss your waistline goodbye.
  3. Add the can of tomato sauce. Use the fancy, imported Italian kind from the farmer’s market for extra cooking points.
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  4. Add the garam masala. It’s the masala that looks like Earth dirt. Also add the cayenne pepper and the salt. Stir it together really well. Take a taste. Make sure you have plenty of spice in the spoon so that it gets caught in your throat and you cough for a good minute or so.
  5. Get it to boiling and then cover, turn it down to low, walk away, and come back to it boiling over. Clean that up, and then pick up the pot multiple times so it doesn’t boil over again until it gets down to simmering.
  6. Let it simmer for 30 minutes.

Chicken

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  1. Cut the chicken into cubes.
  2. “Toss” with vegetable oil, which I took to mean put in a bowl and use your hands to rub the oil all over it. If anyone has any advice for what “toss” means in this context, I’m all ears.
  3. Wash your hands, because salmonella.
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  4. Add the tandoori (tanduri?) masala. That’s the masala that looks like Mars dirt. Rub it in with your hands.
  5. Wash your hands, because salmonella. Reconsider the order of operations here so you don’t have to do that twice next time.
  6. Put aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and put the chicken on it. Seriously, you’re going to want foil here. It makes cleanup take like, 3 seconds. Also, don’t try to save money on aluminum foil. Get Reynold’s Wrap. It’s the difference between 1-ply and 10-ply toilet paper.
  7. Put it in the oven. Oh wait, you forgot to preheat the oven. Set oven to 375, wait 10 minutes, and then put it in the oven. Take it out after 12 minutes.

Rice

  1. In case you don’t know how to cook rice, put x cups of white rice in a pot. Add 2x cups of water. That’s double the amount of water as rice for those not mathematically inclined.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cover, and turn down to low.
  4. Seriously, cover it and turn it to low. If you don’t turn it on low, your rice will burn, making an impenetrable layer of rice char on your pan that could probably rival Captain America’s shield in toughness. Even if you do turn it on low, it might still burn. Rice is a fickle medium. If you don’t cover it, your rice will also probably burn, and will be hard. Yes, it won’t cook, and it will over cook. Don’t cross rice, man.
  5. Let it steam for like half an hour. I don’t know how long. I just go until all the water is gone. This is probably why it burns sometimes.
  6. If you’ve got some spare time, wash the dishes you left in the sink from your friends coming over last night. Your roommate will appreciate it.

Combine

  1. Once everything is cooked, put the chicken, butter sauce?, and onions in the same pot and simmer for another 5 minutes. I don’t know what this step is for. Probably something about aromatics.
  2. Don’t put the rice in that pot. Also, when it’s finally done, don’t just pour the mixture over the rice. The rice kinda sucks the soul out of it. Don’t make my mistake. Keep them separate.

Eat

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It’s got a really nice flavor. Just a hint of spice that builds very slowly. I’d make it again, but definitely with the healthier recipe in the comments.

Cooking with Cory – Chantal’s New York Cheesecake

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So, a few people have asked me where I learned to cook such amazing things. I told them the school of hard knocks. Actually, none of that is true. No one has asked me that and I’ve never used that phrase in my life. However, it is pretty accurate. I decided last year that I’m almost 30 and learning to cook fun things would be a good life skill. So, I started just trying recipes. There have been some amazing results…and a few dreadful results. I wanted a place to save recipes and remind myself of the various things I did wrong so as not to repeat them, so I decided I’d blog about it.

Today’s recipe was Chantal’s New York Cheesecake. I’ve always wanted to make a cheesecake, ever since my college friend Brittany tried to make one and realized she needed a springform pan. That just sounded like a fun kitchen tool. So, yesterday I asked my former cook roommate if he had one, and he said he did. Cue me finding a recipe and starting the process. Here’s the behind-the-scenes of what cooking with Cory really looks like.

Shopping

I went to Kroger to get the ingredients:

  • 15 graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

I already had most everything, so I just went planning to grab sour cream, cream cheese, and graham crackers. I left with sour cream and cream cheese. I was nearly out of the parking lot when I remembered graham crackers. I had a shopping list. I had it written down. I forgot it. I Kylo Ren raged and pulled into the dollar tree. I got graham crackers.

Preparation

Here are the modified (more accurate) preparation directions from the recipe above.

Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Put all the cream cheese in the bowl
  3. Take the sugar out and realize you only have 1 cup when you need another half
  4. Debate whether brown sugar could be a viable replacement. Decide cheesecake is supposed to be white, and go to Kroger again.
  5. Add the extra half cup of sugar
  6. Try to mix it together
  7. Realize you should have let the cheese warm up as it’s pretty solid
  8. Throw it all in your roommate’s kitchen aid mixer
  9. Use the wrong attachment, and watch the attachment slowly gather and spin all the cheese
  10. Clean the attachment, add almond milk, and hope it doesn’t ruin the flavor because it’s almond milk
  11. Try to determine if 1 cup sour cream is measured by weight or volume. Google it. Decide that the 8 oz cup you bought is enough because you’re not going back to Kroger again
  12. Realize you don’t have enough vanilla extract
  13. Dig through the pantry and borrow some of your roommate’s
  14. Add the eggs
  15. Nearly forget the flour, but realize right before you go pouring it in the pan
  16. Put it back in the mixer and add the flour

Crust

  1. Read the phrase “crush the graham crackers” and immediately go get a hammer
  2. Hit the sleeve of crackers with the hammer
  3. Break the sleeve, spewing cracker crumbs all over the countertop
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  4. Kylo Ren rage
  5. Realize that the crumbs aren’t nearly small enough, and pull out the mighty food processor your mom handed down to you
  6. Plug it in, try to turn it on, and nothing happens
  7. Try to get it to work for 10 minutes
  8. Give up, pull out the blender
  9. Finally get the answer to the question you’ve always had…”What’s the difference between a food processor and a blender” (hint…the food processor actually hits everything in it, not just whatever is at the bottom)
  10. Pause when you realize each graham cracker is made up of 8 smaller graham crackers. Debate whether 15 graham crackers refers to the small ones or the large ones
  11. Decide on the small ones, blend them arduously, by pushing the non-crushed ones down with a knife. Hit the blender blade a time or two with the knife for good measure
  12. Remember you need butter. Melt 2 tbsp in the microwave. Pour into blender. Hope it mixes evenly.
  13. Spray springform pan with PAM
  14. Pour in crumbs and try to coat evenly
  15. Realize it meant the big graham crackers because you can’t cover the bottom of the pan
  16. Measure the pan to make sure it’s 9″ in diameter as per the recipe, then realize this shouldn’t matter
  17. Blend some more graham crackers, with no butter this time. Hope that’s not a problem
  18. Cover the bottom of the pan
  19. Stare at the spring clip for a while and decide to give it a try
  20. Watch as bottom of pan falls out and graham cracker crumbs spill everywhere
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  21. Kylo Ren rage
  22. Blend some more graham crackers, add butter again, coat bottom of pan
  23. Try to remember if cheesecake crust is just on the bottom or on the sides as well
  24. Decide it’s not worth it to try to get graham cracker crumbs to adhere to the sides of the pan

Cook

  1. Pour cake batter onto graham crackers
  2. Put in oven
  3. Cook for 1 hour, then leave for like ever to cool slowly

Cleanup

  1. Clean up everything, vacuum floor, wipe down countertops, get batter off the side of mixer
  2. Realize your bathrobe is covered in graham cracker crumbles. Throw it in washer
  3. Text roommate telling him cake is in the oven
  4. Realize that cheesecake smell permeates the house while cooking
  5. Be annoyed because you don’t want to smell cheesecake at 11 am

At the end of all this, you’ll hopefully have a cheese cake that looks better than mine. That said, it tasted great.

Edit: I have been informed cheesecakes usually look like this when not covered in toppings, in which case, I’m awesome at baking