Sometimes a meal just comes together, like George Peppard’s plans always did on the A-Team. This almost always happens as a result of careful listening to what the garden, fridge, and pantry have to say. Ignore them at your peril.
Although hard frosts are now the norm, the tender nightshades laid low, the garden is still very much a force to be reckoned with. All the chicories and brassicas are thriving, as are the sturdy herbs—my late borage planting is a cathedral of florid optimism, and the woody Mediterraneans have yet to notice the cold (I need to dig them up and pot them for transport indoors before it gets seriously cold). The bumper crop of plump potatoes lurks below ground, as do the carrots, the fall sorrel positively gleams with verdant fervor, and the beets and turnips astonish with fat sweetness. Triage defines these days: what can stay a bit longer, and what needs to get eaten?
In this instance, the potatoes sang an irresistible song of Spain, and there was a duck breast in the fridge, and the rest followed obediently. Patatas bravas, back when I traveled to Madrid for work (as a vegetarian), made up a meaningful majority of my dinner intake in that city. Fried chunks of spud, luxuriantly festooned with a thick and spicy aïoli, are tough to beat as a tipsy bar snack. And when you’re working at ARCO, the behemoth contemporary art fair in Madrid, pretty much every meal is a tipsy bar snack.
I scored and seared the breast thoroughly, then removed it to rest under a lid to finish cooking to a perfect pinkness. The resulting fat I divided between two pans; one took the cubed potatoes, the other a package of enoki mushrooms divided into individual strands. Enoki mushrooms fried in duck fat are the garnish to end all garnishes. A crispy tangle of fatty, salty umami, the Kid clamors for them whenever the subject comes up, rating them above Coke—that most exalted of diabetes bombs, which he gets about four times a year—on the pure pleasure spectrum.
Lest you think I’m a good parent, he rates duck fat-fried enoki mushrooms just below Mountain Dew, which he had at some party last year: “Remember the camp field trip where I barfed on the bus? I got a Sponge Bob popsicle AND a Mountain Dew.” This said with a giant grin at the fond memory. Public vomiting is mere atmosphere in comparison to the life-defining awesomeness of the world’s worst soft drink.
So: potatoes, tossed in a decadent mayonnaise made with olive oil, Espelette pepper, smoked parika, and cider vinegar, garnished with scallions, topped with slices of duck, and then a grope of crunchy fungi. Leek-pepper jam (another fall luxury) on the side, and a serious salad of sorrel, parsley, and puntarelle to scour the fat from our gullets afterward. To accompany the meal, a Cali Syrah we got four cases of; only one barrel was made—it was a private deal brokered by a friend—and while the pairing was not as poetic as the next one I want to write about, it did the job.