Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

This is the first spring that Jim and I will spend living in a nice place.  We’ve been in old, crappy complexes before, and ones that look pretty on the outside, but are about 500 square feet too small on this inside, ones where you end up with a view of the parking lot.  This spring is different.  We have a screened in porch (the excitement never ceases), trees galore, and a river out the backyard.  Jim swam in it yesterday; he sat on the rock in the middle of the river, closed his eyes and smiled, letting the current rush around him.  And I cursed myself for leaving my camera behind.

But the best thing about this spring is duck, and the local farm that raises it.  I’ve spoken about Podere di Melo before but I feel I must bring them up again, being that there’s a few more nearby-people reading my blog now.  Podere di Melo farm is… well, they say it best:

Podere di Melo is a Certified Naturally Grown farm in West Amwell, New Jersey.  We specialize in foods of the Italian and French countryside.  Our products include European vegetables, honey, and a variety of meats including gourmet poultry, duck, lamb, guinea fowl, and heritage pork.   Our family is dedicated to sustainable farming practices.  We use no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on our crops.  Our animals roam over chemical-free pastures and are never given antibiotics or hormones.  We pride ourselves on our humane treatment of our animals, allowing them continual access to pasture and sunshine throughout most of the year.

Please note the words Italian and French countryside, roam, dedicated to sustainable farming, humane treatment, pasture and sunshine. Are you smiling?  I am.  Podere di Melo’s food is above anything I’ve ever tasted, even organic.  Farm-raised on a small farm is just a different thing altogether.  I’ve mentioned the chicken before which are raised, in the European tradition, to 12 weeks of age before slaughter (up from 6-8 for industrially-farmed chickens), and I’m sure I’ll mention the pork this coming summer (we got to check out the lazy pigs this weekend, adorable little big guys), but today I’m here for duck.

I’d reserved four ducks online from Podere a month or two ago, knowing I would pick them up this weekend.  What I couldn’t foresee however, was the weather. Perfect for walking around the farm, checking out the pigs, and letting Champ check out the horse barn (he couldn’t believe that they made whole houses for animals!).  It was the dreamy start to our duck dinner, though I’m sure everything would work out fine without that step.

Instead of the traditional sweet-with-duck, like a l’Orange, we opted for duck with braised sauerkraut.  I’m a sauerkraut lover, as is Jim, so when I found Mark Bittman’s easy as pie (easier) recipe for Roasted and Braised Duck with Sauerkraut, we knew we had dinner.  Our duck was perfectly sized for my oval dutch oven, leaving enough room for sauerkraut.  For the recipe, it’s about as simple as putting the duck in a pot, pot in the oven, wait, pot on stove, sauerkraut in pot, wait, carve and eat.  Oh, and don’t forget to drain off and save the fat.

The trick is to cook it in a pot or dutch oven, so that the fat renders and then fries the duck legs on the bottom of the pot.  (The other trick, I’m sure, is to buy a farm-raised duck, which are near impossible to mess up; even overcooked I’m sure the flavor would be enough to satisfy.)  I drained off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat after the duck had been roasted, then added a few teaspoons to some parboiled yukon gold potatoes and roasted them at 500 degrees in the oven while the duck cooked with the sauerkraut on the stovetop.  Let me tell you: Best. Potatoes. Ever.

The duck was flavorful with a hint of game, succulent, and fork-tender.  The sauerkraut lent just the right amount of acid to cut through the fat.  It was one of those meals, when you are so full but there’s half a duck breast on your plate, and you are really, truly sorry that you can’t eat another bite. Okay, just one small bite more…

Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

2-4 servings

from Mark Bittman’s Recipe of the Day

The quality of the sauerkraut is important here. Just make sure the only ingredients are cabbage and salt; inferior sauerkraut contains preservatives, and the kind sold in cans tastes like tin. Even the best sauerkraut, though, should be rinsed before it is added it to the pan.

1 duck, about 4-5 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart sauerkraut, rinsed
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the duck all over with a fork, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper and place it in a large, deep, ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven. Roast the duck for about 1 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it is browning steadily. (If the duck is barely browning, increase the heat by 50 degrees; if it seems to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat slightly.) When it is nicely browned and has rendered a great deal of fat, pour off all but a few tablespoons of the fat and transfer the pan to the top of the stove.

Scatter the sauerkraut around the duck, then sprinkle it with paprika, moisten it with the wine, and tuck the bay leaves in. Turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then stir and put some of the sauerkraut on top of the duck.

Cook another 15 minutes or so, until the duck is quite tender. Carve and serve.

Thank you, with dill.

Hi.  I want to thank you guys for all the lovely comments and emails last post.  You guys are great for putting up with my complaining.  I’d like to thank you with a fresh, springy, picklely side dish: marinated yellow squash and green beans with dill.  It may not sound like the best thank you gift, but it’s made with my very best olive oil and a fabulous sherry vinegar and with lots of love from me. (Yes, Mr. Colicchio, love is an ingredient, here.)

It’s a really nice spring dish but an even nicer spring is being a fickle lover over here on the east coast dish; the vinegar adds a nip and a kick but the oil smooths everything over and warms you up.  And dill is such a happy, spring herb, isn’t it?  I made this with all the unused fresh vegetables we had from the weekend (Jim got sick and when that happens in this house we like to order take-out sushi and crawl up together on the couch until it passes.).

I julienned the squash mainly because I have a cool little one-purpose tool (I otherwise loathe one-purpose tools but this one is small and handy) that I don’t get to use often enough.  I don’t know how you julienne but this is how I do it: with my little orange julienner; his name is Howard and he makes quick work of a squash.

There’s a bit of prep-work involved in this thank-you dish (it’s sounding less and less like a thank you…), and though a tool like Howard would help, you could do this all with a trusty knife.  Julienne the squash, trim the green beans, and slice the mushrooms.  After that’s done, you’re practically there.  Blanch the vegetables quickly in boiling water, drain, and add to a vinagairette of sherry vinegar, your best olive oil, dill, and scallions.  Let it cool for an hour or so—I put mine out on the porch in the cold spring air—then season again with more salt, pepper, and dill.  And there you have it; thank you, with dill.

Marinated Squash and Green Beans

serves 4 – adapted from Saveur

We had this with some codfish lightly battered in flour and Urban Accents Pride of Prague spice blend, which has notes of paprika, fenugreek, dill, caraway, nutmeg, and pepper.  Very delicious.

  • 3 or so yellow squash
  • 1.5 pounds green beans
  • a few handfuls of button mushrooms
  • 4-5 scallions, chopped
  • fresh dill, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Julienne squash and set aside.  Trim green beans and cut in half crosswise (or lengthwise if you don’t mind the extra work).  Slice mushrooms.  Once the water is boiling, add vegetables and blanch for a minute or two.  Drain well, trying to rid of any extra water—shaking the colander around helps.

In a medium bowl, add all the vegetables while they are still warm, then add the vinegar, oil, dill and scallions.  Salt and pepper.  Let cool for an hour or longer.  Season with more dill, salt, or pepper to taste.  Serve with a drizzle of that good olive oil.

Braised asparagus.

I have no idea how to plan my wedding.  I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know when I’d like to have it, even, and Jim foresees a wedding a bit farther in our futures than I do; though I’m not, honestly, even sure of that—I’m not sure that I don’t want to have a long engagement, except for the nervous but-does-that-leave-enough-wiggle room-in-my-engaged, married for a handful of years before having kids-life plan? and I’m not a life planner. I don’t even know that I want kids.

Getting engaged makes me feel ridiculously ill-prepared for adult life and I’m honestly running on the knowledge of things I’ve seen on TV and the ability to stick fingers in my ears, clamp my eyes shut, and hum until it all goes away.

Though I only feel that way when I start wedding planning; when my heart starts beating a little bit too hard, and I begin to sweat.  Because I can go all day thinking about the food and the fun we’ll have but the logistics, I’m not ready for them yet.  So for now, I’ll stick to braised asparagus and that warm, comforting feeling that I’m a fiancée who will be able to make a damn-good dinner for her husband, even if she needs to stick fingers in her ears, clamp her eyes shut, and hum over everything else.

Braised asparagus can surely comfort and it’s especially good for these cold spring days we’ve been having, when braised asparagus with slices of gruyère is much more appropriate than quickly blanched stalks with lemon.  By braising, you get all of that deliciously woodsy asparagus flavor, it’s just a little quieter, sleepy maybe.  The dark green color is a good indication of the taste—darker than quickly cooked asparagus, less biting but deeper too.  And really, really good.  Good enough to make me feel a little weepy and happy that I have some braised asparagus around to give me a warm, green hug.  (Though nothing beats a hug from my fiancé.)

Braised Asparagus with Gruyère Cheese

serves 2-4

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt, pepper
  • gruyère cheese
  • parsley, tarragon, basil, or mint, optional

Trim asparagus, peeling the ends if they are large stalks.  Mince shallot and garlic together.

Heat butter in a pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add shallot mixture and cook for a minute, until they are softened.  Add asparagus, water, and season with salt and pepper then cover pan with lid.  Cook until asparagus are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice gruyère very thinly, using a cheese slicer or y-shaped vegetable peeler if you have one.  Chop herb or your choice, if using.

When asparagus is tender, transfer to a plate, pour remaining shallots and sauce over, and arrange cheese slices on top.  Season with herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Don’t Fear the Bluefish, Part Deux

When I first started blogging, I wrote a post about bluefish.  In it, I claimed that I knew the ultimate way to cook bluefish: to have Jim do it.  He let me in on his crisped-skin secret (scraping your knife against the skin to squeegee off any moisture before you cook) and it does indeed make a tasty bluefish, or any fish for that matter.  We do this crispy-skin method for fish about twice a week actually, with salmon mostly now, and it always gets great results.

But despite how good that method is, I’m telling you today: I’ve found a better way to cook bluefish, with the help of Rick Moonen of Fish Without a Doubt, who advised me on the right pan (cast-iron), the right cooking method (broiling).  The rest of the recipe came from my windowsill herb box.  I used basil, parsley, with a few cloves of garlic and the zest of a lemon, to make an herb butter.

If  you’ve never made an herb butter—with good butter and fresh herbs—then you are in for a treat.  I use them all the time, with different herbs for different proteins: sage or tarragon for chicken, rosemary or thyme for steak, dill or parsley for fish, or I just use whatever tickles my fancy (or needs to be picked from the windowsill).  I’ve never been disappointed with an herb butter and, after you start using them, you can’t stop.  I tried using an olive oil, salt, and pepper rub on a chicken dish that I’d done before with a sage-lemon butter, and oh-man was that disappointing. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because once you try bluefish with herb butter, you’ll regret having it any other way.  Succulent and fresh, this recipe will turn any bluefish-hater around.  The bits of garlic in the butter get slightly burnt and give you that crackle-in-your-teeth contrast to the soft, buttery fish.  Both the basil and the parsley stand out of their own, while working well together—the parsley woody and green, the basil sweet.

To cook it, you put a cast iron pan in the oven so it sits right under the broiler, and broil the empty pan for about 15-20 minutes, so that it gets smokin’ hot.  Then you take the pan out (with good oven mitts!) and add a dollop of the herb butter.  Place the bluefish into the pan, skin side down—it will immediately cinch up and contract—and then place a few spoonfuls of the herb butter on top of the fish. (It may look like a lot of butter in the picture—and it is, about 2 ½ tablespoons.  Not all gets onto your plate but it helps to keep the fish moist when cooking.  And if you’re really worried about it, bathing suit season and all, eat a smaller piece of fish.)  Place the pan back under the broiler and broil for 3 minutes, then baste the fish by spooning the butter over it before putting it back into the oven to broil for another 2-4 minutes, until the fish is white throughout the fillet, yet still very moist.

To serve, put a piece of the fillet on a plate and drizzle some of the browned herb butter over it.  Green beans quickly cooked then tossed with olive oil and lemon are the perfect accompaniment.  Or some new potatoes on the side, little sponges to sop up the juices.  Whatever you eat it with, I’m sure you’ll love it.  Don’t fear the bluefish… just eat it.

Broiled Bluefish with Basil-Parsley Butter

serves 2

for the butter

  • 3 tablespoons good butter, softened
  • small handful basil
  • smaller handful parsley
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 (16-ounce) piece bluefish, skin on

Put butter in a small bowl, softening in the microwave for 5 seconds if needed.  On a cutting board, chop your herbs, garlic, and zest together.  Add the herb mixture and salt to butter and mash up to combine.  Season with black pepper

Put the oven on broil and place a cast-iron skillet in the uppermost shelf, or right under the broiler.  Let the cast-iron pan heat for 15-20 minutes, while the herb butter’s flavors are melding.

Season your bluefish with salt and pepper.  When skillet is smoking hot, take it out of the oven with good oven mitts and transfer to cutting board.  Add a spoonful of herb butter to bottom of skillet then place bluefish skin side down in skillet.  Transfer back to the oven and broil for 3 minutes.  Remove skillet and baste fish with butter.  Transfer back to oven and broil for another 2-4 minutes, or until bluefish is cooked through but still moist.

Serve bluefish with some butter drizzled on top and as much of the crispy herbs and garlic that you can pick up.  Goes particularly well with lemony green beans.

Scallops with mustard and balsamic, on a bed of arugula.

When winter starts to turn, spring changes my kitchen.  Asparagus slithers in, artichokes make a big entrance.  Strawberries begin to take the place of oranges and, most importantly, I start serving practically everything on a bed of greens.  Lamb chops, pork, canned tuna, even steak.  Peppery, spicy arugula is my green of choice, but butter lettuce, spinach, young kale, and even a mesclun mix can find its way to the bottom of my plate.  I almost feel sorry for it—always underneath the protein, like the overweight girl on the cheerleading team, having to lift up the stupid thin, blonde ones, with their bird legs and super-cute boyfriends and well-managed ponytai—not that I have any personal experience or anything…

But unpleasant high school memories aside, I’d like to give the bed of spring greens its due.  They are, for me, the best part of the meal.  Greens make the perfect bed for protein—they can be dressed with a pungent dressing, too strong for a salad, because the protein’s fat and juices will even everything out.  I like that it gives me a chance to wield heavy amounts of mustard, or use a tart balsamic vinegar with nothing else—I’m not sure why, but I like that.

This meal uses both mustard and balsamic, and they both—spicy and tart—compliment sweet scallops like nothing else.  Scallops need a bit of muscle in the way of flavor, in my opinion, because their sea-scented sweetness, while great on their own or with cream, can become too much without any contrast.  And as delicate as they look, a scallop’s flavor can stand up to the strongest mustard sauce.

But I’m inclined to say, all would be nothing if not for the arugula.  Its peppery flavor is almost as strong as the mustard and vinegar it’s dressed with but it adds a new dimension—vegetal, fresh, biting greenness underneath it all.  Kind of like spring, and the green grass that has been seemingly right under the snow and dirt all winter, that is just now peeping into the world, gearing up for the season.

Scallops with Mustard Sauce and Balsamic, on a bed of Arugula

Serves 2

  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • drizzling of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 dry sea scallops, abductor muscle removed
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a small handful of sliced scallions, optional

Arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle balsamic vinegar over leaves, without mixing and dressing them.  Get a nonstick pan very hot, adding a bit of olive oil.  Once the oil starts to sputter, place the scallops onto the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are browned, then flip so that you can brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove scallops, arranging them on top of the arugula.

Add shallot to the pan.  Stir to heat them and then add the white wine.  Let the wine reduce by  half, then turn off the heat and add the water and mustard.  Reduce a little bit more, so the sauce begins to thicken, then add the butter piece by piece, whisking or swirling the pan so that it eases into the mustard and creates a thick, creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over scallops and arugula, mixing everything together to get the sauce and balsamic to lightly coat everything.  Sprinkle with scallions.  Serve.

*Arugula can be arranged on platter and drizzled with balsamic a few hours a head of time.

NJ Food Bloggers

Last weekend, a bunch of New Jersey food bloggers met for a Indian grocery tour given by Elizabeth Stelling from Cook Appeal in Princeton.  The tour was at an Indian grocery that I knew of, in Plainsboro (right next to the Asian supermarket that we go to for things like duck.)  E gave us a bunch of facts on Indian cooking (she’s worked with Indian food for many years) and we all shopped around for a while, before going off to lunch at an Indian restaurant nearby.

I hadn’t known of all the great blogs in New Jersey; Deb of Jersey Bites and I have talked on and off (internetantly) for a while now, but I was never able to attend one of her events (she organized this one), and I’m so glad to have gone and been introduced to such fine NJ bloggers!

Alex and Brandon of A Food Coma have a fabulously techie blog, equipped with iTunes Podcasts of their cooking show, cute animations, and of course, great food.  They’re both in college and extremely talented and it’ll be exciting to see where they go from here.

John and Lisa from John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey seriously know their New Jersey stuff.  I’ve had a great time persuing their blog and it’s a go-to for foodie things to do in the garden state.

Vanessa from Chefdruck Musings runs a wonderful, mommy-centric food blog that’s witty and a lot of fun.  And Vanessa is just about the cutest woman on earth.

Lisa from Jersey Girl Cooks runs a pretty blog with food that runs right up my alley, like braised lamb shanks and mandarin and pecan spinach salad.

Melissa from Sable Minded (yes, there were two fishy blog titles at this event) has a blog that’s not food-centric, but fun and informative to read.  And I do need to read something other than recipes every once in a while.

And finally, Deb of Jersey Bites, who organized the whole thing, runs a blog that you need to read if you live in New Jersey and love food.  And hey, you can even sign up for Jersey Biters and talk on the forums with me about the best burger joints.  And  Chef E, as she likes to be called, not only runs a buzzing chef service but also a blog,

Thanks again, Deb, for organizing this, and can’t wait to do something again!