Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

As you may have noticed by now, whenever possible I like to make things from scratch, but often it goes beyond the expected desire of a chef to make things by hand like pasta, sausages, or breads. More and more I feel the urge to push myself another step, even when the additional workload falls on my shoulders. I'll come in early, work on a day off, and research after closing to not only further myself and the restaurant, but also for the joy of creating an ingredient that many would buy pre-made without thought of how simple (and more flavorful) it would be to make it themselves. All it takes is some planning and patience. The problem is that I'm good with organization, but patience.... not so much. Blame it on a career of working in a business that demands food and decisions to be made as fast as possible. That's fine though; if I busy myself with enough projects, I tend to forget about them until my log surprises me by telling me that they are ready.

Saturday was one of those pleasant surprises. My log had reminded me that it was time to bottle our Housemade Limoncello. My, how time flies!! Modeled after the recipe that I made at home for my own supply, the process is actually quite simple with a little finesse: peel lemon zest without any of the white pith and steep it with 100 proof vodka for six weeks, then add an equal amount of simple syrup, and then steep for another six weeks before bottling. Sometimes additional aging in the bottle is required, as was the case for my personal attempt, but this batch was ready to go (due to cooler temperatures in my home than in our restaurant's kitchen, I bet).

Rather than just offer this as a digestif alongside our desserts I wanted to debut my version in a cocktail that I have been holding back for just the right time. I paired the limoncello with an equal portion of Rye Whiskey (a new favorite of mine) over ice with a few dashes of Peychaud Bitters, a Louisiana brand that has cherry, spicy and anise notes that is far less pungent than the obligatory Angostura type that we are used to tasting. Filled with ice and brightened with a topping of club soda brings this drink up to a whole new level!

As opposed to the other long cured items that I am currently working on (like Guanciale and our own aged apple cider vinegar) there is one culinary tradition that is still very common in kitchens today and yet very quick to prepare, in comparison: Duck Confit. Originally meant as a means to preserve the meat, the preparation involves curing the legs and then cooking them slowly in their own fat, but these days its flavor is so popular, we can't hardly keep it around.

We have it shredded in a couple of items on our menu now, but I wanted to serve it whole, so I crisped a finished leg, skin side down in a non-stick pan in the oven. A classical pairing for duck is cherries, and it is no coincidence that this dish came to be during the rise of bing cherry season, but cherries can't simply be added like vegetables, so I decided to incorporate them into a sauce with caramelized shallots, thyme and a mild beef stock as a base. With some good cooking wine and a little time reducing (and some secret ingredients that I cannot disclose - that's how great this sauce came out!), the foundation was set.

To balance the subtle sweetness of the cherries I sauteed some local, organic wild arugula, and instead of the traditional "starch" that you find on most entrees I went with a cold Herbed Goat Cheese Flan, because 1- I love the correlation between hot and cold, 2 - the herbs (thyme, chives and parsley) really work well with duck and the sauce, and 3 - the slight gameyness from the chevre goat cheese plays well with that of the duck. (and no, I'm not BSing you about this; a lot of time and lack of sleep goes into working out these combinations of flavors!)
I am really happy with they way that both of these specials have come out, and I truly believe that the time that it has taken to make them really shines out, but I can speak from a certain knowledge that in due time, the best has yet to come ;).

With Love,