The Return Of The Native

The painting is done, so my frantic 12+ hour days have abated for now. Happily, there’s all kinds of vernal burgeoning going on in the garden and elsewhere, so my return to the kitchen has been made even more inspiring by all the good food that’s growing everywhere. I had promised my wife a special dinner for having cooked most nights while I worked through the evenings, so last night I delivered.

It also gave me an excuse to take my new immersion circulator for a spin; David made it for me and it will feature in an upcoming article. And I made use of my new favorite ingredient: spruce tips. There will be more about them in the near future, but this time around I sprinkled them on some duck legs with salt and sealed them up. They cooked for about 5 hours at 60˚C. While they sat in the water, I spread spruce needles out on a cookie sheet over the tub where they had dehydrated beautifully by the time the duck was ready. A BTU saved is a BTU earned, after all, and as we recently established I’m all about the hacks and efficiency.

While the duck cooked, I worked. Then, with about an hour to go I cut some asparagus and claytonia in the garden, and then two stalks of rhubarb from one of the fruit gardens. I bagged the rhubarb with a mixture of blackcurrant vinegar and maple syrup plus a pinch of salt and dropped it in the water bath for 45 minutes, pulling the duck out when it was time to finish. Finishing meant getting a good brown crisp on the skin and then flipping them over to color the other side. I had whisked up a quick spaetzle batter, flavored with parsley and ginger, so I dribbled it into the hot duck fat and scooped out the little crispy discs once nicely browned on both sides. After they were done, I tossed the chopped asparagus (mixed with some of the pickled wild garlic) into the pan and gave it a quick sizzle.

The fat and juices from the duck bag became a pretty wicked gravy, for which I used my new favorite combination of roughly equal parts whey and kimchi brine as the liquid. And I made a quick little sauce of blackcurrant vinegar and maple syrup with a spoon of soy sauce to produce a gently savory gastrique. Plating was thus a big blorp of gravy, a leg, a scattering of spaetzle followed by some asparagus, strategic deployment of rhubarb, and then a dainty ornament of claytonia leaves, with a spoon of the gastrique (though it was a bit thin) around the edges like a blush.

Some notable facts:

1. Everything on the plate was from this immediate area except the salt.

2. Duck and rhubarb are a winning combination, especially sous vide rhubarb (thanks to ZenChef for the SV tip). The acidity does wonders with the rich fat.

3. Duck fat gravy with whey and pickle brine is full of win.

4. The spruce added a certain subtle something; I’ll be going deep into its possibilities in the coming weeks.

5. It may be untraditional, but skipping the boiling step and just dropping spaetzle batter into hot duck fat isn’t the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.

Let this season inspire you to take risks and try some new things in the kitchen. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll ruin dinner. Make sure you have a can of cherries and a rotisserie chicken on hand for backup.

11 comments to The Return Of The Native

  • I used to pick little tender fir buds and eat em when I was hiking. They were lime green and actually tasted a bit citrussy. Now theyre fashionable. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • and I thought for sure you would make an emu egg cassoulet.

  • Like all good American women (Ra Ra) I can’t wait to get my hands on some BPA teeming, canned emu eggs for my cassoulet. I’m still steaming after reading that article.

  • “Make sure you have a can of cherries and a rotisserie chicken on hand for backup.” ::snerk::

  • I think you should do that chicken-and-cherries dish, but do it as you would any dish, using pastured chicken and fresh cherries – and maybe spruce tips. I’ll bet you can make what sounds like a revolting and lazy combo into something wonderful.

  • Peter

    CC: Blame the NOMA book.

    Rebecca: Because cassoulet is famous for all the eggs that go into it.

    Nicole: Go leave her a comment; I took a look at them and they’re unanimously negative.

    Jill: Better safe than sorry.

    Zoomie: I could see duck and cherries. How about duck and rhubarb?

  • Oh, yes, duck and rhubarb! Lovely! But you could do cherries and chicken if the cherries were a little sour…

  • Peter

    Then look no further; just reread the post above.

  • I’m definitely interested in learning more of these spruce tips! This dinner looks fantastic and I love that it was all mostly from your garden/local area! =)

  • Peter

    Limiting oneself to just what’s nearby makes for better food. All the distractions of plenty in the supermarket fade away.

  • [...] and rhubarb go very very well together, as I learned back in rhubarb season, and these wontons were badass. I wanted to the terrine to have that same spark of bright acidity [...]

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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