Friday, March 01, 2013

Oh you again, duck fat

Egg season is here once more.
The Tournament of Cookbooks, a.k.a. the Piglet, is over and a little sparkle has departed from my mornings. One judge was flagrantly lame, but I thought the rest did a pretty decent job even when I didn't agree with their decisions, as I often didn't. People interact with cookbooks very personally and I'm as interested in these idiosyncratic passions and aversions as I am in rigorous criticism and mad recipe testing.

By now the whole world knows that April Bloomfield's Girl and Her Pig trounced Smitten Kitchen in the final round. I didn't even own a copy of Girl and Her Pig and immediately rushed to Barnes and Noble to correct this oversight.

What do I think? Here are some of the ingredients you need to cook from Girl and Her Pig: smoked haddock, veal kidneys, guinea hen, duck fat, octopus, pork cheeks, whole suckling pig, pig's ears, pig's trotters, sweetbreads, ramps, suet, Old Tom gin, Sardinian gray mullet bottarga, young carrots "about the size of your pointer finger," spring garlic stalks, and "beef tongue that has been trimmed of any firm or hard bits."

My personal favorite: "a brain-in, tongue-in lamb's head (3-4 pounds), skinned and split lengthwise by your butcher."

Clearly April Bloomfield hasn't met my butcher.

This list irks me in a way that having to buy fish sauce to cook Vietnamese or sumac to cook Middle Eastern doesn't. It almost seems designed to make ordinary home cooks feel dorky. Like all the cool kids know about this awesome duck fat hook-up, but no one bothered to tell me about it. Outside Provence, what home cook has so much duck fat hanging around that she can casually roast potatoes in it?

No further commentary until I've spent more time with the book.

Meanwhile, I'm still ambling along with Smitten Kitchen, liking it more and more. Maybe her loss in the Tournament made me feel protective? I'm trying to make one dish every night. Just one dish. I've been in a funk and cutting back on the cooking has helped a bit.

Here's what we ate this week, all recipes from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook:

-ranchero eggs with blistered cheese. You make a simple, mildly spicy tomato sauce, poach eggs in the sauce, blanket in shredded jack, bake until the cheese is "blistered." Top with tortilla strips and sour cream. A solid breakfast-for-dinner dish that required no grocery shopping. I would take the eggs out of the oven even sooner than she indicates. Recipe here.

-avocado and cucumber tartine Pretty open-faced sandwich. Entails splitting and toasting baguette then topping with avocado. Make a little salsa of minced cucumber, toasted sesame oil, and rice vinegar and spread over the avocado. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Delicious.

-honey and harissa farro salad You cook farro for 20 minutes, toss with roasted parsnips and carrots, lemony vinaigrette, feta cheese. Superb. You should make this. Recipe is here and I agree with the reviewer's commentary and tweaks. Leftovers make a great lunch.

-eggs with greens and hollandaise Wilt chard (or kale, or spinach), saute with onion and garlic, enrich with cream. Scoop the greens into ramekins, top with eggs, bake. Serve with big dollops of citrusy hollandaise. Fattening, maybe a little fussy, and definitely dirtied too many pans. I liked it, though. Mark liked it. Owen didn't like it and let me know and we had words.

I found this fascinating.

And I loved this movie, which Isabel and I saw when we were in NYC. The trailer itself is beautiful, the music haunting.


  1. What do you do with your eggs between collecting them and cooking with them? Wash and with what? Refrigerate? We've had 8 hens laying since October and the answer is not al all obvious from internet research. I don't have many (or any, actually) face-to-face friends with chickens. We are all alive and well with my current wash the ones that are dirty-looking strategy, but I'm not sure if we're just lucky not to have gotten sick from anything or if we're doing the right thing. Thoughts?

  2. Well, Adah, I wonder about this too. If they're dirty I wash the eggs (and sometimes they are very dirty), but otherwise don't because I've read they have some kind of coating that keeps pathogens from entering the shell. Then I refrigerate them.
    That said, we've also collected eggs that were sitting in the ivy for weeks unrefrigerated, and eaten those too. We've never been sick and a lot of cookie dough has been consumed over the last 4 years. I do think about it every time I serve something like hollandaise sauce.

  3. OK, I'm going to put one tick in the doing-the-right-thing column and then probably ask the same thing of everyone I meet that has chickens for the next couple years. We'll see. I'm gonna stay the course for now. Cool! Thanks!

  4. Posts like these are exactly why I adore you from afar. You made me laugh when I thought I was too tired to do anything but mope -- and I'm with you: I like buying special "ethnic" ingredients to make dishes that are closer to the real deal, but overly fussy stuff makes me want to punch someone. I worry that pretentiousness is encroaching on deliciousness.

    Re: Duck fat. I asked for some for Christmas and my husband Dave put a jar in my stocking. True love! I'm planning to use some on baked plantain chips... seems really decadent.

  5. I'm so over this whole offal thing. I don't like it and I'm not interesting in trying to like it. However, April's gnudi recipe is wonderful. It takes a few days since it needs to sit in the fridge under a blanket of semolina to form a crust. Try it with the basket-drained Whole Jersey Milk Ricotta from Bellwether Farms that you can get at Whole Foods.

  6. ironically I saw a tub of rendered duck fat at Whole Foods the same day I didn't find "A Girl and Her Pig" at Barnes and Noble. I did make two of the grapefruit loaf cakes and one is already gone.

  7. My grandparents on both sides lived on farms and killed hogs. You do not call them pigs in the South. They are HAWGS. Anyway, the killing was respectful and quick. Having said that, I did not enjoy that day much. I eat meat, I like meat, but I don't like to kill animals to get it. I'm sure I would adjust if I had to do it, as I have adjusted to many things over the course of my life. That is all prelude to the fact that I don't buy cookbooks that glorify offal. Most people eat it because it is wasteful not to eat it (my grandparents ate everything but the squeal), or eat it when it is fresh from a kill because it is really good, but I am generally not into offal in its original state. I am also not interested in cookbooks that feature it. I understand this is a novelty for some people, but not for me. You are evil, Jennifer, that tumbler site is addictive!

  8. I thought the Piglet was a waste of time, although to see Melissa Clark's nasty side was a revelation of sorts. As for smoked haddock, you may find it in any good deli. It is good stuff to cook with.

  9. BTW, last comment was mine.


  10. Sometimes I have to scrub poo off an egg shell (and weirdly, this removes the dark brown color from my "chocolate" brown eggs), and I put this egg in the front of the rotation because of this (I invented an egg dispenser for my fridge that presents me with the oldest eggs first. Sort of.)

    I really hate the way chef cookbooks often call for ingredients that are easy for a chef to get, but hard for a home cook to get. This is so common, and I don't understand why the disparity. Duck fat isn't that expensive from the meat purveyor, so why does Bristol Farms charge like $8 per cup, and you need about twelve of those for duck confit? And they're always telling you to be high-handed with "your butcher", like you have a butcher.

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  12. I don't ever feel talked down to by Smitten Kitchen, which I think is becoming rare in the new cookbook dialect.

  13. I wonder if the ingredients reflect April Bloomfield's British origins. I live in London and would easily be able to find smoked haddock, duck fat, octopus, pig's cheeks, ears and trotters, suet and bottarga without doing much exploring (mostly supermarket), and probably small spring carrots too. The rest I might have to trawl around but not many of them sound hugely esoteric.

    I guess there's an argument that substitutes should have been called for, etc, but to be honest US cookbooks call for weird and wonderful ingredients not found in the UK. Obviously Bloomfield works in the US, but my point is that these ingredients are not hard to find for everyone.