Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day relaxing: Duck Bresaola, Tuscan Chicken and Agnolotti

It wasn't supposed to be a Weekend of Cooking. In fact it was going to be a Weekend of Total Nothing.

"I don't want to have anything that even remotely looks like a schedule," I said, a bit peevishly, as I rejected even reserving a car from City Carshare.

My Omnivore and I had no work, no classes, no rehearsals--both of us -- simultaneously free. This is a concordance of schedules that occurs only when there's a Blue Moon (as there is on Thursday night). So of course the first thing we have to do is turn to the question of food.

We've recently become obsessed with Italian meats and salumi. At Babbo's, Mario Batali has posted a duck bresaola recipe that makes it sound extraordinarily easy to do. Mix the spices, rub the duck, wrap and set in fridge. Voila! Duck packet.

He does skip a few key questions in the recipe, such as whether or not to take the skin off the breasts. Ultimately we decided to do so, if only because it seemed like the skin would interefere with the curing. I tossed the skin in the garbage, and then thought about that...

"Do you think we ought to, you know, maybe get some of the fat from it?" I asked my Omnivore. "You know, maybe we could use it to cook stuff in or something..."

"I don't know, sounds like it might be good," he replies, "Where is it? Did you put it in the garbage?"

"I can rinse it -- it's just on top of coffee grounds," I answer quickly.

So there it is. What do I know about rendering duck fat? Absolutely nothing. I'm flying blind here. Thank God for the Web.

I rinse off the coffee grounds and toss the skin whole into a pan over low heat. Almost immediately they start curling.

"Surface area, surface area!" I mutter, and I fish them out and slice them into strips so that more surface will stay exposed to the pan. They still curl, but now at least they're not getting elevated right off the pan.

Not so slowly, beautiful clear liquid fat begins accumulating in the pan and my Omnivore and I take turns draining it off. For half an hour this goes on. Surely there's no more fat to be had, we reason when nearly a cup of the stuff has rendered off. Oh no, there's more fat.

The skins, which I read are very tasty if crisped, are still rubbery, like calamari, but we keep draining. More fat.

What are these ducks made out of? All fat apparently. More fat.

The draining slows and now we have nearly two cups worth. We call a stop to the process. After all, we have no schedule, but we surely didn't mean to be draining duck fat all day.

Still, this stuff is beautiful. The most clear and pure-looking fat you've ever seen.

"Oooh..." we think, "Morels sauteed in duck fat...."

And that's how things started.

Morels sauteed in duck fat. Tuscan Pollo alla Diavolo. Ravioli with Swiss Chard and Fava beans. A trip to the Ferry Building...

We picked up a Fulton Farms pastured chicken for the Pollo alla Diavolo, and stuck it in a marinade for only a few hours. Is it the marinade, the cooking method or just the chicken that's so darned good? Can't say, but this was one fine, fine chicken.

Pollo alla Diavolo

1 3-4-pound chicken
2/3 cup dry red wine such as Chianti
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh preferred
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary or 11/2 teaspoons dried
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage or 11/2 teaspoons dried
2 teaspoons crushed red chile, pequin for hot, New Mexican for mild
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt

Using poultry shears, or a heavy knife, cut down both sides of the backbone to cut the chicken in half. Remove the backbone and place the chicken on a cutting board skin side up. Press hard on the breastbone to break it and flatten the bird. This is known as butterflying it, and you can have thebutcher do it all for you.

In a bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Coat the chicken with the marinade, place in a plastic bag, and marinate for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Lightly oil a clean grill surface. Remove the chicken and place the remaining marinade in a small saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Place chicken on the grill, skin side down and weight down with a cast iron skillet so the chicken remains flat. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes per side, basting frequently with the marinade until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork, or when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.

To roast chicken, preheat oven to 425 degrees and in the oven also preheat the two pans you'll use -- one to hold the chicken, the other, refereably a heavy cast iron, to weight it down. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade. When the pans are very hot, place the chicken in the heated pan skin side down, and weight it with the other cast iron pan. Cook in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

To roast chicken, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade. Heat one or two cast-iron or other heavy pans until very hot. Place chicken in the heated pan skin side down, and weight chicken with foil-wrapped bricks, heavy cans or another heavy pan. Cook in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove the top pan and return the chicken to the oven, basting frequently with the marinade. Turn the chicken over and cook about 20 minutes more, checking for doneness (the juices should run clear and internal temperature should be 160F) .

Using a cleaver, chop the split chicken halves into quarters.

We're preparing for a California Tuscan style dinner (I hate the term Cal-Ital) in which we use local foodstuffs to make a Tuscan-inspired menu.

Raviolis are the choice for our pasta course because I will learn how to make them right.

My Chestnut Fontina Agnolotti were not so pretty last year, so now I've actually gotten a pastry cutter and stand half a chance of making a pretty edge.

For the evening's dinner, we're auditioning ravioli fillings. The first is Thomas Keller's White Corn Agnolotti with Summer truffle and corn sauce. (Impossibly difficult, requiring the extraction of corn souls from a raft of cobs just as a start.) I won't go into the whole shebang here, but it took from 4:30 in the afternoon to 8:00 pm to get raviolis on the table.

Well was it good? Yes, yes it was.

Is it worth it to make it? Damn him.

Choice number two is Swiss Chard and Fava Bean raviolis with a drizzle of chestnut honey and broth.

Okay, I love fava beans, but really, only slightly less trouble than corn-soul-extraction.

Still, was it good?

Damn. Yes it was. So we've once again picked two really delicious, and yet horribly time-consuming recipes. Go figure.

And that's how on our day off, we wound up making duck bresaolo, rendering duck fat all morning, shopping all afternoon and making raviolis into the dark of night.

No comments: