Monday, April 25, 2011

Duck on the wild side

Being in a culinary arts program is starting to have some perks. A friend got some wild ducks from a hunter friend, but didn't know how to cook them. So, I got invited over as guest chef. The ducks were nice birds, already cleaned and ready to go - unless you wanted the livers. Gone. Just as well, since you can't make paté and age it in 90 minutes.

Boning a duck is just like boning a chicken, except that the wishbone is in a slightly different place and the bones are placed slightly differently. No problem making four nice magrets (duck breasts, skin on), fast confit for the thighs and drumsticks and stock with the carcasses.

Legs and thighs simmer in oil, orange peel and garlic on low heat. Carcass in stock pot with mirepoix.

Magret prepped, skin scored and tenders in refrigerator ready to go.

Tenders first, with garlic, a bit of sesame oil, and a fine julienne of leeks.

Take some stock and start reducing it at high heat with some red wine.

Then magrets, nice sear, hold in oven, deglaze with reduced stock, fresh rosemary, add salt, add butter, taste, more salt, ready!

Slice duck breasts and stack. Nice, medium rare wild duck; moist, tender and not gamy. Drizzle sauce over slices, garnish with quick confit and duck tenders with leeks. Rush to table.

That was an Easter dinner I'll remember for a long time. My only regret was that the hunter wasn't there to enjoy his duck three ways and get inspired to supply me with some more birds for future feasts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Top: Toulouse style sausage. Middle (longer sausages): Azorean linguiça

Normally, the linguiça should hang long enough to dry out - but a nice long grill time at low heat on the barbecue works fine, especially since I really don't have any place other than the refrigerator for curing sausages safely.

The Azorean linguiça, once dried out on the grill, had the right flavor. It was smoky, spicy and porky, yet not greasy. In the Azores, apparently the sausages would be fried in pork fat of an unknown depth - but they would start out a lot drier, too. These sausages really don't taste like store bought linguiça - they're not as greasy, and the wine gives them a different flavor profile.

The Toulouse style sausage was from a recipe I brought back from France that omits garlic. To keep things interesting, it uses quatre épices, wine and Armagnac mixed with herbes de Provence.

So, in case you want to try these things at home, here are the notes on how to prepare them.

Azorean Linguiça
  • pork shoulder (actually, the upper part of the leg), fat trimmed off and cut into 1/4' - 1/2" cubes.
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • malagueta pepper to taste (you can substitute cayenne, or in my case Aleppo).
  • red wine, a liberal dose. You can use cheap stuff; just taste the wine first to make sure it's drinkable.
  • if it's not acidic enough, you can add vinegar or some juice from the malagueta pepper bottle.
  1. Combine all the ingredients and let marinate three days.
  2. Make a small patty with the meat and fry. Adjust seasoning for best taste. Repeat until you say, "Wow! This tastes great, but a little bit salty."
  3. Stuff the mixture into pork sausage casings. The sausages should be about 30 cm (12") long for authenticity - although I prefer 6" or so links. I used a heavy pastry bag and a sausage funnel for this, although the traditional method uses some quick thumb work.
  4. Smoke the sausages - preferably with hot smoke, so they dehydrate and cook during the smoking process. Cold smoke works, but you will need to cure or grill the sausages to dehydrate them. These were smoked for about three hours - that was enough to give them a nice strong smoky flavor. More smoke might have been too much, and turned them bitter. Info on the smoker here. This smoke from this device is not hot enough to cook the sausages - it's just for giving them flavor.
  5. If you're being traditional, render the fat out of the trimmings and fry the sausages in it. If not, grill them over low heat so they dry out without burning. 
Toulouse Style Sausages
  1. pork shoulder, same as for the linguiça. Cut into 1" cubes and chill.
  2. mix wine (white preferred, but red works) and Armagnac into the meat - about a cup of wine and a good dose of Armagnac.
  3. Add a decent pinch of quatre épices
  4. Add herbes de Provence - or fresh thyme
  5. Salt, pepper to taste
  1. Grind or process in small batches in a food processor with quick pulses so as not to purée the meat. 
  2. Make a small patty with the meat and fry. Adjust seasoning for best taste. 
  3. Stuff the filling into pork casings, hang to dry (cure) in the refrigerator for a day or two.
  4. Grill the sausages.

Smoke it!

Schematic diagram of the smoker

The smoker in action

Once you've made some sausages, there comes a time when fate requires you to smoke them. This time, it was when some friends came from Brazil and shared a recipe for Azorean style linguiça. This style of linguiça seems a lot leaner than the stuff you buy in the supermarket, using pork shoulder trimmed of fat, red wine, garlic, more garlic, and while we're at it, a bit more garlic, salt, pepper and cumin. Once it's been stuffed into pork casings, it's traditionally smoked.

The Mark I smoker was to use a rectangular charcoal grill to generate the smoke, which would rise through some duct work into the smoking chamber. Unfortunately, the grill leaked smoke so badly that much of it never got to the chamber. It was hard to refill, if needed. Then, to add a last parting shot, the duct tape decided that it did not want to stick to warm metal, even though the metal never got too hot to touch in the smoker.

Luckily, the Mark II was started at about the same time as excess smoke started escaping from the Mark I. It would use an old wok to hold the wood chips, held firmly against a conical hood that would direct a maximum amount of smoke into the ducting and hence into the smoking chamber.

About the same time the last piece of duct tape popped off the metal, the Mark II was ready for action, held together with rebar wire and formed to fit snugly over the top of the wok. The plug snicked into the extension cord, the electric lighter began to sizzle on the damp wood chips, and in a short time voluminous billows of smoke emerged from the upper smoking chamber. The lighter was unplugged as smoke shrouded the back yard... maybe this new system was too efficient? Once unplugged, smoke levels returned to normal, and all it took to get things smoldering again was a quick five minutes of electric heat. Eventually, the chips lit enough to smoke on their own and the starter was removed.

Three hours later, about five pounds of linguiça emerged, giving off a nicely smoky aroma. Into the refrigerator it went, where it would hang to dry.

This smoker, while great for sausages, apparently won't work for salmon since the smoke is much too hot. The Mark III will have longer ducting so that the smoke will cool before reaching the chamber. The new chamber will probably resemble a wood wardrobe, with opening doors and a combination of racks and hanging spaces so it can be used for hams, salmon and sausages, depending on the occasion.

The sausages are still curing a bit in the refrigerator, awaiting everyone's arrival for the Big Tasting. So, I'll save the sausage report for later just to thicken the plot.