Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inspired By... (or A Meditation On the Myriad Uses of Duck Fat)

If you even take two minutes to glance through this blog it is quickly apparent that I'm a very recipe oriented cook at this stage of my culinary education. I don't just "whip things up" on a whim and I'm not really the type of cook who goes to restaurants and thinks "I've got to figure out how to make this at home." Well my approach seems to be (gradually) changing as I get more confident in the kitchen, as today's post has examples of two types of inspiration and experimentation... a specific type of crispy potato that captured my cooking imagination, and a situation where I got excited about the basic concept of a "duck confit taco" by simply having it out. Both are from a restaurant in Rehoboth called JAM Bistro that we've made a point of stopping at for lunch the last few summers at the beach. While it doesn't have especially extensive vegetarian offerings for Anna she does enjoy their salads and we both love their crispy smashed fingerlings. Like the perfect roast potato, they are crispy on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside, but by smashing them up first you get even more surface to crisp. I've been meaning to make them at home since I first had them, but never really got around to thinking about the methodology of how they are made beyond the obvious of par cook, smash, and then fry or roast 'em. They were on "the list" of things I wanted to make, but it was becoming clear that they were going to stay on that list unless I got a little outside push. Fortuitous timing had Kenji post a recipe for smashed potatoes fried in duck fat at the exact time I was gathering together tubs of duck fat for my Thanksgiving plans (more on that in a second).

Fried Smashed Fingerlings

He calls for small red or Yukon potatoes, but I naturally went with fingerlings since what I'm looking for is to recreate the dish that reminds me of summer afternoons at the beach. I did indeed fry them in glorious, glorious duck fat, but next time... in the interest of marital harmony (surprisingly vegetarians are not huge fans of vegetables prepared in animal fat)... I will likely switch to vegetable oil, and probably roast them instead of fry them simply so I don't have to do them in batches. Ultimately in further iterations I will dress these crispy smashed potatoes in a buffalo vinaigrette and a crumble of blue cheese, but make no mistake: these potatoes are really great completely plain. In my opinion it's a really good technique that is worth trying and, as sacrilegious as this sounds, this is true even if you don't have any duck fat. Though you should really get some duck fat.

Duck Confit Tacos

Speaking of duck fat, as I mentioned above I need said fat for my Thanksgiving plan of doing turkey leg confit... but all of my duck fat was currently occupied in covering four pieces of duck confit that were patiently waiting to get made into cassoulet. It's obviously the perfect time for a big pot of the stuff, but it's not always easy to find time for a four day cooking project, and it was really getting too late in the game to make some in time. Thus enters my second inspiration from JAM Bistro: duck confit tacos. I've been on a serious taco kick... well, basically my entire adult life, but especially since I got back from San Diego... and the idea of combining the greatness of the taco with the awesomeness of duck confit was pretty exciting. Yet once again it was something that was languishing on my "to cook" list until the right circumstances emerged. In this case, however, there really wasn't a go-to recipe to consult. We've got a Food & Wine recipe from José Andrés here, and a blog post here which I combined to make the tacos you see above. I warmed the duck legs enough to be able to pull of the skin to make cracklings, shredded the meat into pot with a little stock, soy sauce, and five spice powder, and made a cilantro-jalapeño sauce to top it off. Really good stuff and really easy (assuming you have the duck confit already, which is admittedly probably not a reasonable assumption).

I finally feel like I'm starting to get to the point where I'm ready to start making recipes my own... where I know enough to make changes to suit my own preferences. It's a long journey, but it's nice to notice the progress.

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This will likely be my last post before we head up to Maine Wednesday morning, so all of my fellow Americans out there have a nice Thanksgiving holiday! I'll be back next week with a recap of the dishes that we made, but for anybody looking for last minute Thanksgiving inspiration, our menu includes: mini herb potatoes annafried brussel sprouts with siracha honeyharicot verts with sauce ravigote, and roasted cauliflower with tahini and preserved lemon dressing. The main course for the vegetarians will be pumpkin seed crusted cutlets with cabernet cranberry sauce while I will be making turkey leg confit