Sous-vide duck confit

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3 x 2 duck legs vacuum sealed ready to be immersed in the sous-vide water oven

Sous-vide cooking used to be the preserve of up-market restaurants. Why? Because the technology behind this method of cooking gives chefs complete control over the outcome of certain recipes. The principle is simple: foods are placed in a vacuum-sealed pouch and immersed in a water bath at a controlled temperature for a controlled period. All things being equal, the results from this method of cooking are identical which in scientific terms amounts to repeatability. Same ingredients, cooked for the same time at the same temperature, taste the same at the end of the process. Excellent for batch cooking. And because foods are cooked in vacuum sealed pouches, foods remain moist and none of the flavour is lost.

The initial cost of the equipment required may deter some people. You need a water oven (which can still be quite expensive) and a vacuum sealer (much less expensive). But making that investment will enable you to produce restaurant-quality dishes at home. Sous-vide cooking is especially effective when preparing tough cuts of meat, brisket, for example, which can remain in the water bath for up to three days and will emerge tender and succulent. Tough brisket, pork shoulder, pigs or ox cheeks all melt in the mouth after cooking sous-vide.

Say no more! You can search online for more details on the benefits of this type of cooking. Meanwhile here’s my own recipe for confit duck legs prepared in the sous-vide water bath:

Duck or goose confit is one of the most luxurious of foods in French cuisine. Gently cured duck legs bathed in their own fat and slowly cooked to falling-off-the-bone perfection. The preparation of this dish in the traditional way can be time-consuming. However, using a sous-vide water oven, nothing could be easier. The first stage of this recipe involves brining the duck legs in a dry cure of 50/50 salt and sugar.

Equipment

A temperature-controlled water bath

A food vacuum sealer

Method for two duck legs

  1. To brine the duck legs, apply a dry cure (15 g sea salt and 15 g sugar, ) to two duck legs.duck confit cooked
  2. Store the legs in a glass or strong plastic container in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours.
  3. Gently rinse the duck legs and pat dry.
  4. Vacuum seal the legs together with a tablespoon of duck fat, a few juniper berries, some freshly crushed black peppercorns, and whatever additional seasoning you want in a food-grade plastic pouch.
  5. Immerse the pouch in the water bath with the temperature set at 80 ˚C and leave for 8-10 hours.
  6. Remove from the water bath and drain the liquid into a bowl. [Reserve this liquid in the fridge. When cooled you can separate the fat from the stock. Use the stock in soups and store the fat for use when roasting vegetables or when preparing more duck confit.]

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Madeleines – a Proustian experience

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Madeleines

In Marcel Proust’s monumental study of voluntary and involuntary memory, In Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator, now an adult, describes how the taste of a madeleine cake brings flooding back to him the days of his youth in Combray where he grew up.

So what better for a dreary Bank holiday Monday monsoon than a fine cup of tea with madeleines to dip, if you so desire, associated hopefully with the memory of an August Bank holiday in days gone by when the sun shone.

Here is the recipe I use, and it never fails. And if you want to enjoy the Proustian experience, see the extract from the novel below:


For 12 madeleines – Preparation time 20 min.

Ingredients
75g melted butter
75g sugar
75g wheat flour
1 large egg
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp rose / orange blossom water (optional)

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C.
Mix together the egg with the sugar, then add the rose / orange blossom water.
Add the flour and the baking powder and stir well.
Add the melted butter. Stir well.
Pour some mixture in the madeleine mould. Make sure you don’t fill it to the top.
Bake for exactly 10 min.
Keep an eye on the madeleines so they don’t burn.

When done, take the madeleines out and leave to cool a little before you unmould them.


From Marcel Proust: In Remembrance of Things Past

Marcel_Proust
Marcel Proust

Many years had past during which nothing of Combray, except what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one winter’s day, as I arrived home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, something I didn’t normally drink. At first I refused, but then, for no particular reason, I changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they’ve been moulded in a fluted scallop shell. And so, tired after a tedious day with the prospect of a depressing day to follow, I mechanically raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my entire body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no hint of what had caused it. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Where had it come from, this overpowering joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those flavours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Where had it come from? What did it mean? How could I grasp and define it?

. . .And suddenly the memory came to me. It was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I didn’t go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie would give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things since, without tasting them, on the trays in patisserie windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place alongside others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, devout folds, were either obliterated or had been dormant so long that they had lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a remote past nothing survives, after the people are dead, after things have been destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain a long time, like souls, ready to be recalled, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of memory.

Translation adapted by John Lyons

Hey good looking, what you got cooking. . . ?

How about cooking something up for me?

Hank Williams
Hank Williams

To the immortal words of Hank Williams’ unforgettable song, our old sea-dog Jonah decides he’s going to share one of his culinary secrets. How come these old timers in Central America, who don’t have two beans to rub together, live to the ripe old age of 90 or more? The answer is diet, and hard work. You all know the saying, “Hard work never killed anyone.” The fact is that hard work saves more lives than it kills, way more!

So what about diet? What do the peasants in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? The answer is gallo pinto: a basic mixture of rice and black beans fried together with a little garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Eat it with maize tortillas, an egg (fried or omelette), or maybe a little meat (not too much) or on its own with plenty of chile sauce and you’re away. Live forever!

So how’s it done?

You need to cook your rice and your beans separately and remember that for gallo pinto they will be mixed 50/50 so I won’t give precise weights. Once the beans are cooked you drain off the liquid and let the beans dry.

Then in a large frying pan you fry a little minced garlic with a little finely chopped onion in a generous dose of good oil (sunflower or extra virgin), adding a little salt and pepper to taste. Once the onions are soft you slowly add the beans on a moderate heat. After a minute or two, you add a similar portion of rice and with the heat still low you stir the contents of the pan, noting how the beans and the rice are getting drier all the time. As the moisture begins to evaporate, the rice will take on a reddish hue having absorbed some of the colour from the beans. What this translates into is flavour. You now need to reduce the heat as low as possible so that the mixture continues to dry out, taking care, however not to burn it. Believe me, the mixture of rice and beans in gallo pinto is a marriage made in heaven!

Gallo pinto is often served with sliced fried plantain (either sweet, when skin is yellow, or savoury, when skin is green). Eggs, meat, tortillas are all optional extras. The beauty of this dish, apart from its simplicity and divine taste, is that it delivers in a very simple format, all the protein and carbohydrate you’re going to need if you intend to do a hard day’s work. And there’s an added bonus. By taking your main protein shot from pulses rather than from meat, you’re actually helping to save the planet. So go for it!


gallo pinto
gallo pinto Jonah made for lunch today

Ingredients
Black beans
Cooked rice
Clove or two of minced garlic
Half onion finely chopped
Cooking oil
Salt
Pepper

Final point. Keep the leftover gallo pinto in an airtight container in the fridge. When next required gently warm through. You’ll find that with every warm-up, the mixture will get drier, the rice and beans will eventually become crunchy and you will cross the taste barrier into ecstasy. By the way gallo pinto means spotted rooster in Spanish.