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Archive for March, 2008

Duck Confit

Duck confit is a food that gets a lot of hype in the gourmet world.  People rave about it and fine dining restaurants usually have it in at least one dish on the menu (if not several).  It is usually not served as a stand alone dish, but as a smaller component of the dish due to its rich and intense flavor.  We prepared duck confit over the course of several days in class, and used it in several dishes today.

Duck Confit 2

What is duck confit?  It is duck legs and thighs bone in, skin on (never the duck breast) that have been cooked over very low heat, submerged in duck fat, for a very long time, in a large pot.  After the cooking process, which can take as little as four but as many as sixteen hours, the pot of duck and duck fat is cooled and stored in a cool place, like the refrigerator, for as long as two years.  During storage, the duck remains covered by the duck fat which preserves it, but also continues to flavor and tenderize the meat.

When the duck confit is to be served, however much needed is removed from the fat, and reheated on the stove-top to render some of the fat and crisp the skin.

Duck confit, just by the nature of how it is made, has a high degree of deliciousness.  It is so tender, rich, succulent, and flavorful that it can only be taken in small doses.  Duck fat may sound gross, but it looks very much like butter when cold, and tastes slightly smokey and rich like bacon fat.  Duck meat served in a restaurant is typically the breast.  Chefs had to find something to do with the tough legs, and have they ever!  The possibilities are endless.

Salad with duck confit we made in class

Salad with Duck Confit

Chefs use it as a garnish to top soups, entrees, or appetizers.  It can be used in the stuffing for a roast.  It can be tossed into a bitter green salad.  A blend of the duck confit meat with some duck fat is called duck rillette which is used as a spread oncroutes, bread, crackers, biscuits, etc.

Now unfortunately, I could not find duck confit nutrition facts anywhere.  Are they trying to keep it a secret?  But I do have the nutrition facts for duck fat, and duck legs.

Nutrition Facts: Duck Fat, 1 Tablespoon

  • Calories: 112
  • Total Fat: 12 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 4 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat: 6.3 grams
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.9 grams
  • Cholesterol: 13 mg
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Protein: 0 mg

Nutrition Facts: One Duck Leg, skin on, 3 oz

  • Calories: 184
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Total Fat: 10 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 3 grams
  • Monounstaturated Fat: 4.8 grams
  • Polyunstaurated Fat: 1.6 grams
  • Cholesterol: 97 mg

The Good:  High degree of deliciousness and a little goes a long way.  Duck fat and meat is lower in cholesterol and higher in monounsaturated fat than butter, diary fat or beef fat.  It can be substituted in cooking with tasty results and a better nutritional profile.  Duck fat is a good source of vitamin E.  Duck meat is a good source of protein, selenium, and iron.

The Bad:  We can deduce from this that duck confit high in calories and high in total fat.  It is meant to be consumed only in small amounts at a meal and not on a daily basis.

Recommendations: Enjoy responsibly, but definitely try this someday if you get the chance.  It is difficult to make at home unless you have a ready supply of duck fat in your fridge (which we do at cooking school given the deliciousness I have spoken about).  If you are on a calorie or fat controlled diet, stay away.

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Pizza Dough

Just made my first pizza dough today.  I was inspired by a class last week where we made the French version of pizza dough.  I changed the recipe around a little and it came out amazing!  Would have taken pictures, but there was none left (sorry).

The basic dough recipe is in the “Recipe” section.  I topped it with 1 bunch of sauteed Swiss chard, one 8 oz container of button mushrooms that I sauteed, about 3/4 pound cooked, shredded chicken, and 1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives.  In the last minute of cooking I sprinkled grated Parmesan on the top.  Matt was sceptical that there was no tomato sauce… but it was not missed!

Pizza Slice, France

According to my instructor, the kneading process is important.  It is also where most people go wrong at home.  They do it on a floured surface and wind up adding more flour when the dough becomes sticky.  The trick is that sticky dough is good.  You do not want to use a floured surface.  Dough will be very sticky at first, but after all the water and yeast in incorporated and you have kneaded the ball of dough a few times, it will be much easier to handle.

Another thing to be careful of is proofing the yeast.  Active dry yeast requires a short time period sitting in warm water to rehydrate and come back to life.  Yeast is a living organism.  Your dough is alive before you bake it (crazy huh?)  The ideal temperature is about 100 degrees.  Too hot and you will kill the yeast.  Too cold and the process will not work.

To test the temperature of the water stick your finger in the water and it should feel neutral – like nothing really.  Your body temperature is a close enough measure to work for this test.  Add a bit of sugar to the water mix to feed the yeast – they will bubble a bit and smell like beer, that is how you know they are revived.  This whole procedure takes only a few minutes.

kneading dough

My favorite part of making the dough was the kneading process.  You use your fingers at first, then once you have a ball, you use the base of the palm of your hand.  You press into and away from yourself, each time folding the dough over with your other hand.  Every 3 or 4 kneads rotate the dough 90 degrees.  This may sound technical, but it is very easy.  Kind of fun.  It only takes about 8 minutes, but earns a big wow factor.  I encourage everyone to try.  I will experiment with whole wheat dough in the future so stay tuned.

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Part of my culinary education is to complete an externship.  This is on-the-job training, for no pay, where I learn what it would be like to work in the industry.  In order to decide where I will do my externship, I must ‘trail’.  A trail for a restaurant is going in for an entire shift, prep to end of service, and helping the cooks with whatever tasks I am assigned.

Today I trailed at a very nice, high end restaurant in the West Village.  I chose this restaurant because the Chef focuses on local, organic or sustainably grown foods that are in season.  He has been written up as one of the up-and-coming head chefs in New York.  He is also of the belief that when purchasing high quality ingredients, preparation should be to highlight those flavors – keeping things more simple than say, a fine-dining French restaurant with all of their complex dishes and grand sauces.  However from what I observed that night, and tasted for myself, flavor and beauty of the dish is not sacrificed – but amplified.

I arrived as instructed, at 2:00pm, with my knives (they supplied the uniform).  I immediately began working with the garde manger by helping her mise en place (prepare ingredients for service).  The garde manger is the chef responsible for cold food prep and appetizers.  I helped prep ingredients for the appetizers and salads such as microgreens, shrimp, Meyer lemons and chopped herbs.  After, I prepped for the sautier station trumpet mushrooms and roasted beets.  The staff were all very nice and welcoming.  We chatted while listening to the radio and chopping vegetables, stirring soups, or tying bison roasts.

 At 5:00pm we all sat around the dining room tables for the staff meal.  The waiters, hosts, bartender, and the head chef (whom I had not officially met yet) were present.  The head chef and I sat for an interview after the meal.  Looking over my resume, he asked me about my goals in the industry and told me about his restaurant and philosophy as well as his expectations for interns.  My first impression of him was a good one.  After, we returned to the kitchen for service, which began at 6:00pm.

During service I was in charge of preparing and plating the amuse bouche.  For this particular meal it was a warmed pepper biscuit with duck rillette and microgreens plated with yogurt sauce.  I also helped the garde manger when needed, but most of my non-active time was spent observing the kitchen dynamics.

Since the kitchen was small I was only about 4 feet from the counter where the head chef was expediting (that means plating all the entrees and checking the plates before they leave the kitchen).  The kitchen was busy, but not too stressful or overwhelming.  The chef was calm under pressure.  This is contrary to stories I have heard about head chefs in this business yelling and having tempers (we have all seen Kitchen Nightmares right?)  I was pleased to discover that this head chef was level-headed and respectful of the staff.  The staff were able-bodied and professional.

The food was beautiful.  The attention to detail in plating brought the dishes to life.  There were vibrant colors from the vegetables – deep purple roasted beets, bright green sweet pea sauce, white potatoes,  yellow squash, microgreens, and more.  These complimented and contrasted the sauteed meats and fish with their brown crisped exterior and creamy white or light pink interior.  By just looking at the plate, one could see the foresight the chef had in developing the recipes and plating the dishes.  I tried about four different dishes – and they were all delicious!  Let me just say that if this chef can make me like sardines, he earns my respect.

Saturdays are generally the busiest day of the week, and this was no exception to the rule.  We were in full swing from 6:00pm – 11:30pm when the kitchen closed.  Afterward the head chef informed me to keep in touch until August, when my externship begins.  He knows I will be trailing at other restaurants gave me suggestions of restaurants to consider.  In his opinion, taking full advantage of my unique position in New York City, I should trail as much as possible.  This is good advice that I intend to take.

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Food Network Lunch

Yes that’s right, I had lunch at the food network today – and it was awesome.  It was part of winning a scholarship sweepstakes from the Food Network to attend culinary school.  I entered on a whim last summer and got an email two months later to congratulate me – crazy right?  I never win anything.

 The Food Network studio is located in the same building as New York City’s Chelsea Market (which is a great place to shop for cooking ingredients, produce, spices, seafood, and Italian specialties).  I was allowed to bring a guest, so Matt came along with me.  Myself, Matt, and the three other winners and their guests all met in the lobby.  We were escorted to the Food Network test kitchens.  One of the staff introduced himself and told us about what they do and what is filmed is their test kitchen (Bobby Flay Throw Down for one).  They not only create and test recipes, they do all of the prep work for food on the cooking shows. 

We were seated at a long table, basically right in the kitchen where we could watch them working.  Some of the chefs were cooking our food, and some were busy recipe testing.  I saw a few familiar faces from spots on TV and from my Food Network Test Kitchen recipe book – very cool.

The chef who gave us the introduction then announced the courses we were to be offered.  First course was a chicken croquette.  Incredibly succulent for chicken, in fact it tasted more like pork – well seasoned and crispy on the outside.  Second course was beet ravioli with goat cheese garnished with microgreens.  This course was beautiful.  They used thinly shaved beet to create the “ravioli” so there was not actual pasta.  The goat cheese with herbs went nicely with the beet, not only in taste, but as a stark white contrast to the deep purple beet.  I’m not a beet person – but I cleaned my plate. 

Third and main course we had a choice between rack of lamb or black striped bass.  I chose the later, as did most of the people at the table.  We all raved about the bass – it was wonderful!  Juicy and and moist on the inside with crispy skin on the outside.  I ate every bit and wished there was more.  The bass was served with a reduction sauce and sides of pommes anna (a type of fancy potato cake) and roasted vegetables.  Pommes anna is a bit heavy for me, lots of butter involved, so I skipped, but the rest of my plate was cleaned happily. 

Dessert was a Meyer lemon tart, topped with whipped cream and a slice of sugared lemon.  A nice sweet and tart way to follow the heavier entree.  Our beverage was tea sweetened with lychee juice, and rolls were offered as well.  I was very impressed with the meal and ate practically everything!

Afterward, we were taken on a tour of the production studio.  This is where shows like Rachel Ray, Iron Chef America, Emeril, and Alton Brown are filmed.  We watched as the directors, producers, and set designers put finishing touches on a kitchen set for a new food network show.  The new chef, a former student from the culinary school I attend, stood by to test counter height, equipment, etc.   The sounds rooms and video editing rooms were perched above the studio for a good view of the set.

Before parting, we were given gifts!  A Food Network Test Kitchens cookbook, and key chain.  The whole experience was something to remember.  I still have a smile on my face.

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Today we prepared dishes from Northeast regions in France, Alsace and Lorraine.  The foods that define their region are Pork, Duck, Geese, Game, and Cheese.

We prepared the signature dish from this region, Choucroute Garni.  “Choucroute” means sauerkraut in French.  The “garni” means the meats – usually sausages and aged meats, or duck confit – that traditionally garnished the dish for flavor and protein.  Cabbage is a staple vegetable here in France, and is fermented into sauerkraut for preservation.  In times before refrigeration and shipping foods all around the world, sauerkraut got them through winter months without scurvy (vitamin C deficiency).  Today the main focus of this dish is becoming larger portions of meats and sausages.

Choucroute Garni

Choucroute Garni is very tasty, due mostly to the fact that the sauerkraut is cooked with some duck fat, a ham hock, bacon, herbs, juniper berries, Riesling wine, and smoked pork chops on low heat for a few hours.  When all the flavors have married and the pork is cooked through to soft perfection it is done.  The sauerkraut is mounded on a platter, the pork chops are sliced and placed on top of the sauerkraut, and then bratwursts, knackwursts, and boiled new potatoes are arranged around the edges.  All of the flavors in the sauerkraut come together wonderfully and I thought it was some of the best pork and kraut I had tasted (which says a lot since I have been to Germany, twice).

From a nutrition standpoint, the sauerkraut and pork chop are both naturally low in fat, and healthy.  However, cooking the sauerkraut with bacon and duck fat added saturated fat and cholesterol.  While the ham hock and smoked pork contributed a significant amount of salt.  As for the sausages… should I even go there… I think I will.

Nutrition Facts 3 Oz Bratwurst (note, only 3 oz serving):

  • Calories: 256
  • Protein: 12 grams
  • Fat: 22 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 8 grams
  • Cholesterol: 51 mg
  • Sodium: 473 mg

Need I say more?  I have recently seen lower fat and sausages at the meat and deli counters, these maybe good options to explore.

Nutrition Facts 1/2 cup Plain Sauerkraut: (before cooking)

  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Sodium: 550 mg

Sauerkraut is low in calories with zero fat.  It is also high in dietary fiber (2 grams for a 1/2 cup), vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, copper, manganese and vitamin B6.  It has a fair amount of iron for a vegetable.

The Good:Sauerkraut and pork chops are lean, healthy foods that provide many nutrients and can create a tasty combination.  Fermented products are more digestible than their untreated counterparts.  There is also belief that fermented products, such as sauerkraut, gain micronutrients and nutrition through the process. 

The Bad: Any way you cut it, this dish has the potential to provide more than all the sodium it is recommended you consume in an entire day!  If served with the traditional sausages, you can consume more than 50 percent of your fat for the day, more if you eat a larger portion.

Recommendations:  Soak your sauerkraut and drain it a couple times before cooking (we did this in class), use healthy cooking oils, lean pork and lean or no sausages.  If you must indulge, this food is to be consumed only on occasion.  Running a few miles afterward wouldn’t hurt.

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The French have a system of naming their restaurants that defines what type of food is served.  Here is a simplified glossary:

Restaurant – The classic term for a place to eat out.  It is open only at certain hours and there is a menu to select dishes from.  They can be fine dining or casual.  Most offer a set menu for a fixed price with several courses that can be ordered instead of the a la carte items.

Bistro – Smaller and more informal than restaurants,  the menu is typically written on a chalk board posted in the dining room, or hand-written on slates.  Bistros are known for their cheap midday meals known as le plat du jour.  Traditional bistros offer the staple French dishes such as coq au vin and pot-au-feu with some local ingredients and twists on the recipes.

Brasserie– This word means, literally, brewery.  First established in 1870 by northeastern France refugees.  They served wines from Alsace that included Riesling, Sylvaner, and Gewurztraminer, and beer as well.  Due to the origin of its founders, the signature dishes were sauerkraut and large platters of seafood to be shared.  Other more traditional fare can also be found on the menu.  Brasseries are known for their decor, which is usually in the art nouveau style.  Large mirrors, wooden paneling with carving, and mosaics.  They are open late and good for stimulating conversation.

Cafe – Probably the most popular of the French eatery terms, but very different from what a cafe in middle America might look like.  It is primarily a place where coffee, alcohol, and simple fare is served.  Dishes such as croque monsieur, salads, and moules-frites (mussels with french fries).  Sidewalk terraces in front of the cafe, open in season,  seat people eager to watch the people passing by over a cup of coffee and small meal.  It is an attractive feature of the most popular cafes on Parisian boulevards.  Cafes open early, and can close in the late evening.

Cafe

Salon de The – Tearooms in France are probably the style of restaurant that is closest to the American cafe.  They serve coffee, tea, cakes, and gateaux.  At lunch time they can offer a basic menu with salads, sandwiches, and snacks.  Alcoholics beverages are rarely served.  They are generally opened just before noon lunch, and close in the late afternoon.

Bistrot a vin– These wine bars offer wine by the glass and have become places of interest for wine enthusiasts.  Frequently hundreds of different wines are offered and there is a special ambiance to these places.  Food offerings are simply cheese, ham, and sausages.  A more refined bistrot a vin may offer more courses.

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France Flag We have started regional cooking classes now – and today we focused on northwest France.  The long coastline here and large fishing industry means that seafood plays an important role in cuisine in this region.  Boulogne, one of the leading fishing ports in all of Europe, lies on the coast here.  The most popular fish sold at the port are sole, herring, mackerel, cod, whiting, and ocean perch.

This area is a temperate zone, experiencing mild weather due to the warm gulf stream.  Fruit trees flourish.  Apples are their most famous crop and are used to make hard cider, desserts, pastries, and a brandy called Calvados.

The large fields of grass that grow here make cattle herding ideal.  Therefore dairy products such as milk, cream, butter, and cheese are choice ingredients.  In fact, the term a la normade on a menu item indicates that the food is prepared with a cream sauce and usually has apples or cider in it as well.

Normandy

One dish we prepared today blew me away.  Cotriade, or a home-style fish soup from Brittany, is a simple soup that fisherman’s wives used to make.  We started with a base of fish stock, fresh herbs, onions cooked in small amount of salt pork and potatoes.  Once the vegetables in the soup softened and cooked through, we added large pieces of fish.  It used to be made with whatever fish the fisherman had leftover from the market that day.  The fish was poached on low heat until just cooked through and no more (a few minutes).  The soup was served in a large bowl, over a croute, with generous ladles of broth. 

It was exquisite.  The fish was perfectly cooked, flaky and not overdone (this is very important when making this dish).  The broth was savory but light, and tasty enough for bowl slurping.  The croute on the bottom of the bowl soaked in broth was a wonderful surprise.  A gold star recipe.

Nutrition Facts:

The Good:  Fish provide heart healthy fats called omega 3 fatty acids.  Fish are also good sources of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, selenium, and zinc.  Potatoes are great sources of potassium and vitamin C.  This soup can be made low-fat easily and most of the flavor comes from the fish, vegetables, and herbs – not salt.  Soups are also great fillers due to their high water content.  This means you can feel full on fewer calories.

The Bad: The recipe we used contained salt pork as the cooking fat which contributed a considerable amount of fat and saturated fat.  It added salt also, which was fine since our stock was not seasoned – but if you use store bought stock with salt, that would be a problem.

Recommendations: The soup was incredible and can be made lower in fat (with a few tweaks).  The fact that these flavors work for almost any white fish or shellfish is a bonus.  We used red snapper, which has a very mild taste. Important steps in making this soup are seasoning, preparation and cooking of the fish, and presentation.

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