Thursday, March 11, 2010

Super Awesome Birthday Dinner (In which I cook my first whole duck)

If you read my blog regularly, you'll notice two things are mentioned on a fairly regular basis. One is that I never cooked a whole duck before. The other is that I often wish for a fancier holiday dinner.

This Christmas I asked my father and stepmother to come over to my place, where I had hoped to serve them a duck dinner. Sorry. They wanted us to go to them instead. Could we do dinner at my place another time?

My stepmother's birthday came around and she loves duck. I decided to pull out all of the stops and make my first whole duck along with plentiful amounts of other goodies.

I decided that when it came to cook the duck, I would use Alton Brown's method. That's risky for me. I'm not fond of Alton Brown's methods because they rarely seem to work for me. When I saw Alton's show on duck though, I found his words of doom on improperly cooked duck to be so compelling I felt as if any method but his would lead to failure. I cut the sucker in half, salted it well, and let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. Time would tell how that would work.

A literal interpretation of a "dead duck."

Have I mentioned that Sir Pickypants collects duck decoys? It's a little quirk he picked up in Chincoteague where decoy carving is the most prominent art form. He said he wanted to cover up the eyes of the decoys while we ate dinner. I said that the point of decoys is to lure real ducks to their death. His decoys should be proud of a job well done.

I decided to stick with one of my own recipes for the sauce. I made my brandied fruit sauce to serve with it.

We did not have a good night for a party. It was raining in buckets and the wind was fierce. Ealier that day I had gone out to do some errands and I felt as if I were blowing away. What's worse is that there is a leak in my bedroom and water was dripping down the wall. It was not an auspicious start. I wondered about the safety of them coming here. I made up the futon in the spare room in hopes that they would at least stay the night if they decided to come.

They did eventually make it. They were only 20 minutes late. We cracked open the wine and got dinner going.

Dinner started with Chestnut Soup. I made this one other time. (Actual recipe here) It's a great soup and perfect for a chilly evening. It was just the right start of a meal on such a horrible night.

Then onto the duck. It came out perfectly. It was crispy, browned and delicious. Okay. I give Alton credit on this one.

Note I had to serve a couple of pieces of chicken alongside the duck for certain picky husbands.
Alongside the duck I served a roasted cauliflower, caramelized onion, and gruyere bread pudding (recipe to come). Don't ask how many calories were in this thing.

Then there was dessert! I made my Orange Bourbon Pound Cake (one of the best non-chocolate desserts I ever made.

To complement the cake I debuted my my newest ice cream recipe. Remember how a few months ago I mused about how good caramel-cinnamon ice cream would be? Now I can muse no longer. I know it's an awesome ice cream. (Recipe coming up below)

My duck, nicely washed down with a glass of pinot noir (or two).

Cauliflower, Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Bread Pudding
Ingredients1lb loaf hearty bread
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
Olive oil for tossing and frying
4 onions, thinly sliced
8 oz gruyere grated
1 Tbl fresh thyme leaves
2 cups heavy cream
5 large eggs
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Cut bread into chunks a day or two beforehand so it can dry out a little.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil and lay on a baking sheet. Roast about 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

Heat olive oil in a pan on low heat and add onions. Cook onions slowly, at least 30 minutes, until brown and soft. Don't rush this. You want the onions to really develop their sugars.

Toss bread chunks with cheese, onions, cauliflower, and thyme leaves in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and taste because this is the last chance you have to taste your food.

In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, cream, and nutmeg.

Place bread mixture in a buttered baking dish. Pour cream mixture over bread and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pudding for 45 minutes or until custard is set and bread is nicely browned.

Cinnamon Caramel Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (keep both pod and seeds please)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup sugar
1 tsp grated cinnamon
1/4 cup water
6 eggs
1 tsp salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.

Comgine cream, half-and-half, ground cinnamon, and vanilla beans scrapings and set aside.

In a saucepan combine sugar and water. You don't need to let it all dissolve. Just wet the sugar. Bring to a boil for at least 5 minutes, or until it turns a dark amber color. Remove from heat and add the cream mixture, quickly whisking it in to combine thoroughly. Don't panic if you caramel hardens, it will dissolve eventually.

Put the caramel mixture over low heat to keep warm. Add the vanilla bean pod and the two cinnamon sticks to infuse.

In another bowl, whisk eggs yolks until frothy and light in color. This should take about 5 minutes. Quickly whisk in some of the cream mixture to temper them. Then add the entire mixture back to the pot. Stir in salt. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This shouldn't take too long.

Strain into large bowl set over the ice water bath. Remove cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean pod. Stir until the mixture has cooled a bit. Set a piece of plastic wrap directly over the cream and refrigerate several hours or overnight until completely cold.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions.


Sue said...

Woowee zowee! Your stepmother is so lucky! But more details about the duck, please. Didn't you find that you had masses of duck fat splattering up the oven? I don't get why Alton doesn't say to keep pouring the fat off. And was his timing right? It did look gorgeous. Great job.

That ice cream is to die for. Do you save your vanilla beans? I wash and dry them (for days) and then stick them in my sugar.

Bellini Valli said...

What a feast for the eyes on a Sunday morning. With the time change it is almost lunch so this would work well, but I have never cooked a whole duck, or even pieces of a duch before.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Sue - The duck was splatter-free and the cooking time was perfect. I think the salting ahead of time does something. Who knows? For once Alton led me down the right path. I have plenty of duck fat to play with in the future though. Potatoes anyone?

I didn't save the bean because I figured it was pretty tapped out by the time it had soaked in the custard. I do sometimes save my scraped beans for that purpose though.

Val - I've been wanting to do this for years. If it helps, start with a duck breast and once you feel more confident, go for the whole one. The split-and-salt-and-sit method really works.

katiez said...

That's a lovely dead duck! I never think to do a whole duck - and split like that would be perfect for grilling. We normally just do the breast. Time to get out the barbecue (almost)
As to your bread pudding... calories? who counts calories?

The Duo Dishes said...

You made duck and savory bread pudding and ice cream...? Please let us know if we can get you on the books for a birthday dinner here in LA. That bread pudding sounds awesome.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

DD - thanks guys. I want you to cater my birthday. You want me to cater yours. Since we're on opposite coasts I think we need to meet somewhere in the middle of the country midway between our birthdays and cook for each other! ;-)