Then came the effort the correct it. And then, TOTAL insomnia. As I tried pushing through the day without submitting to the brain-paralyzing exhaustion, the nights remained sleepless where I go in-and-out of consciousness and wake up feeling even more tired than the day before. The cherry on my cake was, on top of this build up of 14 days without proper sleep, that my oldest son, 11-year-old Maltese, Dumpling had to go through a completely unexpected surgery yesterday. If I haven’t properly introduced myself, this IS the top three on my worst-things-that-could-happen list. So all in all, the past week has been… really shitty.
As much as I would like to apply total professionalism to this little web space of mine, this chain of unfortunate event has delayed this particular story, which I’m very excited about, for days. But now the demon-like jet lag is slowly but surely departing my body, and my dear boy is on his way to hopefully complete recovery, let me get back to the happier things in life. Like my satellite that comes with complete HD Food Network Channel. I wish I could take total credit for this dish, but it came from a little segment featuring a little Italian restaurant in the Lower East Side. I mean of course, why didn’t I think of this?! It’s the reincarnation of the Cajun dirty rice, reborn as an Italian in pasta form! Of course! Totally makes sense! Their sauce is a combination of liver puree and duck stock that delivers the brownish “dirt-look”. But why not make it even richer with this incredibly comforting and aromatic duck ragu that I make ALL the time.
Home cooks who find themselves loitering around the quick-and-easy cookbook section of the book stores, beware. This story marks the birth of a whole new category in this blog called, “Got Nothing But Time”… Meaning if having a good 4~5 hour window of absolutely nothing else better to do is not a typical description of life, then this may not raise even the slightest interest. Or maybe I should call it “Got nothin’ but time except weekends and holidays”… Anyways, if time is not a friend, just ask, “What would an Iron Chef do?”
A PRESSURE COOKER! These angry hissing pots that look like they wanna murder the kitchen renovation are actually very safe. They will reduce the cooking time of any stew or stock by at least half. An absolutely necessary accessory of a modern kitchen. Note that pressure cookers are not good for browning because of their deep cylinder shape. It allows steam to form on the side and drip down to the bottom of the pot, resulting in ingredients being “boiled” instead of “browned” in oil. So what I usually do if I’m making a dish where browning is important, I would do that in a dutch oven first, then transfer all the ingredients to the pressure cooker.
Serving: 5~6 respectable size pasta plates, and a lot of duck ragu left for other wonderful things
- 1 whole duck
- 3/4 cups of diced onion, carrot and celery each
- 6 sprigs of thyme
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 star anise
- 2 fresh bay leafs or 4 dried bay leafs
- flour for thickening
- Ground black and white pepper
- 1 tbsp of flour + 1 tbsp of unsalted butter (to make roux that further thickens the ragu)
- 4 pairs of duck or chicken liver (Soak in water for 2 hours. Pour the water out, then soak in milk overnight in the fridge)
- 1/2 tbsp of salt
- 1 tsp of corn starch
To Finish (for 2 servings):
- 400g of favorite pasta
- 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp of liver puree
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 2 cloves of grated garlic
- 1 cup of duck ragu (approximately)
In a calm and savoring fashion, I start with the clean dismemberment of the duck, best done in a cold, stainless steel, surgical environment like the kitchen sink. With a sharp kitchen shear, snip off the duck’s neck where it meets the body, then cut through the backbone as its ribs crack. Completely split the body in half by snipping through the cartilage that runs along the middle of its breasts, then cut the piece in half again, splitting the upper and lower body. Aaaah, now release my inner Dexter, and channel in Martha Stewart.
Heat up a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the duck pieces and start browning them skin side down. Watch the heat closely because I want to render out a good amount of fat from the skin, so it becomes thin and caramelized, but without it getting burnt before giving out fat. Browning all five pieces of the ducks including the head/neck should take 20 minutes or more. During this time, prepare the aromatics. Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery. Chop the garlic and rip the bay leafs in pieces if using fresh.
When the duck is done browning, remove it from the dutch oven. Reserve approx 2 tbsp of duck fat in the pot and pour the rest out into a bowl (KEEP this fat. DO keep this fat. PLEASE do keep this fat. An injection of this will make anything taste better). Then it starts as any routine of a stew. Saute the vegetables, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, star anise and salt’n pepper in the dutch oven until translucent. Add a tbsp of flour and let the mixture cook for a minute. Add a cup of water to de-glaze. Use a wooden spatula to really scrape off whatever browning that’s left in the dutch oven. Now transfer all the duck pieces and everything in the dutch oven into the pressure cooker. Add enough water to barely cover the duck, about 4 1/2 cups. Put the lid on. Seal the gate. Then turn the heat up to high. The pressure cooker will start hissing, and once it does, turn the heat down to low and let it cook for 50 min.
Of course anyone who’s used a pressure cooker knows to wait for the indication, that says the steam has been completely released, before opening the lid. Do that. The duck meat should be falling-off-the-bone tender. If not, pressure cook for another 10min. Remove the duck from the liquid to a plate and let it cool to a temperature that’s possible to handle. Pull out WHATEVER meat that’s on the duck. That means every tiny little scraps that’s clinging onto every tiny little bones including what’s on the neck and inside the head, too. Yes. Flavors, guys. Flavors. I often do this part bearing a sense of guilt because my dogs could smell this from a mile away and would sit ever so patiently on the kitchen floor, making occasional wheezes that makes me feel so cruel. So I try to ignore my dogs, and chop up the duck meat gathered, then return it to the pot. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by 1/3. If more thickening is needed, I just mash together 1tbsp of flour and 1 tbsp of butter, and let it melt in the stock to thicken.
Take the livers out and discard the milk. Pulse with salt and corn starch in a food processor until almost pureed but with tiny pieces. Bring a pot of water to boil with a big pinch of salt. While the pasta cooks, heat up a pan, add 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, and fry the liver puree. Don’t stir it up TOO much. Let tiny brown pieces form and stick to the bottom of the pan. Before the liver completely cooks, add grated garlic and thyme, and let it pop in the oil and release fragrance. Now add the duck ragu to the pan. Turn off the heat if the pasta is not ready at this point.
I don’t want to repeat this every time I mention pasta but… the pasta should finish cooking in the sauce, so remove it from the cooking water BEFORE it gets al dente. Add the pasta to the pan with the duck sauce, and let it cook down until the pasta has absorbed the liquid. Drizzle more extra virgin olive oil and shave a lot of parmigiano cheese on top. Enjoy.
With spaghetti and chives.