Monday, September 26, 2011

Something's Afowl in the Oven

Duck season!  Wabbit season! Duck season!  Wabbit season!  Sorry, Daffy, I must defer to Bugs.  Roasted duck is just such a succulent bird, especially when the skin crisps up.  Rabbit, while it may be good eating, well, it was also a beloved pet during my teen years; and there's just something about the idea of a rabbit in a pot that evokes the Fatal Attraction scene.  Nope, can't do it.

The fact is, as the temperatures cool down, the human race regresses to caveman days, preparing for winter by adding a few pounds of insulation to our girth with heavier meat-based meals.  We welcome the heavy sausages with Oktoberfest celebrations, hearty stews, corned beef dinners, pot pies, shepherd pies, double-thick pork chops with heavy winter squashes, roasted turkeys, Cornish hens, chicken, duck and other fowl.  We bid a farewell to the main dish, lighter salads of those hazy, hot and humid days of summer and turn instead to the heat of our ovens for stick-to-your-ribs dining.  Our carnivorous cravings awaken.

Tonight, our plates will be graced with a wonderful duck entree that I created last fall.  The nice thing about this dish is that you don't have to buy a whole duck and roast it for a long time; with a little moral support in the form of a glass of red wine at your side, it can be made even after coming home from a day of work.  I make this with boneless duck breast.  For those who live on Long Island, you can always find them at Miloski's Farm in Calverton.  The breast is boneless, but it has the skin on, which is what you want.  There is also less fat to cook out of the duck breast, yet enough to coat the fennel and really lend it a nice flavor as it roasts.  Yes, fat, delicious duck fat.  Look, I'm not your cardiologist.  Life, however long or short it's destined to be, is to be enjoyed with good food, preferrably in good company.  No need to tell your doctor, what happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen.  Your taste buds will not lie to you, this is good food.

2 boneless duck breast halves (with the skin left on)
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium fennel bulbs, halved, cored and sliced crosswise
additional extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  In a small frying pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add the garlic.  Sautee the garlic for about a minute, then remove pan from heat.  Allow mixture to sit for a couple of minutes, then stir in the rosemary and then set aside.
Using a very sharp knife, lightly score the skin of each breast half in a criss-cross pattern, taking care not to cut through into the meat.  Place the breast halves in a large roasting pan, skin side up.  Smear the garlic-rosemary-olive oil mixture over each breast half.  Surround, but do not cover, the breast halves with the fennel slices.  Drizzle additional olive oil over the fennel, then sprinkle everything with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven until the duck is cooked through, juices run clear when the meat is pricked with a knife, and the fennel is caramelized on the cut edges, about 30-40 minutes.

For perfect plating, I recommend making a batch of olive oil mashed potatoes, and mound potatoes on each of two plates.  Top each mound with a duck breast half, then pile it all with the fennel.  Garnish each plate with a rosemary sprig.

I served that with a side of sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic and sage, and a bottle of merlot.  This dish serves two, it's very simple to make, yet elegant enough to double and serve for company.  Next time you want a change in meat from the run-of-the-mill roast chicken, when you just can't look another keilbasa in the eye no matter how good the accompanying beer is, try something different and pick up some duck.  There are many recipes in the fall issues of cooking magazines for a variety of duck preparations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eclectic Fusion

One of the buzz words you hear a lot these days when discussing culinary styles is 'fusion'.  By definition, fusion cuisine involves preparing a meal consisting of dishes from various styles of cuisine.  In preparing eclectic fusion one can let their imagination run wild as one melds ingredients from a variety of ethnicities into one dish.  This gives cooking a whole new dimension as the sky becomes your limit with creativity.  No rules really apply here, as long as the combination of foods culminates in an enjoyable marriage of flavors.

We have all known that peanut butter marries well with jelly, the perfect spouse for Gorgonzola in a salad is a sliced pear, dark chocolate paired with the flavor of orange is amazing together, and who doesn't love the bliss of chocolate with peanut butter?  While these may be winning flavor combinations, these are not fusion.  These are just delectable pairings.

An example of fusion would be found at a northern Italian restaurant that Brian and I frequent.  They have the very best pasta entrees anywhere, thus the establishment's name of Pasta Pasta.  However, with your four cheese tortellini in creamy pink sauce, you can order an appetizer of fried calamari with a ponzu dipping sauce.  Asian meets Italian, thus, fusion.  A lot of fusion does include Asian influence, but once again, there are no hard and fast rules.

What inspired this particular blog was tonight's dinner.  Soupsters can rejoice as the plummeting temperature of fall settles in.  After tweaking a soup recipe idea many times over, last year I came up with this perfect example of eclectic fusion.  It combines flavors of Mexico and Morocco. Warning: those with weak palates do not attempt this at home, this dish is HOT!  If you love the fiery spice of hot food, however, then this dish will be enjoyable and will definitely take the chill away in even the coldest winter months.  I would recommend pairing this with a good fall craft beer, like a pumpkin ale.


1 pound bulk chorizo sausage
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chili, finely chopped
5 cups stock, either vegetable or chicken, whichever you have
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup Harissa sauce*
2 cups canned chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 8-10 ounce package fresh baby spinach

1 cup Harissa sauce
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
pita chips

In a 5-quart stock pot, brown the chorizo, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks.  When almost cooked through, add the onions and garlic.  Continue to stir, sauteing until the onions are cooked.  Stir in the chipotle chili, then add the stock.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in the tomato paste and one cup of Harissa, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining one cup of Harissa with the yogurt and set aside.  Add the spinach and stir until the spinach is wilted, then stir in the chick peas.  Remove from heat and serve, passing the yogurt sauce as a topping and pita chips to accompany.  Serves 4.

*NOTE - Harissa is a Tunisian condiment eaten throughout northern Africa.  It is made from various roasted peppers and chilies along with garlic and other spices.  It can be found in the ethnic section of well-stocked supermarkets.  I find it easy enough to make a simple version at home:

4 roasted red peppers (either from a jar or, preferably, roast your own)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

So next time you feel like having some uninhibited fun in your kitchen, see what sort of eclectic fusion your creative mind conjures up.  Don't be afraid to try something new and crazy, that's how new dishes are created.  Culinary history reveals that all of the world's flavors do flow from one to the next and that the globe has become a literal melting pot of ingredients, every nation's cuisine influencing to some degree that of its neighbors; so fusion really does make perfect sense.  So all of you fall witches, uh, I mean chefs, break out your pots and see what brews out of your kitchen.