Last Saturday was a miserable day; cold, grey, rainy, you name it. If you had any lingering doubts that fall was here they were quickly erased.
But it wasn’t all bad, we were having friends over for dinner and duck shepherd’s pie was on the menu. Classic cold weather comfort food taken up a notch with duck confit and truffled mashed potatoes. It was the perfect way to combat the bleak weather.
- Olives and dried duck magret for pre-meal munching
- Arugula, cherry tomato, bocconcini and walnut salad dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and maldon sea salt flakes
- Duck shepherd’s pie with a side of roasted asparagus dusted with parmesan
- Cheese plate with fig spread
- Molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberries
Quick note about the duck magret – This was actually the first time I had tried it. If you haven’t had it before think prosciutto, but duck. Really good stuff. I picked it up at the sausage place inside Atwater Market.
The recipe for the shepherd’s pie comes from one of my favourite cookbooks, Mark McEwan: Great Food at Home (what a perfect title). As it turns out this particular recipe is available online here, so I won’t go through the whole thing. But having made this dish twice now, I have a few tips to pass along.
1. More duck! – The recipe calls for four 150g duck confit legs. I used six 185g legs. Even if you’re not feeding six people I would use at least this much to ensure that the duck is the star of the show. Here are the goods, before and after shredding.
2. Really braise those onions – There’s a recipe for just the pearl onions. First you blanch them for 20 seconds, shock them in ice water and peel them. The recipe then suggests leaving them whole, cooking over low-medium heat in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned and braising at 400 for 15 to 20 minutes with a few tablespoons of saffron tea (i.e. saffron threads in warm water prepared ahead of time), replenishing the tea as it evaporates. The first time we did it that way and the onions ended up standing out too much in the final product (and tasted too much like onion). So we made two small tweaks this time that made a big difference. Cut the onions in half before you put them in the pan and make sure you let them braise for a good 40 minutes. Don’t be shy with the saffron tea either, use it all (in about 5 portions).
3. Sub for truffle paste – We couldn’t find truffle paste, but we found a nice substitute at Les Douceurs du Marché in Atwater Market – Salsa Tartufata (truffled sauce). It’s a mushroom, oil and truffle mix that comes in a little jar. It gives the potatoes a distinct truffle flavour and as a bonus, you get that nice speckled effect that you can see in the pics of the finished product below.
4. Give the skins time - The duck skins will take a good 35 minutes to crisp up. Use low heat and be patient. Don’t take them off until they really are crispy like chips.
On your left, fatty, kind of slimy duck skins. On your right, crispy little pieces of heaven.
And here’s the finished product. This dish takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s worth it. Each element on its own is delicious. Throw them all together and you’ve got something special.
Word of warning: those duck skin chips are out of control good so if you’re on a diet this probably isn’t the meal for you. After giving everyone ample time to digest and finish up the pinot noir (and then opening another bottle and finishing that, and then opening another bottle and going to work on that) it was time for cheese.
We went with three cheeses, all from Fromagerie Atwater. Two of my solid regulars, Valdeón (half cow, half goat milk blue from Spain) and Caccio di Bosco (pecorino with black truffle from Italy), and a new one, Epoisses Berthaut (gooey and stinky from France). With port, of course.
All three cheeses disappeared in short order, but I think the Epoisses Berthaut was the biggest hit on this night. It’s extra creamy, with a hint of smoky flavour in the rind and while undoubtedly a stinky cheese is actually a bit more mellow than its pungent odour would suggest. It’s on my list now. After another intermission it was finally time for dessert.
Molten Chocolate Cake
I actually read an article the other day that listed “molten chocolate cake on the dessert menu” as a sign that you are in a bad restaurant. I don’t know what that’s all about. Molten chocolate cake is amazing and if you think otherwise you’re wrong. I used to assume that making one had to be exceedingly difficult, but they’re actually pretty simple. There are a million recipes out there. Here’s one that my girlfriend got from a friend. Makes 6.
125g of butter
200g of chocolate (we used valhalla 70%)
125g of sugar
125g of flour
1. melt the butter and chocolate together
2. beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture starts to thick a bit
3. add the flour to the eggs and sugar while mixing
4. add the chocolate to the mix
5. spoon the mixture into ramekins
6. place in fridge (we made them before our guests arrived and took them out about 20 minutes before putting them in the oven)
7. Bake at 425 for about 9 minutes.
That last step is obviously the tricky one. If Master Chef taught me anything it’s that you have to be extra precise with baking times, even more so when you’re doing something like a molten cake. There was little risk of me being sent home or berated on national TV if I overcooked them, but still, it would have been a letdown to end the night. This time we baked them for exactly 8:50. They turned out nicely – cooked around the edge and nice and liquid in the middle, as you can see from the picture. But I would have left them in for another 20-30 seconds or maybe let them sit a bit longer after removing them from the fridge. You really have to experiment, take notes and run through a couple of batches to perfect these. I’m getting there…
All things told, a successful night – good company, good eats, good drink and a great start to the fall feasting season.