I hadn't given a ton of thought to Valentine's Day food posts this year....
I made something like this sevaral years ago for either Valentine's day or for Bill's birthday (also this month) - it was part of a larger menu that included Napoleons of goat cheese and asparagus...um...slices of baguette with oil and garlic and brie...wines...and I don't even remember what I made for dessert. Best (I use the term with a heavy splash of irony here) of all, I had a horrible cold at the time, and couldn't taste a thing. Not a thing. In fact, the only time I COULD taste anything, was if I had just sneezed and my sinuses were clear for a second and a half, and I sort of breathed the taste of the food up into my nasal passages through the back of my throat. I know, it sounds rather strange and disgusting. But it was kind of thrilling the two or three times I could actually taste what I'd cooked. Bill seemed to enjoy the food, at least.
Anyway, I figured I'd make less food this time around and just focus on the duck as the "showpiece" of the meal.
This recipe serves 4.
You will need:
4 duck breasts, skins on
6 dried figs, stems removed
4 shallots, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 T oil
zest of one lemon
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup port wine or other red
3/4 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 bunches of broccoli rabe
1 cup mixture of brown rice/wild rice/assorted grains
First, measure out the, figs, shallots, garlic, lemon zest, sugar, wine, and chicken stock.
Hm. Okay, I'm going to tell you one way of doing it - the way I did it when I took these pictures, and then at the end of the post I'm going to give you an alternate version that I believe will actually be better, and it's how I SHOULD have done it, but for whatever reason, I didn't. Confused? Great! Let's continue.
Warm a tablespoon of oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the shallots (or ask your assistant to)
and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften. Add in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes, and then add the rest - wine, chicken stock, sugar, zest, cloves, and figs. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
While that's simmering, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Start cooking the rice according to the package directions.
Rinse the broccoli rabe and trim off the ends of the stalks. Chop the rabe stalks into thirds and set aside.
Now, smash a few garlic cloves and peel the paper off. Place these in a large saucepan with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Heat the pan until the oil is warm, but you don't want to cook the garlic. Once the oil is hot, shut the heat off, and just let the garlic sit there and soften.
Now, rinse off the duck breasts and pat them dry with paper towels.
You need to get a sharp knife, and score the skin in a grid pattern - just cut around halfway through the skin and underlying fat - don't cut into the meat below.
Place an oven-proof pan over a medium high flame, and when the pan is hot, place the duck breasts, skin side down, on the pan. Cook until the skins are golden brown and crisp, and the fat has been rendered. Spoon the fat out of the pan as it accumulates. This should take about 5-8 minutes. At this point, turn the duck breasts over in the pan and place them, uncovered, in the hot oven.
Cook until the internal temperature registers 165 F with a meat thermometer. Actually, I'd take them out sooner, like when it's around 160. They'll continue to cook a bit more after that.
While the duck is in the oven, heat the oil and garlic back up again and place all the broccoli rabe in the pan, too. Stir or toss to coat the rabe with the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a lid on the pan and let it cook a while on medium until the rabe wilts. Remove the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stalks are tender, about 8-10 minutes.
By this point the rice should be done cooking. Now all you need to do is warm up the fig/shallot mixture and serve.
Now. I think a better way to do this, if you feel like it, is to make the following changes:
FIRST, brown the duck breasts in a large pan. Remove them and set aside on a plate.
THEN, saute your shallots and garlic in the oil, add the rest of the ingredients for the fig/shallot mixture and cook together for about ten minutes or so.
AND THEN, place the duck breasts, meat side down, in the shallot/fig mixture and cook on medium until the duck breasts are cooked through.
Everything else would be done the same way as described above.
I think if you cook the duck in the sauce, it will absorb some of the flavors and it just seems to me you'll get an even better flavor.
I think this is my personal favorite of all the meals. I love seafood, first of all, and as far as preparation goes, a boiled lobster is pretty easy.
Littlenecks on the half-shell are easy too - especially if you're not the one shucking them. Bill usually does that here, which is good because I can't take pictures and shuck a clam at the same time.
I hadn't even planned on this "menu" but I was in the grocery store and saw some beautiful Sockeye Salmon filets and at that point I had no choice any more.
Again - comfort food. You walk into the house while the chicken is roasting, and you want to stay for a while. At least, that's how it should be.
I don't do anything ultra-fancy - no herbs, no lemon cut up and inserted in the chicken...mine is very basic. And I think that's why it's so good, if I may toot my own horn on my own site.
Here's all I do.
First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut up a couple of large onions - just in chunks - and put them in an oven-proof pan of some kind.
Then wipe off 20 oz (2 10-0z pkgs) of white button mushrooms or baby bellas. You want whole ones, not the sliced ones. Put them in with the onions.
Next, clean out a good-sized roasting chicken - rinse it with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. SAVE THE PACKAGE OF INNARDS!! Tuck the wings under the back - as if the chicken is leaning back in an office chair, fingers interlaced behind his head - well, if he still had one. Basically you want the tips of the wings tucked under the chicken's back. Place the chicken on top of the mushrooms and onions.
Oh - and that package of innards? Actually, it's not just innards - it contains the liver, heart, gizzard and neck. Place them all around the chicken on top of the mushrooms and onions. Flavor, folks. Flavor.
Now, in a little bowl, combine kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper - either half and half or about 2/3 salt to 1/3 pepper. Sprinkle this mixture liberally all over the chicken and the liver, neck, etc. You want most of it on the chicken's skin.
All set? Now, place the chicken in the middle of your oven, and set the timer for an hour. No - it might take longer, but this is when I want you to start checking on it.
At the hour mark, turn the pan so that the side of the chicken facing the back of your oven is now facing front. Ovens have hot spots inside, and you want the chicken to cook evenly.
When the skin is a gorgeous dark golden brown, and when the legs are very wiggly when you shake one, and when the juices run clear when you slice into the thigh, remove the pan from the oven.
Take the chicken - carefully - off the mushrooms and onions and put it on a platter - and don't touch it. Don't cover it with foil either - the skin is crackly and crisp right now - if you put foil over it, you'll basically be steaming the skin and it will lose its cracklyness.
Now, take a look at the onions and mushrooms. Are they nice and dark, or are they still kind of light in color? If they aren't dark, put the pan back in the oven and check on it in fifteen minutes or so. Now they should be nice and dark - if they aren't, then put them back in again for another ten minutes or so until they are well cooked.
While the onions and mushrooms are finishing up in the oven, take about half a stick of room temp butter and an equal amount of flour, and mash them together with a fork until the flour is completely incorporated in the butter. Also you want to have available some chicken stock (home made or not - whatever works for you - and some dry white wine.
Okay, once the mushrooms and onions are nicely cooked, place their pan on a burner of your stove and remove the onions and mushrooms for now - just put them in a bowl nearby and keep them handy. Same thing with the various chicken parts. In with the mushrooms they go - we're not done with them yet.
Now add the butter/flour mixture into the liquids left in the pan. Your flame should be about medium. Whisk the butter/flour mixture (or beurre maniere, I believe) until it basically melts into the other liquids in the pan. Now pour in a couple of cups of chicken stock and a cup or so of the wine. Whisk together and now add the mushrooms and onions and giblets back into the pan. Cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until the liquids thicken and reduce a bit and the alcohol in the wine is not longer noticeable when you taste it.
I add about a teaspoon or so of dried thyme to this while it's cooking, and salt and pepper to taste. Remember, some of the salt and pepper you sprinkled on the chicken and giblets at the beginning will have ended up in this mixture - you don't want it to be over-salted.
While this is bubbling away, you can cut up your chicken if you want. I find it's easiest to remove the wings and legs, then cut each side of the breast along the breast bone and cartilage so you have two big chunks of breast meat.
And just so you know, when I was cutting this chicken apart, the wings and legs practically fell apart. And the breast meat - not a hint of dryness.
What to serve with this? I made mashed red-skinned potatoes - with milk and cream and horseradish and some roasted garlic I had in the fridge. And salt and pepper. I was going to make another vegetable, but I...well, I forgot. Still - mushrooms and onions are vegetables...
Oh, yes, back to the gravy simmering away on your stove top. I actually mashed up the liver and stirred that into the gravy too. I like chicken livers, and my husband has come to like them since we've been married. But if you think that idea is revolting, then go ahead and remove all the chicken parts - liver, heart, gizzard and neck - and discard them. You can also, at this point, remove the mushrooms and onions and put them in a separate bowl from the gravy. Or, you can just serve them in the gravy, which is what I usually do. OR, you could even puree them with the gravy to thicken it and intensify the flavor. Your choice.
Here's what a plate of it looked like.
Flavor, upon flavor, upon flavor. Serve with the rest of the wine you used for the gravy, if you like.