I read somewhere that in the olden days duck was considered poor man’s food. And eggs, eggs were precious. There are reasons why people did not make cakes and cookies every day, just like there are reasons why egg yolk pasta was considered a delicacy. For our ancestors, Christmas was the time to reflect, to celebrate the Solstice and the feasts of deep winter, to rest after a long year of work in the fields, time to have piece and honor the family. Until somewhere along the road to modern times, things flipped. Today, duck is a luxury and eggs are commodity. And today, we measure the merriness of the Christmas holiday by how many presents we received and how rich and decadent our holiday table was.
I spend a great deal of mental cycles thinking about this, especially during the pre-holiday turmoil in the city, when I inevitably get stuck in mile-long lines of shoppers and become entangled within an endless flow of visitors waiting to see the glorious window displays at Saks and Bergdorf. I spend a lot of mental cycles thinking about the time of abundance we live in, and how somehow along the road to modern times, we might have lost the spirit of it.
So I did a project this weekend. I made a Christmas feast for four, out of one duck, ten eggs and some additional items from the pantry. I disassembled the bird and used every single ounce of it. I made a stock out of the bones. It provided a base for a magical soup in a beautiful red color of the holiday. I rendered the fat and made cracklings out of the skin. The meat went into a very hearty and Christmas-worthy ragout. I turned the yolks into pasta and whites into a cake. It was a poor man’s feast but it felt like rich man’s Christmas. And I liked it very much. So much, that I will be doing it again this holiday, for real. It took a lot of time, the kind of time that does not come abundantly these days. But the effort and the kitchen love that went into it made it even more precious. And the best part – this is a kind of feast you can make well ahead and put zero work on the Christmas day. Imagine the Christmas day with no cooking, just a family and the fireplace.
This is it. The Christmas post. You will probably not hear from me again this year. I am checking out. It was a long year. Or maybe you will hear again, because it is difficult to resist the lens and the spatula. Either way, have a wonderful holiday and let us remember that there are so many so less fortunate than us.
Three Little Halves Christmas 2014 Table
Christmas Duck Soup with Star Anise
Duck Ragout with Egg Yolk Pappardelle
Christmas Fruit Bread
Christmas Duck Soup with Star Anise
* 4-5 cups duck stock (see below for the recipe)
* 2 carrots, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices
* 1 two-inch long cinnamon stick
* 5 large scallions
* 2 small garlic cloves, smashed
* 2 tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 1 tsp Worcester sauce
* 4 whole star anise
* 6 black peppercorns
* 16 coriander seeds
* 1 bay leaf
* 1/4 cup dry sherry
Cut four scallions into large chunks. Slice one scallion thinly and keep for garnish.
In a large saucepan caramelize one tablespoon of sugar. (Be careful not to burn it, it happens quickly.) When sugar is caramelized add to it duck stock, carrots, scallions, garlic, bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, coriander, tomato paste and Worcester sauce. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer for another minute or two.
With a fork or slotted spoon, transfer the carrots and star anise to individual bowls. Discard the rest. Strain the broth and ladle it into the bowls. Garnish with the remaining chopped scallion and serve.
Duck Ragout with Egg Yolk Pappardelle
for the ragout
* 1 Long Island duck about 5 lbs (alternatively, 1 duck breast and 2 duck thighs, for a grand total of about 1 lb duck meat)
* 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
* 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/8-inch dice
* 6 oz smoked bacon
* 3 large garlic cloves, minced
* 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
* 1 1/2 - 2 cups robust red wine
* 1 cup ruby port (I used Fonseca)
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 small sprig of rosemary
* 1 tsp brown sugar
* 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1 lb 4 oz egg yolk pappardelle (see below for recipe)
* 2-3 tbs butter
* freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
* good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Disassemble the duck. Remove the skin and fat and keep on the side (you will not be using them in this dish). Remove the meat from the bones, trying to keep as much meat as possible. Reserve the bones to make duck stock.
Grind the duck meat coarsely or chop by hand (you want the consistency of sausage meat). Cut the bacon into 1/8–inch dice.
In a medium sized Dutch oven heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until bacon is nicely browned. Remove the bacon and keep the fat in the pan. Heat again and add the duck meat. Cook until the meat is nicely browned. You might have to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, as the meat will not brown. Remove the meat and discard all but two tablespoons of fat.
Add the onion to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and continue to cook, until the carrots begin to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, duck meat and bacon, tomatoes, wine, port, bay leaves and rosemary, and simmer over low heat for about 2-3 hours. Remove from the heat and season generously with salt and pepper. (You can prepare the ragout a day before and keep in the fridge. It also freezes well.)
When ready to serve, heat the ragout. Heat a large pot of salted water until boiling. Cook the pasta for about 4-5 minutes (or according to your taste). Drain the pasta. Reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water. Add the pasta back to the pot, add the cooking water and butter and cook over low heat for another minute or two, until the butter has melted and emulsified.
Spoon the pasta into individual plates. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the pasta. Top with the ragout and a generous amount of Parmigiano Reggiano.
* skin and fat from one duck (about 1 lb in total)
* fine kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal)
Cut the duck skin into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the duck skin with the fat in a medium or large sized pan. Add about 1/4-1/3 cup of water to the pan. Place the pan over medium-low heat and let it come to a simmer. Once the fat and water are simmering, reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer until the skin turns the color of caramel and is very crispy. (This will take about an hour and half up to three hours depending on the pot, heat and the amount of skin, so keep an eye on the pot.)
When the cracklings are ready, remove them from the fat with slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle the cracklings generously with salt.
Carefully pour the hot liquid fat through a fine mesh strainer (for especially clear fat you may want to line the strainer with cheesecloth). Pour the fat into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to a year. Use duck fat to roast potatoes, make French fries, eggs sunny side up, sear meats -- needless to say, the uses are endless.
Christmas Fruit Cake
* one cup egg whites
* one cup granulated sugar
* one cup all purpose flour (I used King Arthur Organic Unbleached Flour)
* one cup sunflower oil
* juice from one orange
* 1 tbsp vanilla extract (I used Nielsen-Massey)
* 2/3 cup dark chocolate cut into 1/4-inch dice
* 3 1/2 cups mixed dried fruits, cut into 1/4-inch dice (my favorite combination is orange peel, golden raisins and figs, but you can let your creativity run wild here)
* 1 tbsp butter and some flour for greasing the pan
* confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)
* two 6-cup bundt pans
Preheat the oven to 320F.
Beat the egg whites until hard peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat until sugar is fully incorporated. Add the orange juice, vanilla and oil. When the liquids are incorporated, add the flour and mix with spatula until the dough is smooth. Add the chocolate and the fruits. Mix well.
Grease the pans with butter and dust with flour. Divide the batter between the pans. They will not be filled completely, but that is ok, because this should be a low cake. Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out completely dry, and the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.
Leave the cake in the pan to cool, and then slowly remove the cake from the pan. Let it cool completely and then wrap in plastic wrap and store. Before serving, dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar.
Egg Yolk Pappardelle
* 7 oz (200 g) semolina (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
* 7 oz (200 g) all purpose flour (I used King Arthur Organic Unbleached Flour)
* 2 large organic eggs
* 8 organic yolks
Pour the flour into a bowl. Make a crater in the flour and crack the eggs and egg yolks into it. Mix the eggs with a fork until they are completely blended with the flour. Knead the mixture with your hands until it is somewhat homogenous. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of water; if it is too soft, add a bit more flour. (Bear in mind that this dough is somewhat more difficult to work with than the traditional dough with eggs.) Remove the mixture from the bowl and place it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about ten to fifteen minutes until the dough is smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Make the dough sheets: Cut a piece of dough and using a rolling pin flatten it into a rectangle thin enough to go through the rollers at the widest setting. Feed the dough through the rollers, then lay the dough down on the work surface and flour it lightly. Fold the sides of the dough towards the center to make a rectangle, and lightly flour both sides. Flatten the dough with the rolling pin until it is ready to go through the rollers again. Now you are ready to work the dough through the machine, by progressively reducing the width of the rollers. Starting at the second to widest setting, pass the dough repeatedly through the rollers two times at each setting. Then set the rollers one notch narrower and repeat. Roll the pasta sheet finishing with the second thinnest setting.
At this point you can cut the pasta sheets by hand lengthwise into inch thick pappardelle. Or, if you have the attachment for the machine dust the pasta sheet with semolina and pass it through the cutter. Gently gather the papparedelle and place them on the drying rack. If you are not using the rack, carefully shape the pasta into small nested mounds on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper and dusted with semolina.
Cook right away or place the pasta mounds onto a tray, cover with plastic wrap tightly and store in the fridge or freezer.
Yields about 1 lb 4 oz (550g) of pasta
Rich Duck Bone Stock
* carcass and bones from one duck
* 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
* 2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
* 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
* 2 small parsnips, cut into large chunks
* 1 tsp juniper berries
* 4 black peppercorns
* 1 small bay leaf
* 1 sprig of thyme
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Arrange the bones in a roasting pan in one layer and roast until the bones are nicely browned.
Put the bones into a large stockpot. Deglaze the pan with a little bit of water and add to the pot. Cover the bones generously with cold water (you will need about 12 cups of cold water). Heat over medium heat until the liquid is about to bubble. Turn the heat to low, cover with lid partially and simmer for about three to four hours. Do not let the liquid boil.
Add the onion, carrots, parsnip, celery, peppercorns, juniper berries, thyme and bay leaf, and continue to simmer for another hour, partially covered. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth into another pot or heatproof container. Season with salt to taste. Discard the solids. Cool the stock immediately in a sink full of ice water. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in the refrigerator for two to three days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes 4-5 cups of stock