A funny thing about L.A.: you can drive past a place over and over again, not think anything of it, and then–out of the blue–have a food friend tell you to meet them there on a Thursday afternoon, at which point you discover that this place you’ve been driving past and ignoring has really excellent food.
Such was the case with Rodded and my friend Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch. I met him and Noah (who gave me that great Katz’s Deli advice) and Zach’s “Food is the New Rock” co-host Chuck P for lunch there last week.
[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Now, I have to confess, when I e-mailed prospective guest bloggers, there was one person I was certain would never say yes. That person is one of the most feared food bloggers alive, a blogger who talks of her own “retractable fangs.” That blogger is, of course, Regina Schrambling of the legendary food industry blog, Gastropoda. (She also writes on Epicurious and Tweets on Twitter.) Lo and behold, not only did Regina say yes, she wrote her guest post with gusto. So I am deeply humbled and honored and excited to announce her contribution. Take it away, Regina!]
One of the first serious dinner parties my consort and I ever gave was a duck debacle — I picked a ridiculously ambitious recipe from “Cooking With the New American Chefs” involving fried corn cakes and pinot noir sauce, and the two of us managed to put together what Bob said “looks like farmer food.” Tears were involved. Not to mention mangled breasts to the then-crazy tune of 30 dollars.
Certain foods are meant to be cooked at home: roast chicken, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs. Other foods are meant to be eaten out: steak tartare, sushi, a flaming baked Alaska. Sure we can make those latter foods at home, but often times they’re not worth the hassle or the danger (raw steak at home? setting cake on fire? I’ll let a pro handle that, thank you).
Duck, I’d wager, is something most of us eat out. We expect the skin to be crispy and for there to be some kind of glaze. It’s a fancier food unless we get it in a Chinese restaurant and then it becomes a mysterious food: how do they make this duck taste so good? And why, when I try to make duck at home, does it either bomb dramatically or make me sick or both?
I’ve been doing this blog for almost five years–FIVE YEARS!–and in those five years I have never, not even once, made myself sick from something I cooked.
Look at that lovely autumnal duck dish, above. It comes from a famous chef’s cookbook, but he’s not such a famous chef that I want to blame him publicly for the torturous night that followed this dinner. All I will say is that if you come across a recipe that tells you to cook duck pieces in a pot, finish cooking in the oven ’til brown, to remove the duck and add to the pan white wine and then lots of dried fruit–dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried currants, raisins–and Christmasy spices like nutmeg and Allspice along with orange juice and some stock which you cook and serve with the duck on a bed of wild rice in an explosion of bewitching colors and smells that’d make you kick the ripest summer tomato away for love of all things fall, don’t!
At least, that’s my perspective: I was the one who suffered. But Craig, who ate the exact same thing, did not get sick and he says it wasn’t the duck. He and I ate everything exactly the same that day–I made eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, though in mid-afternoon I stuck a spoon into a jar of homemade currant jam for a pick-me-up. Could the jam’ve been the culprit? I doubt it.
I also snacked on lots of the dried fruit before putting it in the pot; maybe the dried fruit did me in? Maybe the heat killed all their diseases and that’s why Craig didn’t get sick?
But now we both have nasty colds, so no matter what: this duck dish brings you bad luck. Plus, cooking the duck by itself in the oven for 40 minutes really dries it out; Craig could hardly cut through it and despite all the luscious colors and smells, I had to agree that the duck was a dud.
Don’t make it!
The dish you see above is a dish from a four-star chef and yet it’s among the easiest you will ever prepare. It comes from Jean-George’s “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” which was co-written by Mark Bittman. As many of you know, Mr. Bittman is The Minimalist and it might seem strange, at first, that a man who prides himself on simplicity would co-author a book with a chef renowned for his complexity, innovation and flair. But this recipe proves that two opposing forces, working together, can generate electricity: it’s astonishingly good and amazingly easy. Click ahead and behold the splendor of Jean-George’s Braised Duck and Vegetables with Asian Spices.