Thanksgiving, 2010. First off, the prep:
That’s a test-drive of one of the three desserts from Wednesday. There was leftover filling so I baked it in a couple of ramekins and then poured that luscious, sexy-looking red liquid over the top once they were cool so it gelled into a limpid layer of love. That’s a lemon balm leaf. Why? Because it’s still alive.
This here is a pork terrine busy cooking at 71˚C for 6 hours. The beauty of this method is that it holds at exactly the target temp, getting tender and succulent without drying out even a little. And then, once plunged into cold water and then fridged, the vacuum in the bag acts as a weight to compress it into a fetching rectangle for handy slicing and serving. I’m going to tiptoe downstairs and eat the remnants of this as soon as I’m done typing.
And that there is a big dollop of grape jelly (homemade, of course) cooking with cubed beets. The result was puréed, pushed through a tamis, and used as a sauce for the foie gras amuse. And here’s a shot of the rolls, baked in little terra cotta flower pots with rosemary sprinkled on top. You think you’re jealous now? Just wait.
This dinner included duck in five forms, and was meant to stay pretty traditional while satisfying several requirements. First, it needed to serve as a rehearsal dinner of sorts for my sister-in law, who got married two days later. Second, it needed to be accessible enough for kids and other family who flew in for the occasion, and last, it needed to hit that special Thanksgiving spot: bird, squash, tubers, cranberries, etcetera.
So here’s the dinner. To begin, that pâté (pork, with green peppercorns and plenty of smoked paprika) plus some freshly-made duck prosciutto, plus a condiment of surpassing effectiveness. It deserves its own post, so suffice it to say it covered the mustard and pickle portions of the dish at the same time, and could not have been more local. We had rosé Champagne to go with it, but I’ve forgotten the name and recycled both the bottle and my notes. Brut, not particularly remarkable, but elegant enough to begin a festive occasion.
Next up, a trio of amuse-bouches, all based on beets, and served on the minute dishes I made for just such precious occasions. From right to left: seared foie gras on the beet-grape sauce with pickled beet, powdered peanut butter, and mustard flower. Then, the Thai-flavored coconut borscht that has become a specialty: beets cooked with coconut milk, galangal, lime leaf, ginger, lemongrass, and a little chili paste, then puréed and strained to achieve a super-velvety texture. Last, little fritters of curry-flavored yellow beets. I shredded them, kneaded them with a little salt to release their liquid, wrung them out in a dish towel, then added flour, salt, and curry powders, and then shaped them and fried them in peanut oil. They got a dollop of tamarind paste mixed with homemade applesauce and a cilantro leaf for an herbal garnishy note. The wine for this and the next course was a 1989 Moulin Touchais Côteaux du Layon; they pick 20% of the grapes (Chenin Blanc) underripe, and the rest late-harvest so they’re full of sugar. The acidity of the minority plus the sugar of the majority makes for an extraordinarily long-lived wine; they guarantee it for 100 years. It’s sweet, but more in a spicy-appetizer-with foie-gras way than in a dessert way. And the age has made it into something special indeed, with subtle, funky complexities intertwined with honeyed fruit.
Next, soup: phở made from two duck carcasses after I stripped them for parts. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a more profoundly soul-warming use for the bones of ducks, geese, turkeys, lamb, or cows than this stock. It’s just sublime. I simmered them very low with cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, black peppercorns, and charred ginger and onion for about two hours, skimming frequently so the result was nice and clear. Then I strained it through a jelly bag. The garnish was a thin sliver of jalapeño and slivers of scallion.
Next up, salad and bread. The salad was a carefully curated mix of tender leaves still thriving in the garden: lettuces, mâche, parsley, celery, fennel, beet greens, spinaches, radicchio, curly endive, and scallion. I already mentioned the bread. Admit that you’re totally stealing this idea for your next shindig. Greens? Flower pots? It’s poetry, people.
Next, the beginning of more substantial food, and what could be more traditional than corn? I took some of the wonderful local polenta and cooked it in a mixture of duck phở and water, whisking in some local camembert (with the skin cut off) towards the end of cooking. That was it; I adjusted the salt, and added a slice of cheese and thyme to finish. The simplicity and subtlety of the flavors made this pretty great. By this point we had moved on to a 2006 Choffelet-Valdenaire Givry Clos Jus that wasn’t showing well, though it opened up a bit toward the end.
Now, the main plate. As I have done before, with turkeys, geese, and ducks, I made confit from the legs and seared the breasts rare. It’s just the best way to ensure that every piece of the bird gets cooked exactly the way it should, and it offers much more variety of flavor and texture on one plate. I put the crisped and shredded confit on top of sweet potato rounds baked in heavy cream with a pinch each of salt and 5-spice. It’s that happy place where gratin and confit meet, and tastes like pure candy where the cream caramelizes on top. The breast meat went on top of caramelized turnips mixed with some nappa cabbage after they were all brown and sexy. The cranberry sauce was pretty straightforward, involving ginger, tangerine peel, and maple syrup, and the green mash was per usual: pan di zucchero blended with garlic, walnuts, olive oil, and local raspberry vinegar. Spots were hit. We drank a 1998 Le Galantin Bandol “Longue Garde” which is a special wine made only in good years and meant, as the name explains, for long aging. It was good drinking with this sturdy food, and could have sat even longer.
Then finally, dessert. Instead of making three regular pies, I took a little extra time to make individual tarts. The presentation was better, and portions were also just right to bring everyone to perfect satiety with no bloated groaning or food comas. From back to front: dark chocolate mousse with candied tangerine peel, apple tarte tatin with maple caramel, and pumpkin cheesecake with cranberry-sumac glaze. We had Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port to go with the tarts, and it did all that port should do with such treats, washing them down with nutty, raisiny goodness. I was particularly taken with the apple tarts, which were warm, though all were well received. Washing the dishes was horrifying, but I had help.