Greetings from a very wet Boston. This rain sucks – our ceiling is leaking…and it drips on me every so often.
My last dinner home involved one of my favorite things: corned beef. I’ve been on a corned beef and pastrami bender lately, and this topped it off really nicely. Like many Americans, we made corned beef and cabbage in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This only begs the question: Is corned beef and cabbage a traditional Irish dish? Well, not technically. It’s as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs is Italian: sure, spaghetti and meatballs are rooted in traditional Italian cuisine – but not served together (if you really want to get into it, spaghetti is typically enjoyed doused in a good olive oil, not tomato sauce…but I digress). Here’s my understanding of the corned beef phenomenon: Corned beef is quite traditionally Irish in and of itself. Back in the day, cows were prized for their milk, and weren’t often killed for their meat. However, when they were, the brisket was brined for days and then boiled. The meat was then served with potatoes or other vegetables, but not cabbage. So, when did the cabbage come in? Well, there’s another traditional Irish dish consisting of bacon and cabbage. A large hunk of bacon was boiled for a long period of time and then served up with cabbage. When Irish immigrants came to the US, they looked for the same bacon meat they used to make this dish, but to no avail. They found that the Jewish immigrants’ corned beef tasted rather like their bacon, and had a similar texture. Thus, corned beef and cabbage.
As with many foods in this culture, corned beef and cabbage is an immigrant improvisation. And it’s so, so delicious.
While corned beef is traditionally brined for a few days before cooking, we sort of decided to have this on reeeeally short notice, so brining wasn’t an option. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious. It was salty, beefy, and fell apart. I don’t know how to describe it, other than…it was delicious corned beef. Side note: why “corned”, you ask? Well, brining it involved rubbing it in tons of salt. The salt would take the shape of corn kernels, so there you go.
I’m not sure I’ll bother with posting a recipe, as we used the prepackaged meat. Essentially, after brining the meat, you simmer it in a stockpot for 2 1/2-3 hours so it gets really tender. During the last 20 or 30 minutes of the cooking, throw in your carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. For this, we used about 6 or 7 medium to small carrots, 5 red potatoes, and 1 medium head of cabbage.
My mom also made some delicious Irish Soda Bread from scratch earlier that day. It was a bit of a marathon baking day, as she was making batches upon batches of cookies for the school she works at (I had the pleasure of being the official tester/cookie dough eater). The bread had the most crispy crust and yet a delicate, not too dry interior. Irish Soda Bread gets extremely dry if not done well. I wish I had room in my suitcase to take a chunk of it (as well as some cookies) back with me.
Irish Soda Bread as adapted from here
4 cups flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 tbsp. butter
1 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk * the original recipe calls for 2 cups, but a correction was made
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then stir in raisins.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf.
4. Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet. Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about 1/2” deep in an “X” shape. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife, about 40 minutes. Transfer bread to a rack to let cool briefly. Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted.
We baked our bread for about 35 minutes because the outside of the bread started to look a little too brown, but I guess it depends on how evenly your oven cooks.
The night ended, as all nights should, with a cannoli from a local Italian bakery. And I’ve come full circle. Break started and ended with an excellent cannoli.
So, I have relatively no food here with the exception of pasta and some leftovers. Perhaps there will be a chicken or pasta dish somewhere during the week. Other than that, updates may be sparse….
Good evening, everyone.
Amidst enjoying the nice weather, going for a few exhilarating runs, and falling way behind on the two papers I have to write, I roasted a duck Julia Child style.
I’ve never roasted a duck before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had duck for a meal before (yes, really.). Sure, I’ve tasted it once or twice whenever my mom has gotten it at a restaurant. Other than that, it never interested me. Not until now, anyway. The allure of duck fat, crispy duck skin, delicious dark duck meat and promise of a great demi glace-based sauce drew me in. The duck needed to be cooked.
With our duck, we had some delicious epi bread, which is a traditional French picnic bread. It’s composed of knots, which are typically torn off and used as rolls to accompany the meal. You can tear them off pretty neatly, which keeps the integrity of the bread in tact so no other knots are ruined. It’s got a great crunchy crust, and a very soft interior. Delicious dipped in a good olive oil.
Also accompanying the duck was delicious roasted asparagus. This recipe is extremely simple, and it comes out so well every time.
1 bunch of asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 425F. Snap the rough ends of the asparagus off.
2. place on baking sheet in one layer. drizzle with olive oil, coating thoroughly. sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
3. place sheet in oven for 8-10 minutes. Serve immediately.
And now, for the duck.
Caneton Roti, straight out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 5 1/2 lb duckling
1 tsp salt, divided into two halves
1/8 tsp pepper
a pinch of thyme or sage
a small sliced onion
1 medium sliced carrot
1 medium sliced onion
1 1/2 – 2 cups brown duck stock, beef stock, or canned beef bouillon (optional: 3 or 4 TBSP port)
1-2 TBSP softened butter
Method: (before doing any seasoning, trim off excess fat by the tail. you can also take off the wing tips, cutting them at the elbow. i left mine on because i enjoy gnawing on the crispy tips – i’ll admit it.)
1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Season inside of duck with salt, pepper, herbs, and the sliced onion. Secure the legs, wings, and neck skin to the body. Prick the skin around the thighs, back, and lower breast. Dry duck thoroughly.
3. place the duck breast up in the roasting pan, strew the vegetables around it, and set it in the middle level of the oven for 15 minutes to brown lightly.
4. reduce oven to 350 degrees, and turn the duck on its side. regulate heat so duck is always making cooking noises but fat is not burning. remove accumulated fat occasionally (use a bulb baster for this). basting is NOT necessary.
5. about 30 minutes later, or about halfway through your set cooking time, turn the duck on its other side.
6. fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated roasting time, salt the duck and turn it breast up.
7. the duck is done to a medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh or drumstick run faintly rosy when the meat is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are a pale rose. the duck is well done when the juices run pale yellow.
8. when done, discard trussing strings, and place the duck on a serving platter. set in turned-off oven and leave the door open while preparing the sauce, which will take 3-4 minutes.
Making the sauce
1. tilt the roasting pan and spoon out all but 1 TBSP of fat. add the stock or bouillon and boil rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices, and crushing the vegetables until liquid is reduced at least by half. correct seasoning. add optional wine and simmer a minute to evaporate its alcohol.
2. off heat and just before serving, swirl the butter into the sauce and strain it into a sauceboat. pour a bit of the sauce over the duck and serve.
I followed her recipe pretty exactly, except instead of placing an onion inside the duck, I put in a few garlic cloves. This didn’t seem to affect the taste of the duck, but it provided a nice aromatic element. I also took it upon myself to season the outside of the duck before placing it in the oven. Although the duck skin has a lot of flavor anyway, I wanted some salt and pepper on it beforehand. Salting it at the end really makes a difference (who doesn’t love salty skin?).
I chose not to make her sauce, and made one of demi glace and port instead.
The Other Sauce
3-4 TBSP demi glace
1/2 cup port
1 shallot, diced
2-3 TBSP duck fat
1. heat the duck fat in a saute pan. add the shallots and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
2. add the port, and bring to a boil. cook until most of the liquid has reduced.
3. add the demi glace, bring to a boil for about 1 minute. transfer to a sauceboat and serve.
That sauce was really good.
Tomorrow night? Steak. It’s marinading as I write.