Now that I finally posted last year’s Duck Day notes and photos, I can do this year’s, which had the theme of “Bistronomy.” This year’s meal had the constraint on it that we were going to be in Singapore for the TwoSet Violin concert and wouldn’t get back until basically 6 days before Thanksgiving — functionally 5 days since jet lag wiped out an entire day — and normally we would have to start more than a week in advance to both source all the ingredients and do other prep of pickling, growing sprouts or herbs, etc etc. So we knew we had to keep ourselves from getting too ambitious, and we wouldn’t have time to run test recipes.
As it turns out, we’ve got so much stuff in our larders and already in process, though, and have stockpiled so many cooking techniques over the past several years, that we could pull it off in 5 days without straining ourselves too badly.
This year’s meal was highly influenced by last year’s trip to Paris. (The trip to Singapore was of course also an influence but there’s no way we were going to come home and try to work out Peranakan cuisine in 5 days, so it’s only there in a few spots.) In addition to the fancy ADMO dinner, we also managed to eat at Septime, one of the leading restaurants in the “bistronomy” movement. If you are from the Boston area you might have eaten at Journeyman, which was also a very bistronomic place. The Green Goddess in New Orleans was another notable US entry to this type of restaurant, and my fave is Edison Food Lab, Jeanie Pierola’s original place in Tampa (still there!).
“Bistronomy” was coined when various chefs, trained in the usual French haute cuisine style, found themselves not wanting to spend seven figures on tableware and having to have a huge staff needed for the typical fancy restaurant, and instead preparing a hyperlocal, constantly changing menu in more casual settings. (I’d almost call it “food forward” if it weren’t ludicrous to imply that stuffier, more traditional restaurants were not somehow also about the food…?)
Among the hallmarks of bistronomy: pickling your own stuff in house, growing your own herbs (since you are a small place and not trying to do 200+ covers a night…), inventive “outside the box” fusion…. heeyyyyyy, does this not sound like the way corwin and I cook and eat all the time?? A second theme emerged, though, which was basically: reuse – recycle – repurpose.
So he bought the Bistronomy book by Jane Sigel (get it on Bookshop, Amazon, Indie boosktores) just to look at recipes and read up on the history a bit more, and we planned our menu while jaunting around Singapore. (I think we were at the Michelin-starred restaurant Meta, which is deeply Korean while at the same time being very much in the French tradition of fine dining, when we came up with most of the menu.)
Amuse: Duck liver mousse
in a banana bread crust with savory chocolate sauce
–last minute addition: also in a cucumber round
I got the idea for this course when corwin mentioned he had already made duck liver mousse and so it could be incorporated into the meal without all the usual prep time. I was inspired by the dessert they serve at The Black Hoof in Toronto which is essentially grilled banana bread and foie gras, with chocolate sauce, and it’s amazing.
I ended up serving the mousse two ways, one in the crust and one in cucumber rounds, because prepping cucumbers for another dish ended up making handy cucumber cups as “waste.” Why waste?
I started with my usual banana bread recipe, which is the one in the Fannie Farmer cookbook, except I use 4 bananas instead of 3, swap in pecans (freshly toasted) for the walnuts, add a heaping cup of chocolate chips, and a pinch of cinnamon and a bunch of freshly grated nutmeg. I let the bananas go black on the counter and then put them in the freezer until it’s time to make banana bread, but I’d done this already so the black bananas were ready to go when prep day T minus 4 came.
I made one mini loaf with no chocolate chips in it, sliced it and toasted it, and then made that into breadcrumbs. Then I followed a mix of recipes on making graham cracker crust. (You basically add melted butter to the crumbs until they hold together, then press into a pie pan and bake for 10 minutes.) The only problem with this is to get the graham cracker crust to hold together, it actually needs to be fairly thick, and the teensy tart tins ended up a little too full of crust with not enough room for the mousse.
If I do this again, I think my strategy will be to try to form the crusts out of untoasted banana bread bits and then bake that. Or maybe just do it on toasted rounds of banana bread?
The savory chocolate sauce was basically shallots, olive oil, red wine, and 80% bitter chocolate, thickened with some corn starch slurry. I had tried to follow a recipe for making a savory chocolate sauce to go on filet mignon, but the proportions were all wrong and I subbed in red wine for the beef stock and Worcestershire, so I just winged it and it came out as I intended.
Opening Cocktail: Japonaise Hi-Negroni
ヴェルモット, dry curaçao, carbonated ginger water
Repurposing the ginger water that was generated when I made the mignardise, but carbonating it, and mixing it with dry curaçao liqueur and Japanese “vermouth” (“verumotto” made from sake instead of grape wine), served with twists of lemon and orange peel.
Bread & Butter
pain au levain with beurre normandie
The bread and butter course went over so well last year we decided to do it again. corwin leveled up his baking again, too. I did not make my own butter this year, though, instead opting for a Normandy butter that they sold us at the cheese shop with the words “butter so good you could serve it on your cheese plate.”
Charred “miniature leek”
Pickled root veg (beet/orange, carrot/lemon, hakurei turnip/yuzu)
Compressed cucumber, ponzu
Shredded napa greens
with a roasted hakurei turnip-miso dressing
If you’ve followed my food blogging for a while, you know I hate salad. I love vegetables! Even uncooked ones! But I dislike eating — or serving — a big bowl of greens that no one likes. Okay, some people do like it, but I don’t, and most of the people at my table who would claim they do, they don’t actually LIKE munching on a pile of flavorless rabbit food, but they think they are supposed to. The idea of a “composed salad” changes all that. Journeyman used to make the absolute best composed salads, so I hope this lived up to their example.
I had started the white kimchi (something we were served at Meta), a few days before, using a Asian pear and rice flour slurry in the fermenting paste instead of the more colorful ingredients. (loosely based on a recipe on KoreanBapSang.com but very loosely) I only let it ferment 24 hours before putting it in the fridge on Wednesday. (We make regular kimchi with red chili and green scallion and carrot slivers regularly.)
The “miniature leek” is slightly an in-joke on chefs who sub ingredients (Todd English once infamously used “sun-dried grapes” on a menu when he had to sub raisins in for some other dried fruit…) — it’s just a scallion, since leeks are currently out of season and a full size leek would have been ridiculous.
The bright sauce on the leek was supposed to be a hollandaise sabayon (foam), but the emulsion broke and it just dribbled out of the ISI. But it was delicious anyway, so we just went with it.
The three pickled root veg (beet/orange, carrot/lemon, hakurei turnip/yuzu) were all done with the Japanese salt pickle method, where you just pickle it in the salt for an hour before rinsing it and then leaving it to sit with the various citrus zests. Very simple, but amazing flavor. (We have yuzu zest in the freezer from previous years when we bought a whole shipment of yuzu.)
The compressed cucumber was done by melon-balling the cucumber and then putting it in the chamber vac with a ponzu, soy sauce, and sesame oil dressing.
Not everyone has a chamber vac. You could make do with just bagging them and sticking them in the fridge.
Once the cukes came out of their sauce, the shredded napa greens were then tossed in the leftover liquid. (The greens were left over from making the white kimchi.)
The final dressing was corwin’s idea: roasting hakurei turnips with miso butter, then pureeing the whole shebang. You could just eat this on toast it’s that tasty.
Deconstructed Cassoulet Redux
Duckleg confit, toulouse duck sausage
White bean puree, crouton
This is a redux because many years ago we did a deconstructed cassoulet, but this one is slightly different from that one. corwin already had the sausage made from a previous gourmet meal, so that saved him a lot of prep time.
Where we didn’t save time was we had one disaster. We had duck legs in inventory already in the chest freezer. One of our m.o.’s is to make a large batch of duck confit, some of which gets used in the meal, and a lot of which gets put away for us to eat during the winter. We do the confit in individual bags in the sous vide.
The house has been under reconstruction since the latter half of 2020 (construction would have started sooner but… pandemic). All four bathrooms have been gutted and two of the four have been rebuilt… and the third one, the one off the dining room, was supposed to be ready for use by the date of Thanksgiving. Well, they did get a functional toilet and sink in place, and tile partway up the wall. And they did get the lights working.
corwin knew the electricians were coming to work on the lights first thing in the morning, but somehow he didn’t think to set the sous vide station up with a UPS (or even in another section of the house where maybe it wouldn’t be affected). Of course the electricians cut off the power to the kitchen and dining room while they worked on the fixtures.
And of course that meant that the Anova circulator (one of several different models of sous vide circulator we have) re-set to its default temperature, which is 40 degrees C (instead of 68 C, which it had been at). 40 degrees C is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A great temperature for growing bacteria and not a great temperature for cooking, for that reason. By the time we found this out, the duck had been sitting around in the “danger zone” for a few hours. Not wanting to risk the health of all our guests, we had to throw it all away.
And then we had to scramble around trying to find 9 duck legs within 12 hours or there wouldn’t be enough time to confit them. Thank goodness Savenor’s did have exactly 9 legs they could sell! Whew!
The white been puree was an artisanal “yellow eye” bean that corwin sourced from Rancho Gordo, I think, and cooked it down with mirepoix, a little bacon fat, etc and then topped with house made breadcrumbs.
Singaporean Palate Cleanser a la Candlenut
One of the other fancy meals we ate while in Singapore was at the one Peranakan cuisine restaurant that has a Michelin star: Candlenut. They have an interestingly robust mocktails program, and one of the ones I tried was described as oolong and lychee. Turns out that these two flavors meld exquisitely.
If you take really nice “jade” (i.e. not heavily roasted) oolong mixed with the liquid from canned lychee nut, about 2:1 tea to syrup, you get a very close approximation to what we drank at Candlenut. And if you want to make it alcoholic, you can add one part Plymouth Gin, and it comes out fantastic.
Smoked duck breast, with duckfat fried shoestring potato and traditional arugula
Steak frites is one of the classic bistrot meals, of course, but this is a duck themed meal, so instead we lightly smoked the duck (with the “smoking gun” and sealed containers, just letting it hang around in the smoke).
corwin tried a recipe earlier in the week to see if shoestring fries could come out not-soggy without a double-fry. Alas, they could not. However, you can do the first fry a day ahead!
Comte Gran Cru • Delice de Bourgogne • Roquefort Carles • Brebis du Haut Bearn •
house yuzu marmalade
amarena cherries, truffled marcona almond
This was mostly a store-bought course because we don’t milk our own goats for cheese or anything like that (yet…) nor truffle our own almonds (though we have bought a truffle in the past). But we did have the yuzu marmalade on hand from a previous year where we bought a whole case of yuzu.
Chocolate lava cake, vanilla ice cream, toffee shortbread
This is the classic chocolate lava cake we’ve been making by Jean-Georges Vongerichten out of Food & Wine magazine since the 1990s. And corwin has been making this “Philadelphia” style vanilla ice cream for a while. Every time he makes it we say just make more of it. No egg, no custard, just full fat cream and real vanilla.
It wanted something crispy as well, so I made what was supposed to be a shortbread cookie from the Smitten Kitchen. Mine spread more than theirs because I used the Kerrygold butter and I replaced the chocolate chips with chopped up toffee bars from Trader Joe’s. But the result was still delicious, and mostly crispy in a slightly different way from expected. I used the spatula to shape the round spread cookies while they were still hot out of the oven to be triangular for better elegance and edge.
Tea, coffee, and Mignardise
No one wanted coffee, and half the guests were too full for even tea, but the ones that lingered a bit got to try my candied ginger, which I finally got to work by equally heeding and ignoring all recipes I found.
The recipes varied in how much sugar, how much water, how long to cook it, whether to toss in granulated sugar at the end or whether it should come out sort of crystallized as it is… a huge variety.
In the end I used an equal weight of sliced ginger and sugar, cut the ginger by hand instead of fussing with the mandoline, put it and enough water to cover it well in a medium pot, and boiled it until the ginger was looking kind of translucent and “done,” about a half hour. The syrup was still very syrupy at that point and so I fished the thinnest/done-est pieces out with chopsticks, swished it through some granulated sugar, and lay it on the cooling rack. Eventually it had all been picked out and racked and what I was left with by that point wasn’t really syrup anymore but hot ginger sugar, that solidified basically as soon as I put it in a container for later.
The pieces that sat out overnight for two nights got crunchy, but the rest which were in a sealed container have remained soft and chewy, just about perfect.
(Maybe next year I’ll finally attempt pate de fruits again. or maybe I’ll give up and go right to kohakutou…)