Confessions of a frustrated kitchen alchemist

Confessions of a frustrated kitchen alchemist

For years I’ve been trying to elevate cheaper cuts to gastronomic greatness, with some success. But a ringer substitute for foie gras? Not so easy

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AUG 21 14 – 10:30 AM — Long have I confessed to an occasional dalliance with odd bits in the kitchen — those cuts of beef, pork and/or poultry most people do not buy, never mind actually eat (at least, not knowingly).

I’m thinking offal, of course — you simply can’t make a proper meat pie without kidney — and perhaps beef heart when I’m in the mood for haggis, which, mercifully, doesn’t happen often.

Oh, I almost forgot head cheese, among my favourites.

IMG_8243Well I recall one Saturday morning when Nancy came downstairs, lifted the lid on a stock pot to see what was planned for supper, and spotted two ears poking playfully from a bath of simmering broth. (She let out an audible gasp, plunked the lid shut and promptly left for the gym.)

My, but we do have fun in our celebrated kitchen. Even more these days as semi-retirement affords me quality time to explore butcher shops and, lately, attend specialty classes to better indulge my obsessions.

Which brings me finally to a mission that, so far, has proven frustratingly illusive.

It is this: Try as I may, I have not yet been able to produce a convincing substitute for rich and satisfying foie gras using only lesser ingredients like chicken liver, brandy, seasonings.

A charcuterie platter from the Algonquin College class. From left, duck prosciutto, country terrine, head cheese, cretons, chorizo, pate (top)

A charcuterie platter from the Algonquin College class. From left, duck prosciutto, country terrine, head cheese, cretons, chorizo, pate (top)

I’m fairly certain everyone knows foie gras is the exquisitely rich and flavourful liver of geese, but these days mostly ducks, fattened by force feeding over a period of about 10 days. It is a controversial practice in some circles where humans assume a ridiculous level of anthropomorphism that simply does not exist in reality (but there is no need to antagonize Internet trolls by wading into that discussion today).

Yes, I have actually visited a foie gras operation south of Montreal and, no, I did not witness cruelty. (If someone is cruel to animals there are laws to deal with it and the culprits should be prosecuted.)

Chefs David Neil, left, and Warren Sutherland

Chefs David Neil, left, and Warren Sutherland presented the Sunday charcuterie classes at Algonquin. Another series begins soon

Regular readers may recall recently I was invited to attend a six-week charcuterie course held for six or so hours each Sunday at the Woodroffe campus of Algonquin College. (A full list of general interest courses touching everything from cooking to home canning and cake decorating appears here. Another charcuterie course is planned for this fall, so check it out.) At $725 it’s not a cheap date but there are many perks, including taking home samples of your handiwork for dinner and then some. Instructors were chefs Warren Sutherland and David Neil, partners in The Piggy Market delicatessen and craft butchery on Winston Avenue in Westboro.

IMG_5824Simply put, charcuterie is devoted to prepared meat products including bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâté and confit primarily using pork, although cured beef brisket and salted duck fits snugly into the category too. It is part of the garde manger chef’s repertoire, originally intended as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration but valued today mainly for the diverse textures and flavours that result from the preservation process.

Turns out, last week was our “exam” day when students were invited to prepare two examples of charcuterie using their own recipes that draw on our vast knowledge absorbed in class.

I made about five pounds of pork sausage supplemented with jalapeño peppers and chopped old cheddar in an effort to replicate a sublimely delicious original made by Seed to Sausage in Sharbot Lake, available locally at the new Seed to Sausage store on Gladstone Avenue.

Clockwise from top left, charcuterie from the Algonquin course included home-made bacon, smoked ham, cranberry terrine, cured and smoked brisket

Clockwise from top left, charcuterie from the Algonquin course included home-made bacon, smoked ham, cranberry terrine, cured and smoked brisket

My second offer of brilliance was what I lovingly call Ron’s Mock Pâté de Foie Gras, loosely based on a recipe for utterly decadent Duck Liver Parfait served by Adel Ayad at the former 48-seat Clair de Lune on Clarence Street, now occupied by Stella restaurant. Clair de Lune was closed in late 2005 after 24 years in business, and I reported about the passing of this trail-blazing culinary landmark as a Food editor in December 2005.

You can use either chicken or duck livers; in this case I used chicken because duck was not available. You’ll notice the recipe also calls for a ton of butter and rendered duck fat, so it’s not exactly diet food.

I threw in a smidgen of brandy because, well, it seemed the right thing to do. I also chopped up fresh French tarragon from my garden, and honey for a kiss of sweetness.

From the course clockwise from top left, home-0made head cheese, cured pork belly before smoking, my home-made head cheese in the celebrated test kitchen, cured belly after smoking

From the course clockwise from top left, home-made head cheese, cured pork belly before smoking, my home-made head cheese from the celebrated test kitchen, cured belly/bacon after smoking

You’ll also find my recipe calls for a tiny bit of Insta Cure #1, a nitrate preservative, or substitute Readycure available at boutique stores like Nicastro on Merivale Road that supply home sausage makers. Insta Cure #1 and Insta Cure #2 are used in different recipes, and both salts are available online through The Sausage Maker Inc. in Buffalo, which has made handy shipping-to-Canada arrangements to cover duty and brokerage fees. If you’re serious about meat curing and sausage making at home, I suggest you buy a five-pound pail of both Insta Cure salts and chances are you’ll never need to buy either again.

Also included in this post is my friend Adel Ayad’s original Clair de Lune duck liver parfait recipe he gave me almost a decade ago. He uses saltpeter to maintain a pink colour in the final pâté but, again, you can substitute Readycure or Insta Cure #1.

It’s not exactly foie gras, I concede, but both are pretty darned good. The butter makes them absurdly rich.

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Ron’s Mock Pâté de Foie Gras

Yields 4 cups (1 L)

IMG_5848– 2 pounds (1 kg) duck or chicken livers, or combination, trimmed

– Pork stock, enough to cover chicken livers (about 2 cups/500 mL)

– 1 Tablespoon (15 mL) sea salt

– 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed

– ¼ cup (50 mL) clean rendered duck fat, room temperature, cubed

– 1 1/2 Tablespoons (22 mL) Worcestershire sauce

– 1 Tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard

Oil the inside of a terrine mould and line with plastic wrap to make extraction a lot easier

Oil the inside of a terrine mould and line with plastic wrap to make extraction a lot easier

– 1 ½ teaspoons (7 mL) ground nutmeg

– ½ teaspoon (2 mL) ground cloves

– Dash, cayenne pepper

– 1/3 cup (75 mL) finely grated onion

– 1 1/2 Tablespoons (22 mL) cognac, or port, or sherry

– 2 Tablespoons (25 mL) honey

– 2 cloves garlic, crushed

– 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves only

– ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) pink salt (Insta Cure #1, or Readycure) *optional but recommended

– ¼ cup (50 mL) reduced and rich beef or veal stock

1. Trim livers to remove sinews, veins or odd bits. In a saucepan, cover livers with pork stock; bring to boil and gently simmer 15 minutes Add salt; simmer 5 minutes longer, then cool to room temperature in the stock.

2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade, placed drained and cooked livers (reserve liquid), butter, Worcestershire, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper, onion, cognac/port/sherry, honey, garlic, fresh tarragon, pink salt. Process, adding rich stock and only enough of the reserved poaching liquid to make a smooth paste; taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Transfer mixture to a plastic wrap-lined 1-litre mould, cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. Keeps, covered and refrigerated, to up 3 weeks.

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Clair de Lune Duck Liver Parfait

Makes 1 terrine or 12 ramekins to serve 12

– 2 pounds (900 g) duck or chicken livers, cleaned to remove all fatty tissues

– 1/2 pound (2 sticks/250 g) unsalted butter, room temperature

– 1 shallot

– 1 1/2 ounces (40 mL) Armagnac liqueur

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) liquid honey

– 2 large eggs

– Pinch, saltpetre* (potassium nitrate, or substitute Insta Cure #1 or Readycure)

– Salt and pepper, to taste

* Saltpetre is necessary to maintain an attractive pink hue.

1. Blend all ingredients in an electric mixer or food processor, working in batches if necessary, and pass through a very fine sieve (chinois).

2. Place pâté in 12 individual 4-ounce (115-mL) ramekins or 1 large terrine mould (size 6 cups/1.5 L)

3. Place ramekins or terrine mould in a larger roasting pan; pour boiling water in pan to come 2/3 up sides of outside of ramekins/terrine mould (bain marie). Bake in preheated oven at 300°F (150ºC) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until internal temperature of parfait using an instant-read thermometer reaches 135ºF (57ºC). Remove from oven and cool while still in the hot water bain marie.

4. When cool to room temperature, refrigerate ramekins/terrine mould, covered, at least 6 hours before serving. Serve with toasted gingerbread and blueberry chutney.

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