The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's National Confit Of Duck Day!

A confit of duck is made by cooking duck pieces–most commonly leg quarters–in the fat rendered from the duck skin.

Tom Fitzmorris runs The New Orleans Menu

Annals Of Winemaking
On this date in 1862, the first European-variety wine grapevine cuttings arrived in California. Agoston Haraszthy, a native of Pest, Hungary, arrived in Sonoma, where he had a good deal of vineyard land, with about 100,000 vines. He had lots of problems, mainly because the endemic root louse called phylloxera was killing the non-resistant European vines. But ultimately his efforts brought him fame as the Father of California Winemaking. His winery, Buena Vista, lives on (in name, anyway) to this day.

Today is one of two days called the birthday of John Hancock, whose handwriting was so rococo that he has become almost the patron saint of elaborate penmanship. But what brought him to the forefront of the American Revolution was that one of his ships (that was his business), carrying a full load of wine, was seized by the British. The outrage that caused fueled Revolutionary fervor. He ultimately got his ship back, and many drank to the cause as a result. He was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, as any schoolchild knows. The year of his birth was 1737. Hancock’s birthday inspired the naming of January 23 as National Handwriting Day. As a long-time user of fountain pens that make bold strokes, I observe.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
When you boil eggs, use standard balsamic vinegar in the boiling water. It will turn the shells a little brown, telling you at a glance which ones in the refrigerator have been boiled.

Today’s Flavor
Today is National Confit Of Duck Day. A confit of duck is made by cooking duck pieces–most commonly leg quarters–in the fat rendered from the duck skin. Originally, this was a way of preserving duck meat. After it was cooked, it remained in a jar with the fat, and could hold up that way for months, without refrigeration. When it was time to eat it, the duck was broiled or baked, and the fat that saturates it makes it crisp on the outside, in sort of the same way bacon becomes when cooked in its own fat. Meanwhile, the inside of the dug leg becomes extraordinarily tender inside, and almost melts in the mouth. [related]

Obviously, this is a delicious item, and a great way to use the duck legs. Since the breast cooks at a different rate, many chefs now grill the breast and make a confit of the legs. If you’re lucky, you get both on the plate. If not, you get one or another. (Thus the restaurant that used to serve a half duck may now be getting two entrees out of what used to be one entree.)

The local gold standard for duck confit has long been Gautreau’s, which served the melt-in-the-mouth savory as an appetizer. Some other outstanding versions come from Lilette, Marigny Brasserie, and Muriel’s. As good as a confit of duck is, even better is confit d’oie. That’s the same idea, made with the geese raised for foie gras is made in France.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pancake, Texas is fifty-one miles west of Waco, in rolling plains with a mix of farming and cattle ranching. It’s named for John Pancake, the first postmaster of the little town in 1884. Its population peaked at about 200 people around 1900, and went steadily downward. It’s really a ghost town now, although some widely-spaced houses are strung out along Farm-To-Market Road 217. The nearest restaurant is the Horseshoe in Gatesville, twelve miles south.

Edible Dictionary
tabbouleh, Lebanese, n.–A finely-chopped salad of parsley, tomato, and cracked wheat, seasoned with a little onion and enough lemon juice that it can be recognized right away, plus the chef’s choice of other seasonings. Sometimes it has a faint hint of mint in the flavor, which overall is refreshing. It may be the most intensive use of parsley in the world of cuisine. And one of the world’s healthiest dishes to eat. It’s served universally in Middle Eastern restaurants.

Deft Dining Rule #749:
For an illustrative datum, the next time a waiter offers to top a dish with crabmeat, ask what the price difference will be. You will learn why this practice is so widespread.

Annals Of Royalty
The sixty-four years Victorian Period in England (and a lot of other places) came to an end with the death today, in 1901, of Queen Victoria. She was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. When he first addressed Parliament, he relaxed a rule that his mother had insisted upon in her presence, by saying, “Gentlemen, you may smoke.” That dictum made him a hero in the cigar industry, one company of which named its best-selling line of stogies King Edward The Seventh. . . .Today is the birthday, in 1957, of Princess Caroline of Monaco. She is the daughter of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. Royalty dines well.

Looking Up
Today in 1975, the asteroid Eros passed within ten million miles of the Earth, which is a close approach indeed. It is shaped like a red bean.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Vienne, who lived in France in the eight century. He’s the patron saint of farmers and animal herders. It’s also the feast day of St. Emerentiana, of the third century. You ask for her intercession if you have a stomach ache. And it’s also St. Urban of Langres Day. His intercession will save you from alcoholism. He’s the patron saint of those who make wine barrels.

Food Namesakes
All the food names have to do with music today, for some reason. On this date in 1969, the rock group Cream released its last album, Goodbye. We had just discovered them, it seemed, and they were gone. . . Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were among the first inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, today in 1986. . . Jazz saxophonist Benny Waters was born today in 1902. . . Early blues singer Leadbelly was born today in 1888. . . Richard Berry, who composed the ultimate rock party song Louie, Louie, died today in 1997. . . Mark Curry, a rap singer also known by a second food name Chop D.I.E.S.E.L., started complaining today in 1972.

Words To Eat By
“A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable.”–Grimod de la Reyniere, author of one of the earliest French cookbooks.

Related Stories
Duck Confit: Not Fast, Just Easy

Words To Drink By
“Man being reasonable must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication;
Glory, the grape, love, gold-in these are sunk
The hopes of all men and of every nation.” 
–Lord Byron.