Ducks in a Row

sliced done
Magrets de canard

It’s still too hot to cook. The temperatures have settled into the upper 80s/low 90s for highs, and mid-60s for lows. Clear blue skies, no humidity. Pretty fabulous, but with no air conditioning it’s grilling weather.

in pkgOne of the Carnivore’s favorite food groups is duck. But we had a near catastrophe trying to grill duck the first time. Duck breasts have a thick layer of fat on one side. Usually, you score the fat and it melts into the skillet. (This is considered a good thing.) On the grill, however, the fat caused huge flames. A guest suggested catching the drippings with foil. The foil quickly filled up, and we were faced with trying to get a flimsy pool of boiling grease off the fire.

whole underside
Duck breasts all in a row
whole fat
Fat side

The Carnivore very much liked the idea of grilling duck and was determined to make it work. He started trimming off the fat. Not all of it–it’s there for flavor after all–but just enough to avoid flames. This is the result:

raw trimmed

whole done
And cooked

In the decade since he adopted this method, it has worked very well. He likes his duck cooked rosé–medium. And usually serves it with honey. Very easy, very French.

honeyWe also had ratatouille niçoise. While the traditional way is to cook the vegetables slowly for a long time, I like to cook them separately, very quickly, then mix and serve. Ratatouille works fine at room temperature, if you want to make it ahead.

ratatouilleRatatouille niçoise

1 eggplant, in half-inch cubes

1 onion, halved and sliced very thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 red peppers (or one red, one green), diced or sliced

2-3 big tomatoes, in inch cubes

3 small zucchini, in half-inch cubes

herbes de provence, salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt the eggplant and put it in a strainer.

In a nice, big frying pan or even a le Creuset style Dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil, until they become transparent. Add the peppers and let them cook until a little soft. Throw in the tomatoes and a tablespoon or so of herbes de provence.

Set aside those veggies in a big bowl. Add more olive oil to the pan and sauté the zucchini. I do it pretty fast, just so it gets brown on most sides. Add to the veggie bowl.

Rinse the eggplant then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add more olive oil to the pan and sauté the eggplant, again until most sides get brown. Put all the veggies back into the pan. Stir, so the tomato juices deglaze the bottom of the pan. I like to cook off the juice as much as possible, but it kind of depends on the tomatoes. Some are awfully juicy!

I don’t add salt and pepper until the end, because sometimes the eggplant retains more or less salt.

rata closeLeftovers freeze very nicely for later. With added tomato sauce, it also makes a nice pasta sauce.

 

 

Calçots

on grillFew things are easier on the grill than onions.

You can just throw them on, without doing anything. No cleaning. No preparation. Take onions, place on hot grill, wait. Then you cut them in half and scoop out the caramelized insides. We discovered this many years ago at Le Moulin restaurant in Trèbes, near Carcassonne, realized the sheer brilliance of its simplicity and have been employing it since.

cookedJust south of the border, the Catalanes also do onions, namely spring onions called calçots, that are like giant scallions. The calçot capital, Valls, Spain, even has a Gran Fiesta de la Calçotada. But you don’t have to go to Spain to get in on the goodness of grilled onions. You can do it at home.

Any old green onions will do. You can wash off the dirt, but it isn’t a must–that part gets peeled off later anyway. Put the onions on a hot grill.

When they’re done, wrap them in newspaper, which keeps them hot until they’re eaten, and the steam helps the outer layer peel away from the caramelized inside. Put the peelings in the newspaper for easy cleanup.

 

Dip your peeled calçot in romesco sauce (make the sauce ahead or else your calçots will be cold!). Tilt your head back and lower it in into your mouth like a sword swallower. Don’t forget to chew, though.

While the grill is still warm, roast some peppers for your next round of romesco sauce. Trust me, you’ll want more.

romesco

There are lots of recipes for romesco, which could be considered a Spanish red pepper version of pesto. I wouldn’t sweat the details too much. More/less pepper? More/fewer almonds? More/less garlic? It’s all good.

3-4 red peppers (you could use already-roasted ones from a jar)

1/2 cup almonds (a handful, or two!). Slivered, whole, whatever, as long as there’s no skin.

1-2 cloves of garlic (or 3-4 if you want!)

1-2 tablespoons tomato concentrate (one of those tiny cans)

1/4-1/2 cup olive oil

A hit of Jerez (sherry) vinegar

piment d’Espelette or cayenne, if you want a kick

Cut and clean the peppers. Roast. Put them in a paper or plastic bag (I prefer paper, but I’ve seen both ways) to make them easier to cool, which you do once they’re cool.

Toast the almonds in a skillet. No need for oil. Keep an eye on them that they don’t burn.

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and purée.

I had two lonely sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, and added them, using the olive oil from the jar. Why not?

Should you have leftover romesco, it won’t be around for long. You can use it on pasta, on bread, on potatoes, as a vegetable dip, on meat, on fish. It’s so yummy.