Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The remains of the day

A couple weeks ago I stumbled upon the blog Salty Seattle while looking for a recipe for steak ceviche. I had realized that I enjoy the clean, bright flavors in a ceviche but probably don't value the raw fish element enough to make it worth the extra cost, so I was checking out other options for the main ingredient. Gentle reader: don't look up the recipe for steak ceviche on Salty Seattle. Just... don't do it. It's kind of emotionally scarring and I am not sure if you will want to eat food immediately after reading it. You might never want to eat food again after reading it. Please, for the love of God, don't click on this link.

So that was my first impression of Salty Seattle. I almost sent the author an e-mail immediately afterwards telling him that his entry about steak ceviche was disgusting from both an epicurean and moral perspective and he clearly had problems interacting with women and how would his mother feel if she were to read everything he had just written--oh, and by the way, his steak ceviche looked like diseased guinea pig brains. Okay, maybe this last bit was a little harsh. The ceviche actually doesn't look too bad. I think I was just a little bit freaked out by the prose surrounding it.

Luckily, before completing my second draft of this very important missive, I clicked on a few other links around the site and discovered 1) Salty Seattle is written by someone named Linda; 2) she is a mother herself; 3) her slightly unhinged writing style is part of her personality; and 4) her other entries are strange and beautiful and generally suggest that you should pursue the perfect bite of food, chronicle your creativity, and cook with no fear of failure. Well, those are all things I can get behind.

So it turns out she's written awesome things all over Salty Seattle, but I found this entry about an adapted duck a l'orange just fascinating. The reverse-spherified creme brulee and blood orange foam exceed the current hardware specs of my kitchen, but those cappelletti, the little pope's hat pasta filled with duck confit? They look fantastic. So I thought I'd make my own take on the dish with chicken thighs and chicken consomme, in the process developing some cappelletti-folding and consomme-clarifying skills.

And I got halfway there, to reference my favorite song in the world after three drinks. On Saturday I made some chicken stock and also did a quick psuedo-confit of some chicken thighs--I cured them in salt and sugar for 90 minutes (instead of 24 hours) and then braised them in olive oil in a 250 ºF oven for 90 minutes (instead of 170 ºF for... another 24 hours). I knew from previous experience in confiture that you can strain the braising liquid, put it in the fridge to separate it into a gelled phase and a fat phase, and then pour this clean fat back over the meat to preserve the whole shebang indefinitely. So I did just that, intending to let those lovely thighs hang out in the fridge until I had a couple hours free to make some cappelletti and a couple days to clarify the stock with gelatin.

But, well, I got impatient. Also, I noticed this morning that the beautiful multicolored carrots that I had bought to serve alongside the cappelletti were starting to lose a little bit of their luster, and I didn't really have a Plan B for those. Not wanting to eat at 11 PM after folding two hundred cappelletti, I came up with a different idea for dinner tonight: chicken thigh confit soup.

I took two chicken thighs out of the fridge, heated up a little of their fat in a skillet over medium heat, and cooked them skin-side down until the skin was brown and crisp. I flipped them over to let them warm through. I shaved some carrots; Jeff blanched some peas; I warmed up the chicken stock. I arranged the peas and carrots in two bowls. Then I figured--hey, since I didn't clarify the stock anyway, why not add in a little chicken gelee to amp up the roasted chicken flavor and richness? So I put two spoonfuls of chicken gelee in each bowl and set a chicken thigh on top. That's what you see above. This is what you get, along with some warm chicken broth in a beautiful teacup. Then you pour the chicken stock over top, and...

...I was about to say that this is the best chicken soup I've ever made, but I've made some really good chicken soup in the past. This version worked out really well for a cold San Franciscan Night, though. The broth, spiked with gelee, was so thick, so deep, just coating your mouth with the essence of chicken. The chicken pulled apart, almost dissolved, the only trace of its presence in the soup a single, perfectly clean bone. Its skin might have lost some crispness if I hadn't finished the entire bowl in three minutes, but for my entire soup experience it was crunchy and sweet. The carrots and peas were there too, and very colorful. Well, they were also nice because they're some basic elements of chicken soup, and the noodly shavings of carrot gave a contrast in texture.

And after finishing the rest of the soup I suggested that we do something that I thought was tres Japanese and add some plain rice to the bowl to enjoy the rest of the stock and focus on its flavors. You can see that picture, the remains of the soup, up at the top.

Next time, Gadget? Take the chicken, heat it up, crisp the skin, crumble that up, shred the chicken, mix it all together, fill some cappelletti and set those in the broth doing backstrokes. Opps, I mean, set them in the perfectly clear, beautiful, pale, ethereal consomme. Okay. But for today?, Well, I got a lot of experience in confit and I came up with a pretty excellent new soup recipe off the top of my head. I think I generally followed the example of Salty Seattle, except I didn't talk about menopause or baboon mating.

Sorry about that!


Recipe roundup...

My quick chicken thigh confit was loosely based on the recipe for duck confit from Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller, as well as the recipe for chicken in garlic and shallots from I'm Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
Chicken stock was based on all the other times I've made chicken stock, but I think Ad Hoc At Home has a good recipe for that too, and it only needs an hour on the stove

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