Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB…
I’ve got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)”
~Aretha Franklin, Respect
With the passing of musical legend Aretha Franklin, a little reflection on the prep playlist was in order. The prep playlist is a collection of tunes that provide a musical backdrop to the task of prepping the ingredients prior to tasks like making stock or cooking a meal. Like any endeavor, the difference between just mediocre and magnificent can often be found in the detail work done beforehand. As Benjamin Franklin observed, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
And key to that element of success, is a little respect. There is not, perhaps, an exact word in the English language that captures the relationship between chefs and their ingredients. A dash of awe, a pinch of love, a dram of connection to this good Earth, are some of the threads of that particular weave. Ask any serious cook, however, and they will undoubtedly tell you that it in some form involves respect. And in some yet undefinable way, that seems to universally require an aversion to wasting any bit of what some living thing has sacrificed for our sustenance and pleasure.
It is akin to what is suggested in my latest book, Food Shaman: The Art of Quantum Food. This conscious act should be part of our daily pre-consumption ritual: gratefulness and thus mindfulness as part of our food experience. It seems a very natural thing. Perhaps such reflective moments are rooted in our DNA and link us back to a time when we were closer, more intimate with our food and not only where it came from, but what went into the harvest. From a more utilitarian perspective, when we spend more for quality ingredients it is simply good economic practice to use as much of the comestibles as is possible; waste not, want not is a kitchen commandment.
For those who have not run a professional kitchen, where such practices can be the difference between commercial success and failure, here’s a recent example to walk one through the thought process and application for use in your home kitchen. In this particular situation, it was about showing a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for an heirloom breed, locally, and organically raised duck; but this technique can be used for any poultry.
1. Taking Stock
Step one is breaking down the carcass. The carcass reminds us this is not just a piece of meat, but a living being who sacrificed for our sustenance in a way that links us to our ancestors from a time immemorial. It is also inevitably cheaper than buying pre-cut sections because you are not paying an exorbitant amount for someone else to do a 5-minute job. It is a relatively simple matter to quarter a bird and in the process collect the carcass and giblets (if included).
For this dish, involving the confit method of cooking, the quarters (2 legs and thighs and 2 breasts) were browned skin side down and the fat rendered off. Reserve a tablespoon or two. Then combine the quarters in a baking dish with a classic mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), fresh herbs, garlic, citrus and some aromatic spices with the remaining rendered fat added back. You can actually prepare the confit ahead of time (except for the browning step) and allow it to mellow in the refrigerator overnight or for a day or so. If needed, add some additional fat so the meat can slowly cook in its own fat and juices. Once this is done, the entire ensemble then quietly stews at low temperature for the rest of the day until dinner time.
The carcass and giblets (except for the liver) are then added to a pot with leftover scraps from the confit prep; discarded carrot tops and celery bottoms, onion and garlic bits and a bouquet garni of fresh herbs. Fill with water and this simmers for several hours to create a tremendous duck stock.
2. Roux the Day
A roux is a blend of flour and fat that is cooked and then used as a thickening agent, adding a flavor as well as texture to the final dish. It is most often a combination of flour and butter. Here a little organic, heirloom Kamut™ flour was combined with the rendered duck fat from browning the pieces in a skillet. Continue to stir in skillet until it is a light brown and produces a delightful, nutty aroma. Reserve the roux.
3. Confit Cozy
The rest of the day is for enjoying as this sumptuous feast prepares itself. Once the meat is falling off the bone (usually 6-8 hours depending on poultry, temperature, and size) it is time to remove from the oven. Allow the poultry pieces to cool. Remove the skins and reserve. Shred the meat and reserve. Remove the garlic (and any other items like carrots that you may want included in the mash) and reserve. Strain the liquid which is now a combination of fat and terribly flavorful juices from all the components that slowly roasted. Pour the strained liquid and fat into a fat separator. Now turn attention to the stock; strain the stock and return the liquid to the pot to reduce. Using the fat separator, reserve the fat and add the separated liquid to the stock.
4. Fat Chance
- Gravy Train: Reduce the stock by half. To finish the gravy, add the reserved roux and whisk smooth. Then continue to cook until the desired consistency is reached.
Greenbacks: Using a tablespoon or so of the reserved fat, lightly and quickly sauté some fresh greens like spinach and watercress.
- A Monster Mash: While the stock is reducing, put on the boil some potatoes for a lovely mash. Cook until easily pierced, roughly twenty minutes and then drain. Run the potatoes and garlic through a ricer and use as much of the reserved fat, along with some buttermilk for a rich, decadent buttermilk garlic mashed potato. For a mixed root mash, if the carrots were reserved from the confit these could also be added.
- Lip Smackin’ Cracklin’: For the final touch, heat the reserved duck skin in a bit of the reserved fat and cook until crispy. Crumble the skin into wee nuggets of crunchy flavor bombs.
5. All Together Now
For a royal feast, it is a simple assembly. Place the mash on the plate and top with vibrant, lightly sautéed greens. Top that with confit duck, add gravy and cracklings. Garnish with fresh chive or whatever you prefer.
The purpose of the above example was not to deliver a recipe, but to deliver a suggestion. Take a moment, slow down; reflect and respect. If we truly are what we eat, and we have no respect for our food, how can we respect ourselves? And if we don’t respect ourselves, we most certainly cannot respect all that surrounds us; others, the environment, the planet. As I write in Food Shaman: The Art of Quantum Food,
“Our interaction with food on all levels can likewise not be separated. Pursuit of health and wellness through nutrition and strictly medical avenues has been like seeking the fundamental constructs of the Universe with a strictly classical physics approach. It has been false. Food affects our human physiology but also our gut microbiome. The Food Experience works in the limbic system but also functions on a level of consciousness unto itself; it is both subjective and objective. We must understand the true nature of The Food Experience is relational in its entirety.”