Every year I am in a bind around this time of the year because the open air vegetable markets in NYC don’t offer anything fresh out of the local soils anymore. You still find wintered-in fruits such as apples and pears and tubers such as potatoes, rutabaga and such.
(lardo bruschetta with house-pickled purple cauliflower and romano tomatoes sprinkled with lava salt)
So … now is a good time to direct our focus on cooking techniques until the signs of spring or sprouts break to the top soil. The next posts will be about …
…The Good Old Days
We are spoiled these days. We open the refrigerator and take out a piece of meat or a vegetable (and that is not spoiled) because we have a cooled “storing space” to keep food. It wasn’t that way when electricity wasn’t available and humankind found other means of keeping food for several days or months on end. People would dry, confit, conserve, cure or age food to be able to enjoy them during times when it was not available, or to take along on a journey oversees or such.
Strangely these old preserving techniques are hotter then ever these days.
(Mangalitsa upper shoulder lardo, aging for six weeks or so)
(certainly fat but addictivly delicious)
In my restaurant we made Mangalista lardo, a house-salt cured and aged chunk of pork shoulder fat. The process took us about six weeks between curing and aging, so I was told from one of my cooks. He took it upon himself to cure because he had too much on hand and it’s a highly priced and prized pig! So he aged Mangalitsa pork fat right in our wine cellar. Our wine room has a medium temperature of 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit which suits curing meats or fat perfectly. A few weeks ago it gave me the creeps when I saw it hanging there from the ceiling when I did a routine walk-through with an inspector from the department of health in tow. I had forgotten about it hanging high up, close to the ceiling above shelves of stored wine where it was doing its aging. Seeing the aging pieces of raw, curing pork hanging from the ceiling reminded me of a scene of the movie Silence of the Lambs where the character Hannibal Lector did his grueling cannibal rituals.
Luckily it was hanging high enough in a somewhat dark corner of the ceiling and not easily noticeable so nobody had a “beef” with it.
I won’t bother you with the recipe for lardo because it’s too particular for the home or apartment
A Few Old “cutting edge” Cooking Methods To Confit (meaning cooking for a long time and submerging in oil)
Confit is a French word – we use it often on our restaurant menu but what it means is basically conserving with oil, spices and aromatics such as garlic and intensely aromatic herbs such as rosemary, bay leaf, thyme and such. It does not mean that we actually put food in an oil bath to be stored on the counter – no it is cooked at a rather low temperature.
My favorite meat to confit is duck legs which are naturally on the tougher side if you’d roast them but the cooking “in it’s own juices” meaning the duck legs become submerged in their own rendering fat during the cooking process – WOW what a difference. I am addicted to the meltingly tender textured salty taste of duck legs cooked this way. I season it with cilantro seeds, lemon-thyme, salt and pink pepper corns. Cooking duck legs in the confit style replaces any water or moisture content in the meat and can be stored for up to six month in the refrigerator safely (immersed in duck fat).
(duck confit with red cabbage braised in red wine with roasted rutabaga puree)
Duck Confit Recipe
(recipe for four large portions)
8 duck legs (from duck of 4-5 pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil such as canola
3 teaspoons salt
1 branch thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole cilantro or coriander seeds
1 teaspoon white, black or pink whole pepper corns
2 cloves peeled garlic
1. Put duck legs in a large bowl then season with spices, herbs and garlic. Massage seasoning into duck legs.
2. Transfer duck legs into an oven proof dish (put duck legs in a 3-inch deep dish or shallow pot large enough to hold duck legs – duck fat will melt off legs and submerge legs) then cover with aluminum foil tightly.
3. Store raw, seasoned duck legs for up to two days in the refrigerator (spices and salt will cure duck legs – this way duck legs will be very flavorful).
4. Cook duck legs at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 hours – the duck leg meat is soft enough to almost fall of the bone at this point.
5. Let duck legs sit at room temperature in its cooking juices/fat (30 minutes or so – this way soft cooked duck legs won’t break when lifting out of the dish).
Chef’s Tip: I suggest serving bitter greens such as endive or radicchio with duck confit (cold or warm) and mustard, which is an ideal match.
Chef’s Note: Use duck confit cooking juice/fat for cooking hearty vegetables such as red cabbage, rutabaga, celery root and such or use instead of butter in many other recipes.
Next week marinating & pickling…