Cooking at home with duck breast

In the continuing series of ‘Cooking at home with…’, where my good friend Chef Haru Kishi and I engage in a monthly ritual of cooking together in my kitchen, we chose duck this time for our theme protein.  I love and look forward to these days where we choose a theme ingredient, go to the farmers market for inspirations, construct a multi course dinner menu, and cook all day in my kitchen.  Cooking is my form of meditation, and one of the only times that I can empty my mind of distracting thoughts and feel ultimate bliss in a state of nothingness.  Chef Kishi and I have cooked a lot together, sharing lamb saddle, white truffle, black truffle, suckling pig and lobster with our friends.  It’s a treat to be able to cook with somebody who I’ve developed a comfortable rhythm with, who knows his way around my kitchen, who pushes me to be a better cook and always teaches me valuable tricks of the trade.  I had a sudden yearning for duck that particular day, and we headed to the farmers market to see what seasonal ingredients we could prepare it with.

There was an abundance of beautiful and vibrant vegetables at their summer peak, like heirloom tomatoes, squash and colorful beans.  LA Funghi was overflowing with a variety of aromatic mushrooms, and we bought a bag of baby shiitake caps.  Small Gaviota strawberries packed with juicy sweetness and a hefty watermelon called out to us.  When we spotted petch siam eggplants, purple okra, Thai basil and lemongrass stalks, Haru got inspired to make a Thai curry for the duck.  We bought 2 plump Muscovy duck breasts at the butcher shop in the Farmers Market on Fairfax and 3rd, and headed to Thai Town to get ingredients for our curry.  Although we got a little side tracked by a khao kha moo pit stop at Ruen Pair, we managed to accomplish our mission by purchasing Kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, red curry paste and coconut palm sugar at the Thai market.

Garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass went into the pan for a quick sautée to bring out all of its wonderful aromas.  Thai red curry paste, coconut milk and coconut sugar was then added to make a spicy and rich coconut curry.

Green and purple okras and petch siam eggplants were cleaned and trimmed for the curry.

The Muscovy duck breasts that we purchased were enormous- I didn’t know that ducks could get so big.  They were pan seared in their own fat to a perfect medium rare with a beautiful crisp to its delectable skin.

All of the dazzling farmers market vegetables that we purchased that morning were gradually added to the Thai curry- purple and green okra, petch siam eggplants, mexican midget cherry tomatoes, pattypan squash, squash blossoms, bok choy, baby shiitake caps and Thai basil.  Lastly, the seared duck breasts were laid to rest on the vegetables.

Our dinner guests, a chef and a mixologist, arrived just on time to watch the glorious crowning of the curry.  The mixologist made us a round of cocktails using Grey Goose La Poire pear vodka with mangosteen juice, and we sat down at the dinner table to start the meal with a delicious watermelon and heirloom tomato gazpacho that Haru made.  The sweet and perfectly acidic creamy gazpacho, made with sherry vinegar and olive oil, was poured over burricotta cheese and a watermelon cube marinated in blueberry vinegar and orange blossom tea, and garnished with basil ribbons, gold flakes and a drizzle of olive oil.  Simply delicious, this cold and refreshing cup of fruity gazpacho was the perfect way to start a mid-summer dinner.

Italian Yellow wax beans and French green beans were blanched in boiling salt water and tossed with a ground hazelnut and argan oil dressing.  Sweet and juicy nectarines, intensely savory and perfectly fatty slices of jamón ibérico de bellota, burricotta cheese and smoked salt were draped over the beans for a simple salad with complex flavors.

A meal prepared by Haru and I is never complete without a little extra bling, whether it’s shaving ridiculous amounts of truffles on top or garnishing with sparkly gold flakes.  The Thai curry with seared duck breast was finished with seared foie gras morsels and served with Thai jasmine rice.  The dutch oven was brought directly to the table, and we all savored this amazing curry that was packed full of sweet vegetables and juicy duck.

I made a simple lemongrass, mint and black peppercorn granité as a palate cleanser to follow the curry, and we munched on juicy Gaviota strawberries throughout the rest of the evening.  Another fulfilling and perfect day of shopping, cooking, eating and drinking with dear friends- la joie de vivre!

Random trivia:  Did you know that ducks are able to swim in freezing water and stand on ice without any problems because their feet have no nerves or blood vessels to feel the cold temperature?

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Cooking with friends – Lyon, France

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View across the Saône river from the market

Continuing on with my food adventures in Lyon, France…

On Saturday morning we decided to go shopping at the farmers market along the Saône river in vieux Lyon.  My friend Guillaume offered to cook lunch for us, and we were so excited to get a homecooked meal full of fresh seasonal vegetables after our heavy meat-centric dinner at Café des Fédérations the night before.  It was a beautiful sunny hot day with clear blue skies, and the walk along the river was breathtaking.  The outdoor market was teeming with energy and the vibrant bright colors of vegetables and flowers were bursting with happiness.  Here are some photos from the vieux Lyon Saturday farmers market:

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We were lucky enough to get fresh morel mushrooms, just at the end of their season.  I’ve never had the opportunity to cook with fresh morel mushrooms, so this was a new experience for me.  I’m used to the dried store-bought version.  These fresh morels were soft and spongy, light and airy, earthy and pungent, and just simply delightful.  Guillaume also bought fresh ris d’agneau, or lamb sweetbreads which I was extremely excited about.

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Fresh morel mushrooms

Guillaume’s kitchen is tiny.  There’s really only enough room for 1 person.  It’s barely even tall enough for him to be able to stand fully erect.  I offered to help, but there was only 1 1/2 cutting boards (the 1/2 board was the size of a passport) and a few pairing knives.  How can this tiny kitchen with hardly any fancy gadgets whip out this fancy meal that Guillaume was describing to me?  Frankly, I was a little worried.  However, as soon as I saw him clean the sweetbreads, prepare the morels, sauté the fingerling potatoes in butter, cut the artichokes down to the heart, and throw the peas in boiling water all within a 10 minute period, I knew I could sit back and relax.  It’s not about the kitchen, or the equipment, or the fancy gadgets, or the space.  It’s about the chef, his creativity and his passion.

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Cleaned morels and lamb sweetbreads waiting to be cooked

The deep earthy aroma of morels filled the apartment as he sautéed them with butter.  At the same time, he individually and carefully cooked each vegetable before putting them all together in the pot.  He knew exactly how each vegetable had to be prepared to enhance their natural sweetness and character, and he was not cutting any corners.

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Chef Guillaume multi-tasking in his small kitchen

Before we knew it, a beautiful pot of asparagus, artichokes, peas, fingerling potatoes, haricot vert and garlic had been assembled on the tiny stovetop.  Meanwhile, he was finishing his morel sauce with cream and white wine from my cousin’s winery that I brought from Burgundy, and cooking it with the sweetbreads in the oven.

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Beautiful farmers market vegetable pot

The rest of the crew set the table and decanted a bottle of my cousin’s red wine, Simon Bize et Fils Aux Vergelesses.  We all proceeded to crowd around the small kitchen to watch the chef in action, all the while drooling and wagging our tails.

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Table is set, and wine is decanted

This ended up being one of the most memorable and delicious meals of my entire Europe trip.  There is just something so special about being invited into someone’s home and having a homecooked meal.  Shopping together at the market and seeing all of the fresh seasonal ingredients being transformed in front of my eyes in the kitchen also heightens the experience.   Everything was delicious, especially the lamb sweetbreads with morel mushrooms.

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Delicious market vegetable pot

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Succulent ris d'agneau with morel cream sauce

Of course we had the obligatory post-dinner cheese plate, again all selected by Guillaume at the cheese stand at the farmers market.  It included goat cheese with ashes and pepper, fresh goat cheese from goat’s milk that had just been milked the day before, and a Comté from the North Alps.

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After dinner farmers market cheese plate

Guillaume busted out his espuma gun for fresh whipped cream to complement the juicy strawberries.

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Succulent market strawberries

What a perfect weekend so far in Lyon, I thought, as I drifted away in a post-prandial snooze on the couch…

Random trivia:  Did you know that morel mushrooms, otherwise known as brain mushrooms, honeycomb mushrooms, or sponge mushrooms, are the official state mushrooms of Minnesota?