Braised Duck + The Series

October 25, 2016

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~Michael Caine

The World Series begins tonight — with a connection to the past, the two teams with the longest title droughts in the same game (parenthetically or asterisk laden) the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have gone over a century without a series win, and the Indians with many decades without winning in unfulfilled seasons. Times of anguish without a taste. One of the most touted series ever — history and the game is here, it waits for no one. By the way, it is the aces, Kluber (Indians) vs. Lester (Cubs) that will take the mound in Game One.

I must admit to adoring the Cubs, as my childhood was suffused with Chicago, and then watching those fans delirious with their team in the field and later in Wrigleyville, tears streaming and beers and shots in hand, after the NCLS game clincher. I was fortunate enough as a grasshopper to meet Billy Williams, now still barely holding on, as well as Ernie Banks (and his no. 14 in diamonds) and Ron Santo, now both gone. I have experienced ivied and bricked Wrigley Field with men fans donned in suits and fedoras and women adored in finery during daytime games as well as Jack Brickhouse who bellowed “Hey, Hey” to signal Cubs’ home runs. As Williams has been quoted, “they’re somewhere celebrating now,” and these legends should be proud given their regular season winning percentage of 103-58.

The Cubs have superb starting pitching, assume a keen approach at the plate, use the field well, value divine defense, and have a sublime bullpen to boot. Sound familiar? — yes, Virginia, I have seen us win. Then again, the Indians also have supreme starting pitching, run the bases well and have a glorious bullpen too.

Nothing against Cleveland, but despite the “old-school look” of upper socks, the Cubs have earned one. Then again, the Indians play at home.

BRAISED DUCK

1 whole duck (around 4 lbs — preferably Pekin), cut into 8 or so pieces, plus liver reserved & trimmings coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried herbes de provence
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Refrigerate well dried, cut, seasoned pieces overnight in a ziploc bag. Turn a couple of times.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 (28 oz) san marzano tomatoes, cut well
1 C dry red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 piece of cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves, dried
4 thyme sprigs

2 lbs small plums, pits removed and halved
1 lb turnips, quartered or more
1 lb parsnips, sliced & halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 T butter

1/2 C Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 T chives, finely chopped
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 t lemon zest, grated
1-2 t extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy, wide skillet with extra virgin olive oil, butter and fresh garlic cloves over medium high heat. When the pan becomes shimmering and hot, add the duck so as not to crowd — likely in a couple of batches — 5 minutes per side. Set aside, tented in foil on a baking dish or platter.

Pour off all but 2 T of duck fat into a ramekin and cover (for a later day). Add tomatoes, stirring well, then add wine and broth and bring to a nice simmer. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer duck to a heavy, large Dutch oven and pour the broth mixture & herbs/spices over the duck.  Cover and simmer for about 40 or so minutes, until duck is quite tender.

Heat butter and duck fat in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add reserved plums skin side down as well as turnips and parsnips and sauté for a minute or so, until lightly browned, then turn and cook on skin side for a minute more.

Transfer duck to a warmed platter and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with sautéed plums, turnips and parsnips.  Mix together parsley, chives, walnuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture over the top and serve.

To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.
~Oscar Wilde

So sorry for those already in the know — but for those who have yet to discern, here is a little primer, my good and yours too.  But, apologies to the unfamiliar also.  These are not nonpologies without contrition, as we so often hear. They are true sorries.

Guanciale is an Italian salted and cured (not smoked) meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks whose moniker is derived from guancia, which likewise means “cheek.”  A specialty of Umbria and Lazio, its texture is more docile than pancetta, yet it is silky and has just a slightly more rigid flavor.  It is often cured for a week, then hung to dry for about three weeks or so.  One of those nose to tail things.  Often used in egg or cream sauces with pasta, guanciale is projected below with green tomatoes, et al.

Sublimely blissful grub.

CHICKEN WITH GREEN TOMATOES, CHILES & GUANCIALE

3-4 lbs bone in chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 t or so broken oregano for the skin side

2 bay leaves

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
8 ozs guanciale, diced

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 good quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 jar green tomatoes and chiles

8 ozs mozzarella cut into pieces
1 C high quality olives, black and green (warmed)
Lemons, quartered

Basil leaves, freshly and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

In a large oven proof, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high until shimmering. Add guanciale and cook, stirring frequently, until just slightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer guanciale to a paper towel lined plate.

Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large paper toweled plate. Pour off most all of the oil, keeping some.

Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet and fry 1 minute. Stir in green tomatoes and chiles and cook, breaking up green tomatoes and chiles with a wooden spatula, until the sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Return chicken, green tomatoes and chiles and bay leaves to skillet and transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink and runs somewhat yellow to a fork, about 30 minutes.

Scatter mozzarella over chicken, tomatoes and chiles and adjust oven temperature to broil along with olives. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with cooked guanciale, olives, quartered lemons and juice, and roughly chopped basil before serving.

Soul satisfying — sort of a pizza without dough, although you could serve a flatbread or some form of cooked dough, underneath.

 

 

Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.
~Charles Bukowski

But, don’t judge your tacos by their price.
~Hunter S. Thompson

They are both gracefully dead, in their own ways.  However, they gave tacos a good name before they left, as should be the case.

More important, both Bukowski and Thompson cast ripe books, short stories, verses, screenplays and journalism that left the imagination brimming, eloquently reeling, and sometimes in utter disarray. The lives of everyday folk, countercultures, writing as drudgery, altered minds, alcohol and drug use, prurient depravity, vivid taboos, dark binges, expressive depression, broken renewal, anguished desolation, inherent absurdity, flirtatious promiscuity, and often such unrecognizable tongues…laureates of supposed lowlifes, yet intimate and not at all shameful souls were their subjects.

Although one died more slowly of leukemia, the other passed suddenly from committing suicide with a .45 within a decade or so of one another.  Is there really a difference between how they departed?

Eye rolling rapture follows.

TACOS DE POLLO (CHICKEN TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C chicken stock
A pinch or so of sea salt

Sauce
1 small to medium yellow onion, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t ground cumin, toasted and ground or dried
Adobe sauce from a small can of chipotle chiles

Pollo (Chicken)
1/2 each parts of water and chicken stock to cover birds
2-3 chicken thigh/leg quarters, later shredded
Sea salt and a hint of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 t dried oregano, broken

Flour tortillas, warmed

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup stock and 1 t sea salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée and then pour into a medium glass bowl.

Season the birds on each side in salt and just a little pepper and cumin on the skin side.  In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium high heat, place bay leaves, thyme sprigs into the mix. Add the chicken skin side up and cover with 1/2 water and 1/2 stock, simmer for about 25-30 minutes, then shred off the bone with fingers or fingers and a fork. Strain and reserve the chicken stock.

In a small heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and/or canola oil, yellow onion, sea salt, garlic cloves, cumin and adobe sauce. Sauté, then add the chicken stock derived from cooked chicken and cook until thickened.  Add chicken and sauté a bit longer, until the meat glistens some.

Wrap 6 or so flour or corn tortillas  in foil and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 15-20 minutes, so they become soft and warm.

Serve chicken in warmed tortillas with the tomatillo salsa forming a base and quickly add the following to your liking to each taco, many of which should be in bowls on the table or counter (but, please do not overload tacos — just choose a few fillings, at most):

Radishes, sliced
White or red onion, peeled and chopped
Green cabbage (Brussels sprouts, possibly), cored and thinly sliced
Black beans (frijoles negros) , drained
Refried beans (frijoles refritos), slightly cooked
Salsa roja and/or salsa verde (red and/or green salsas), warmed
Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and/or (soybean paste) ssamjang (both at Korean markets)
Fried eggs
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema, just a few dollops
Fresh chiles of any variety, sliced thinly
Lime wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″slices
Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Pourboire:  many advocate the use of 2-ply tortillas by placing one tortilla centered directly upon the other, then filling the inside one.  Both warmed, of course.

The Donald + Pig Ears

December 10, 2015

Perhaps the less we have the more we are required to brag.
~John Steinbeck

I have long delayed comments on The Donald, but this diatribe simply cannot wait further. No need to tweet here.  Humanity needs to arise despite his fatuous, dégoûtant, and vulgar presence.

The Donald’s paranoid xenophobia, his ethnic disparagement, his irrational bigotry, his racist rants, his limitless enmity (all the while saying he loves thee and everyone adores him — not!), his bellicose behavior, his shameless histrionic comments, his ideological dearth of reality, his lamentable fascism, his endless marination of misogyny, his open fat-shaming assaults, his admitted sexual assaults, his fearful contemptuous demagoguery, his utter lack of policies, his sightless reversal of courses (and blatant lies, deceit), his trash talking bullying and invectives, his lack of simple humility, his nonpologies of grabbing women’s genitals, his unmitigated narcissism is truly extreme, really hyperbolic.  Just insulting, crude, undignified, and dour — not befitting of anyone holding the office of the Presidency of the United States.

And to even think that he has serious supporters, even mild or occasional adherents? Do some even pretend to truly want a hubristic, unfit carnival barker to govern as president?  He is a slipshod celeb, a deplorable clown, not someone who should hold any civic or constitutional office. His relentless vitriol on Twitter is flatly embarrassing. It is that a pure combination of arrogance and ignorance?

The Donald is a revulsive fool who loves feckless fear, antagonistic acrimony, speaks to irrationality, and above all is addicted to his own popularity. You should be ashamed, collaborators, each of you that gives one whit about the democratic process, are often sadly uneducated, lack historical context and take the Donald as a serious candidate. The Donald is a brutish, bulling Duck who waddles aimlessly and loves hearing himself quack. He bespeaks an “empathetic and historical loser.”

Actually, I hope and pray that imperious red + gray combover will carry the Republican nomination and lose woefully, much later, and then a lady will finally inherit the White House — one who is more wisely oriented towards negotiation, not fevered prejudice, saber rattling or war. A loose, inhumane cannon. Condemn the Donald and do not elect him unless you crave for the world to implode. You know precisely who he is…

Perhaps, The Donald’s fear or scorn of African Americans, Mexicans, Latinos, women, the disabled soldiers’ parents, Vietnam vets, sexual harassment victims and Muslims is based upon his silly dismay or confusion or fond reminiscence of his own German (or is it Swedish now?) immigrant heritage. Maybe, it is simply their skin, sex and hair color which differs vastly from The Donald’s.  Who knows what goes on under that desperate reddish-orangish rag and clown fish mouth that spews hatred, countenances violence, spreads petulance and irascibility?

Now, some fellow Republicans have finally noted his small hands (he does appear to have openly splayed smaller digits) which often leads to a minute member regardless of how far he can purportedly drive a golf ball, but he never said he could catch and shoot…but, it all seems far from bizarre where has this has all gone, or perhaps others who support him have the same afflictions?  Sorry for you.  As baffling as this lurid “locker room talk” seems, we should be seriously debating presidential policies.  Then again, perhaps the Donald wants to unravel the GOP.

Of course, he has very few, if any, stated political agendas.  Now, he has demonstrated a thirst and penchant for violence against others, including his opponent and any protesters and has spoken definitely on air about his lewdness, immorality, crudeness and indecency. It is time to awaken, folks. “Mark my words, believe me.”

As Seneca the Younger once remarked, “people take pleasure in giving power to the indecent,” some two millenia before John Steinbeck or even Uncle Joe Stalin, P.T. Barnum, Il Duce, Robert Mugabe, or other authoritarian regimes, and certainly the Donald.

It was not just words, Donald — and I hope everyone knows that.

Now, onto something much more soothing.

PIG EARS

Pig ears, a few (local and high quality)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 T dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 T coriander seeds
Grating of nutmeg

2-3 C chicken stock and cold water
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisanal noodles with a tab of butter

Pig ears should be procured from a local farmer. Look for fresh clean smooth ears without marring or stains, and if bristles still exist, singe or shave them.

Marinate them an evening ahead. A healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, dried thyme and a sprig or two of thyme leaves, coriander seeds, and a dash of nutmeg.

Cook them in stock, rinse, and then cover with stock and water. Add sliced carrots, sliced and peeled onions, bay leaves and sea salt with black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then put the heavy pot in a low oven, below 200 F for some 10 hours, or until you can easily pinch thumb and finger through them and feel little resistance. Allow the ears to cool completely.

Now, the finish which should be crispy.

In a 450 F oven, roast the pig ears, so as to avoid the spatter of frying them. Put them between pieces of parchment or waxed paper, and weigh them down with another sheet pan, and cook until just slightly brittle, about 15 minutes and slice.

Then, serve them over mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisan noodles with a tab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.
~Albert Einstein

While I am on a lemon grass binge, let’s add some coconut milk, rice and peace…

Indonesia, the most vast of archipelago states, is bespeckled with over 17,500 islands in the Indian ocean, covering a maritime area of some 3.1 million square miles. Home to the world’s fourth largest populace and still growing, the land mass of Indonesia alone is three times that of Texas. Put those numbers in your lone star stetson and smoke ’em, George.

And here, behold coral’s homeland, the marine biodiversity hall of fame, and for some shame. The Coral Triangle — a stunning, yet sadly imperiled, underwater Eden.

The Coral Triangle has been aptly dubbed the global epicenter of marine species diversity and remains of paramount concern to conservationists and commoners alike. This fecund region of the seas covers a deltoid area equivalent to one-half of the United States and contains more than one-third of all the world’s coral reefs. An evolutionary hot spot due to the combination of light, high water temperature, and strong, nourishing currents from the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The seasonal influx of nutrients from these deep ocean upwellings along with equatorial sunshine and warm seas results in an abundance of plankton. So, it teems with more than 600 species of reef-building coral (compared to only 60 in the entire Caribbean) and over 3,000 species of reef fish. Sheltering nearly 75% of the world’s mangrove species, 45% of seagrass species, 58% of tropical marine mollusks, five species of sea turtles and at least 22 species of marine mammals also occur in the region, the Coral Triangle is an astounding display of diversity condensed into less than 1% of the world ocean’s surface area. This melting pot of biodiversity harbors species that appear nowhere else on Earth, including 97 species of reef fishes endemic to Indonesia, and more than 50 in the Philippines.

With this resplendent beauty comes the beast, as coral reefs and other marine habitats within this region are severely threatened by human activities. The most pervasive and perfidious threats are overfishing and baleful fishing practices, including blast fishing and fishing with poisons, which torment broad stretches of reefs in the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Sedimentation and pollution associated with overpopulation, coastal development and land use also put the region’s delicate reefs and marine habitats at risk. To worsen matters, acidification of the surrounding seas is occuring due their absorption of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. More acidic oceans render it more difficult for coral to produce the necessary calcium carbonate shells, diminishing oceanic ecosystems and the existence of coral reefs.

Exploring the manifold cultural, ethnic, regional and historical underpinnings of Indonesian cuisine is for another day, another plug. For now, allow me to at least briefly touch on one ingredient in this dish. Daun salam (Syzygium polyanthum), sometimes mistakenly called Indian bay leaves, are leaves from a deciduous tree in the myrtle family which grows wild in the Southeast Asian peninsula, Indonesia and Suriname. Reaching heights of over 60 feet, this tropical tree has spreading branches and simple, aromatic leaves. The Indonesian phrase daun salam means “peace leaf.”

COCONUT & LEMON GRASS RICE

2 C jasmine rice

1 1/2 C water
1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 thick stalks of fresh lemon grass (bottom 1/3), bruised, and tied in a bundle
1″ slice of ginger
1 t sea salt
8 whole dried daun salam leaves (or 2 whole dried bay leaves)

Roasted peanuts, chopped (for garnish)

In a large heavy saucepan, rinse rice several times with fresh cold water, gently swirling with your fingers. Once the water is no longer cloudy and fairly clear, drain completely.

Add water, coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger, salt, and daun salam leaves. Stir some to combine.

Place the pan over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice from scorching on the bottom. Bring to a vigorous boil and allow to continue to boil for less than thirty seconds, still stirring. Reduce the heat to the low and cover tightly. Continue cooking at low for 15 minutes. Resist all temptation to peek by removing the lid as that would allow essential cooking steam to escape.

Remove from heat and continue to steam, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Discard the lemon grass, ginger and daun salam leaves. Gently fluff the cooked rice with a spoon. Mound the rice in a deep serving bowl, and serve warm. Garnish individually with chopped peanuts.