When You're Swimming in Goose Fat
Make that paean to the joys of salt and animal fat, of course. Being a bit of a paranoid hoarder, I stockpiled on these jars of graisse d'oie as soon as I laid eyes on them. Exactly how many jars? Let's just say should I be bequeathed a gaggle of geese or a flock of ducks anytime soon, putting up enough confit to last through a year's worth of cassoulet won't be an issue.
Duck and goose legs aside, pork belly makes for deliriously good confit. I adapted the instructions from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie. A variation on rillons, the recipe attributed to Jim Drohman of Le Pichet in Seattle uses a sweet spice cure that, in the Loire tradition, incorporates white wine.
As for the best way to reheat these succulent, deeply flavoured chunks of meat poached and preserved in goose fat (duck fat or lard also work)? In a deep vat of hot fat. Yes, deep-frying is the way to go - as Charcuterie explains, deep-frying not only ensures a uniform crust without and a melting texture within, but because the density of the deep-drying medium (the fat) and the confit are similar, juiciness is optimised. To serve, a dab of mustard and a pile of green beans tossed with vinaigrette and toasted, sliced almonds.
A crock of confit up your sleeve makes light work of cooking for company, freeing you to focus on other courses. We had some friends over for dinner on Saturday, and thanks to the assurance of having the main course virtually ready, I had time to rustle up a few other things.
The recipe can be found in The Farallon Cookbook by Mark Franz and Lisa Weiss - a must-include seeing as it is one of the favourites at the restaurant - as well as the recently published 2006 IACP award winning culinary compilation, Cooking at De Gustibus by Arlene Feltman Sailhac - a must-include seeing as it is one of the most popular recipes ever demonstrated at the legendary cooking school. Sort of like an Asian escabeche, the salmon is part-cooked in the hot pickling solution based on sake, the Japanese grain alcohol. Served with a dollop of wasabi-flavoured crème fraîche and topped with ikura, it's a piquant, palate-rousing start to a meal.
Asparagus and morels are a classic pairing given an unexpected and wonderful twist (asparagus becomes a creamy soup, morels a voluptuous custard) in this recipe from Tom Colicchio's Think Like A Chef, a book I love for all sorts of reasons not least of which because it is just about one of the most home cook-friendly chef-authored cookbooks around - rather than list an intimidating barrage of restaurant recipes, he deconstructs the chef's creative process methodically. In the "Trilogies" chapter from which this recipe is taken, the same basic cluster of ingredients (say asparagus, morels and ramps, or lobster, peas and pasta) are used in a series of recipes designed to demonstrate how a little imagination is all it takes to put a vibrant, new spin on commonsensical combinations, proof that cooking can and should be about a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Adapted from Jane Lawson's Cocina Nueva, this is a lush take on that Basque stalwart of stuffed spider crab baked in the shell. The crustacean shells have been replaced by sheets of silken homemade egg pasta, encasing a luxurious filling of freshly picked crab meat bound by a rich tomato-based sauce scented with thyme. Instead of forming ravioli to be poached, I made plump pillows of "free-form ravioli" (part-cooked pasta squares loosely wrapped parcel-style around the filling) to be baked - I adore how fresh pasta goes all crisp and caramelised around the edges when subjected to dry heat, and thought it would make an admirable variant, what with the velvety final dressing of cream and Manchego sauce perfumed with bay leaf. A scattering of tiny olive oil croutons, some flat-leaf parsley, and a dusting of smokily sweet paprika later, you're good to go.
Chocolate Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches
Just about the biggest payoff from figuring out how to make macarons - apart from the macarons themselves, of course - are the exciting composed dessert possibilities they present. Inspired by Pierre Hermé's lovely Miss Gla'Gla and Mosaic creations, I thought a pair of chocolate macarons sandwiched with scoops of ice cream would be a fun yet extravagant ending to the meal. On a whim, I decided to make 3 different flavours - Tahitian vanilla bean, bittersweet chocolate, and salted caramel - without sparing a thought for my incredibly long-suffering monolith of an ice-cream machine. Luckily, it happily obliged, churning out the batches in succession with nary a wheeze. Accompanied by shards of macadamia toffee crunch and a drizzle of chocolate fudge sauce, the resulting dessert is strictly for the inveterately sweet-toothed.