An inauguration, of sorts, for the new kitchen, in that I actually took a few minutes to plan and think through a whole meal for the first time in a month. I had been to the store to get a few things, and as I always do at this time of year I grabbed winter veggies: leeks, fennel, turnips, and kale. I knew we had a duck breast in the freezer, and there were some kumquats in the fridge that needed using. So it sort of took shape around those two ingredients. Like the Wonder Twins, only it was just dinner–as opposed, say, to an orca riding an ice surfboard.
I shredded the fennel fine, caramelized it with some shaved onion, and then deglazed the pan with sake. I let it simmer covered until soft, then added in a bit of pure mustard oil and minced fennel fronds to make a sort of mostarda. Pure mustard oil isn't exactly legal for sale in this country, at least for culinary use, so it has to be marked "for external use only." But as all good parents know, that's just an invitation to open it up and see how it tastes. And it tastes good. Plus, it's like having your very own chemical weapon in the pantry!
I sliced and simmered the kumquats with blackcurrant brandy, honey, cinnamon, and star anise until marmaladey. The duck I just scored, seared, flipped, and rested on low heat for a few minutes to heat through without cooking past rare. I found some leftover enoki mushrooms, so I threw them into the still-hot duck fat to brown and crisp into little fries, and I'm so very glad I did. The silky, sweet-hot fennel, rich, tender duck, and sweet, sour, complex marmalade were pretty great by themselves, but enoki fries? In duck fat? If there were a Nobel prize for crispy, umamilicious garnishes, I would be a lock.
Tell me that you do not wish this had been your dinner:
To plus the perfect, a 2007 Domaine des Vallettes Borgueil–I first mentioned it here, about the last time I cooked something interesting–and it's a new favorite in the $20 and under category (which, let's be honest, is pretty much the only category we're buying these days). Light, elegant, and delicately perfumed with strawberries, it nonetheless has enough structure to handle fat meat. And you look for that in a wine.