Sunday, April 19, 2015

Duck Trilogy (Part 3): Baby Spinach with Duck Cracklings, Pecorino Romano and Red Pepper Flakes + Crispy Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes

And here we come to the end of the duck journey. Part Three is upon us. We’ve mastered the broth, we've conquered the meat, and the last third remains, the one we seldom give much thought, if we give it any thought at all. We made the ramen, we cooked the meatballs, and we now face what’s left. The skin. Yes folks, this is a post about duck skin.

Truth to be told, duck is such a treasure, that I could have easily made another post. I could have easily extended this adventure into Part Four, perhaps even Five, except that Duck Trilogy sounded much better than Duck Quatrology. (Does such word even exist?) Plus, I suspect that by the time we reached Part 4, half of my readership would be lost to duck boredom, and the other half still remaining, would seriously question my mental health. So we stay at three. Which will make this a very densely packed Part 3, because we will cover the fat and the skin, and we will have to roll up our sleeves. We will render fat, and make cracklings, and then put them into some good use in two dishes. And just as I could have come up with more posts, I could have easily come up with more dishes -- as a matter of fact I have -- but truth to be told, there is only so much work one can pack in one weekend and still enjoy some sunshine out there. (In case you crave more dishes, check out the Croissant Bread with Duck Fat, it's out of this world.)

I do hope that talking about duck skin does not make you roll your eyes. I wrote about it once, but some things are worth repeating. Every time we eat meat an animal dies; to honor this sacrifice it is our duty to use the gift the animal gave us responsibly and prepare it with utmost respect. I come from impoverished lands where people could not afford to throw food away, where every part of animal was cherished and cooked with a lot of love, where we celebrated the animal gift by making tripe and innards and blood sausages and cracklings. Don’t they say that, “you can eat all of the pig except the squeal”? Correction, “you can eat all of the duck except the beak”. And it is pretty yummy.

Oftentimes when I make cracklings, I dust them with a heavy hand of salt, let them cool, put them in fancy jars, and wait. I wait until late in the night, when no one is around and solitude takes over the house, when Dr. V and Miss Pain are sleeping and the room is echoing with silence, I take my jar, a book and a blanket. And I take a bite; it gives me warmth, comfort and security, as in take-it-easy-everything-will-be-ok. And I take another bite, rustic and grounding, and precious, very, very precious; a bite that travels time, for it sends me to a small feast in a small village, where farmers gather to thank the Gods of the Woods and Fields, the Water Spirits and Forest Fairies, and most of all Mother Earth; they gather to acknowledge the gift of food, be grateful and be happy.

Can you believe that all of it is inside one crackling?

How to Make Duck Cracklings and Render Duck Fat

* 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 dice-like 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-high heat and let it come to a simmer. Once the water is simmering, reduce the heat to medium-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 you are using, heat and the amount of skin, so keep an eye on the pot.) When the cracklings begin to turn dark gold, take one out, let it cool for a minute and try it -- it should be very dry and very crispy. (When the cracklings are close to done, you can press them with a large fork or spatula to help them release the remaining fat.)

When the cracklings are ready, remove them from the fat with slotted spoon, place them in a colander and press again to release any fat that might have left. Place them on a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle generously with salt. Let the cracklings cool completely before transferring them to a jar or an airtight container.

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 clean jars with tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Baby Spinach with Duck Cracklings, Pecorino Romano, Red Pepper Flakes & Merlot Salt

I used Vintage Merlot Sea Salt from the Oaktown Spice Shop in this salad. It arrived in my Food52 secret swap package, from my Secret Santa, Noelle B. I smile every time I think about it -- it is one of the joys of being a part of the Food52 community. I just love how the salt befriended this salad, and gave it a tiny hug of red wine love.

* 1 packet (5 oz) of baby spinach
* about 2/3 cup of duck cracklings (or up to taste)
* 4 oz Pecorino Romano, shaved 

* 2 small shallots, sliced into super thin ribs
* 1 tbsp red pepper flakes (or up to taste)
* 3 - 4 tbsp grassy olive oil
* 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
* salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, toss the spinach, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and mix well. (For this salad I do not like to mix oil and vinegar into vinaigrette, don't ask me why, I just like it better when you can taste the flavor of oil and the flavor of balsamic, they both have a story to tell, and vinaigrette, well vinaigrette tells a different story.)

Place the salad on individual plates. Top with shallots, Pecorino shavings, cracklings, red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt. Serve.

Serves 4

Crispy Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes with White Truffle Salt

There are no roasted potatoes like potatoes roasted in duck fat. Period. Case closed. Potatoes roasted in duck fat and sprinkled with sea salt, oh man, that plate embodies heaven on earth. It's a brunch, lunch and dinner. A feast. It is a symphony. All on one single plate. I did go a little bit on a limb here, sprinkling my plate of potatoes with white truffle salt. And yes, I know what you are thinking, but wait... And yes, I am wary of everything white truffle flavored -- oils, salts and things alike -- because of their punch-in-the-face fragrance, which ninety-nine percent of time is a total fake and has nothing to do with white truffles. But I recently stumbled upon the Jacobsen Salt Co. White Truffle Salt, which is a real thing, just sea salt with a hint of Italian white truffles. And I could not help it. (And no, this is not a sponsored post, I paid my hard earned $24 for this salt, and I happened to like it.) Needless to say, this is just a little act of culinary snobbery on my side, any salt will do fine, because it is really about the potatoes and the duck fat. Period. Case closed.

* 2 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold or Kennebec potatoes
* 1/2 cup duck fat
* white truffle salt (I used Jacobsen Salt Co. Regalis White Truffle Salt), or kosher salt, or sea salt, or any salt of your liking

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 3/4-inch cubes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and pour in enough water to barely cover the potatoes. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to maintain the simmer uncovered, and simmer the potatoes for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the potatoes with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.

Put a large baking sheet/pan in the oven to warm, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, on a stove, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the duck fat until very hot. Take the baking sheet out of the oven, add the potatoes and toss them with duck fat. Mix well to ensure that the potatoes are evenly coated with fat. Spread the potatoes on the baking sheet in one layer, and do not overcrowd. Put the baking sheet in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes. (The potatoes will most likely be done at this point, but do not call it a day as yet, bear with me, because we are now going to build the crust.) Increase the heat to 450F. Flip the potatoes and roast them for another 10-15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and very, very crispy.

Remover the potatoes from the oven, drain on paper towels and season generously with salt. Serve right away.

Serves 4

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