THE MENU; Fish Pate' with Pink Herb Sauce; Roast Duck & Ginger-Lemon Sauce; Spinach Ring Surrounded by Wild Rice and Filled with Creamed Sliced Carrots; Mocha Almond Bomb
WE JUST celebrated the birthday of a dear friend with a festive dinner. It W started with a creamy white, salmon-ribboned fish pa te' which, thanks to the food processor, was prepared in 15 minutes, not counting cooking. The pa te' was sliced and served next to a dollop of pink herb sauce on individual plates, anelegant combination of flavors and colors.
Next came almost fatless, crisp-skinned ducks brought to that happy state by being boiled for five minutes, blow-dried for eight minutes with hot air from a hand-held hair dryer and then roasted in a hot oven without benefit of pronging or basting. The ginger-lemon sauce that accompanied the ducks was tangier than the usual orange sauce and more agreeable, to my taste, than the green peppercorns so fashionable these days. Accompanying the ducks was a spinach ring surrounded by wild rice and filled with creamed sliced carrots. The platter was spectacular enough to be shown off at the table before it met devastation at the sideboard.
Dessert had to be birthday cake. I decided on a light and lovely meringue torte which I had baked the day before and left out to be filled the day of the party. Then, during the night, a greedy raccoon came through an upstairs, screenless and open window, found the kitchen and the torte and ate it all up. I suppose I could have made the time to bake a proper cake, but this would have been too much after such an involved meal. Instead, I used some of the almonds I had toasted to accompany drinks, along with my stash of ice cream and some ordinary chocolate syrup for a bombe in the shape of a cake. It wasn't a meringue torte, but it held candles and turned out to be an appropriate ending for this meal.
A successful fish pa te' requires absolutely fresh ingredients which must be refrigerator-cold when they are put together. The fish should be returned to the refrigerator to become thoroughly chilled after it is cut up so that it will absorb the egg whites and cream when pure'ed. Also, the result seems to be better when I remember to refrigerate the processor bowl and blade. The pure'ed red peppers add color and mellowness rather than flavor to the herb sauce, so while fresh peppers can be used, canned or jarred red peppers would do as well.
Ducks are so wonderful that it is wicked to waste any part of them. The giblets, necks and wing tips are used for the sauce. The fat is cut up and rendered with bits of neck skin and some chopped onion to be used later for cooking. The fat from the roasting pan is excellent for saute'ing or roasting potatoes and turnips.
I cook three ducks for eight, which is a bit generous. Three people to a duck is the general rule. But I like leftovers reheated or for a cold salad. It is harder and harder to find fresh ducks, so most of the time I make do with frozen, overfatted birds. I clean the ducks and make the stock for the sauce the day before.
Until I discovered the blow-drying technique, I had to stab the skin at least every 10 minutes to encourage the fat to dissolve. And even then it wasn't perfect. The parboiling-hot-air treatment is much more effective because the pores of the skin are opened and the fat pours out during the cooking, a phenomenon that begins during the blow-drying. The birds go into the oven and can be forgotten until they are done. However, if all the ducks are not cooked on the same shelf of the oven, it is a good idea to switch them halfway through the cooking. My larger roasting pan accepts two ducks but does not come with a rack, so I improvise with overlapping cake racks. The mixture of honey and water gets painted on at the end to produce a more deeply browned skin.
In order to do this meal with one oven, the cooked ducks must come out of the oven an hour before dinner; the hot sauce will reheat them sufficiently. Put them under a loose tent of foil on top of the stove, since nothing else will be cooking by then. The sauce and the carrots are reheated when the ducks are taken away to be carved. The oven temperature should be reduced the minute the ducks come out, and the door opened to cool it off. After about five minutes, the wild rice goes in, and 10 minutes later the spinach ring in its hot water bath.
Wild rice is a very grand addition to any meal, but not necessarily devastating to the budget. I found an excellent quality wild rice sold in bulk at the Bethesda Avenue Coop for $6.08 a pound, or at least half the price elsewhere. And since a little more than half a pound will be ample for eight, it's possible to be lavish for around $3, which is more than can be said about most luxuries. An hour sounds like a long time to cook wild rice, but this recipe comes out perfectly every time -- fluffy but slightly crunchy, exactly the way it should be. It is a relief to put something in the oven and forget about it: no stirring, no sticking and if it sits for an extra 15 minutes, no harm. The spinach ring is another no-fail dish. The carrots, which are cooked without water, are intensely flavored and delicious.
The bombe can be made well in advance and with any variety of ingredients. Any shape mold will do, but I like metal because it unmolds so easily. The cake pan I used for this bombe has pretty configurations and resulted in a showy dish. The almonds' slight saltiness is imperceptible in the bombe and even intensifies the flavor of the ice creams. Walnuts or any other kind of nut would be almost as good. I use supermarket chocolate syrup in a plastic squirt bottle to make fanciful abstract designs over the top of the unmolded bombe and then feel mildly guilty about achieving a sensational effect just by playing.
FISH PATE' (8 servings) 2 tablespoons softened butter 1/2-pound salmon steak, boned and thinly sliced Salt and pepper to taste 1 pound fresh flounder or sole fillets, skin removed and cut into 2-inch pieces 1 whole egg 3 egg whites 1 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons cognac 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
Smear a 4-cup loaf pan with the softened butter and refrigerate. Season the salmon slices with salt and pepper and refrigerate.
All the following ingredients plus the processor bowl and blade should be ice cold. Pure'e the flounder in a processor fitted with the steel blade. Stop the motor once or twice and scrape the fish down from the sides. With the motor running, add the whole egg and the egg whites. Process for another 2 minutes, stop the motor, scrape down the sides, and process for another minute. With the motor running, add the cream and cognac in a steady stream. Season with salt, pepper and tarragon and process for another 20 seconds.
Pack half the mixture into the buttered pan and press down with a spoon to eliminate all air pockets. Arrange the salmon slices to cover. Then spoon the remaining mixture over the salmon. Smooth the top with a spatula and cover with a piece of buttered parchment or waxed paper. Set the loaf pan in a roasting pan, pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the loaf pan and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let the pa te' sit in the water for another 15 minutes. Cool and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, unmold the pa te' by running a knife between it and the sides of the pan. A towel moistened with hot water can be applied to the bottom to help release the pa te'. Slice into 8 equal portions and serve with pink herb sauce.
PINK HERB SAUCE (Makes about 2 cups) 3/4 cup mayonnaise 3/4 cup sour cream 3 red peppers, either freshly roasted, skinned and seeded, or canned 4 tablespoons minced parsley 2 tablespoons minced chives Ground white pepper and salt to taste
Mix the mayonnaise and sour cream together in a bowl. Drain the peppers and pat them as dry as you can with paper towels. Pure'e them in a processor and add to the bowl. Stir in the herbs and taste for pepper and salt.
ROAST DUCKS WITH GINGER-LEMON SAUCE (8 servings) 3 4 1/2- to 5-pound ducks, fresh or defrosted 1 teaspoon honey thinned with 1 teaspoon hot water
Ginger-Lemon Sauce: 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Wing tips, necks, gizzards and hearts of the ducks, if possible chopped into 1-inch pieces and patted dry 2 carrots, scraped, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks 2 stalks celery, cleaned and cut into 1-inch chunks 2 onions, quartered 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon thyme 4 sprigs parsley 2 14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth 2 10 1/2-ounce cans beef bouillon 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup red wine vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch or arrowroot 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into a fine julienne Peel of 2 lemons, cut into a fine julienne and blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes, refreshed with cold water, drained and dried 1/4 cup lemon juice, or more to taste 3/4 cup medium-sweet madeira wine
To prepare the ducks, first remove globs of fat and reserve, if desired, with the livers for another use. Cut off the wing tips and set aside with the necks, hearts and gizzards for the sauce. The ducks can be prepared to this point the day before they are to be cooked.
Prepare each of the ducks in the following way. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover one duck and bring to a boil. Submerge a duck in the water and after it has come back to a boil, cook for 5 minutes. Remove, drain the cavity and pat off the excess moisture from the skin with a paper towel. Open the pores of the duck's skin by directing hot air all over it from a hand-held hair dryer. Blow dry each duck for about 8 minutes and wipe off the fat as it is released. Place each duck, breast side up, on the rack of a roasting pan.
Roast the ducks in a 450-degree oven for 1/2 hour. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees, paint the ducks with the honey and water mixture and brown for 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven, transfer to a large platter and cover loosely with a tent of foil. Set in a warm place until the ducks are to be carved.
Pour off all the fat from the roasting pan (or pans). Deglaze the first pan with a cup of water over high heat, scraping off all the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Pour these deglazed juices into the second pan and repeat. Add the juices to the sauce.
To prepare stock for the sauce, brown the wing tips, necks, gizzards and hearts of the duck, carrots, celery and onions in the oil, stirring constantly over high heat. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, chicken broth and beef bouillon. Bring to a simmer, skim and cook, with the lid slightly ajar, for 2 hours. Strain the stock into a bowl. There should be about 4 cups. Skim off the fat (there will be probably be 1/2 cup of this). It is easier to degrease stock after it has been refrigerated for a few hours. Reserve 2 cups of the degreased stock for the sauce and freeze the remainder.
While the ducks are roasting, make the sauce. Combine the sugar and vinegar in a heavy 6-cup saucepan and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook until the mixture has caramelized and turned a mahogany color. Remove from heat and immediately pour the 2 cups of stock into the pan. Return to heat and simmer, stirring, until the caramel has dissolved. Ladle out 3 tablespoons of the stock, blend with the potato starch or arrowroot and return to the pan. Add the ginger, lemon peel, lemon juice and madeira and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the deglazed roasting juices and taste for seasoning. Set aside and reheat just before serving.
SPINACH RING (8 servings) 5 10-ounce packages frozen leaf spinach, partially defrosted 5 tablespoons butter 5 tablespoons flour 1 1/4 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 5 eggs 2 tablespoons softened butter
Bring spinach to a boil with a little water, cook for 2 minutes, drain and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Chop the spinach in a food processor and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan, add the flour and stir over low heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Off the heat, whisk in the eggs one at a time. Add the spinach and mix thoroughly.
Butter a 6-cup (9 1/2-inch) ring mold with the softened butter. Spoon in the spinach mixture and smooth the top. Cover with a piece of buttered parchment or waxed paper. This can be made several hours in advance to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking. Put into a pan large enough to hold the mold and pour boiling water to come halfway up the mold. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. To unmold, run a thin, sharp knife around the sides and turn out on a large platter. Surround with wild rice and fill the center with creamed sliced carrots.
WILD RICE (8 servings) 1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) wild rice 4 tablespoons butter 3 shallots, finely minced 3 cups chicken stock Salt and pepper to taste
Put the wild rice in a large, fine strainer and run cold water over it to wash it well. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a heavy 3-quart ovenproof pot, such as an enamel-on-iron casserole, add the shallots and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until the shallots are transparent but not brown. Add the wild rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and salt and pepper. This can be prepared in advance to this point. An hour before serving, bring the broth to the boil, cover and bake for 1 hour in a 350-degree oven.
CREAMED SLICED CARROTS (8 servings) 2 pounds carrots, peeled and ends trimmed 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 teaspoon thyme Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup heavy cream
Slice the carrots either vertically or horizontally in a processor, using the thin slicing blade.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, add the carrots, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to coat with the butter. Cook, covered, over very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the carrots don't burn. When the carrots have lost their crispness, add the cream. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the cream has been absorbed. Adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead and reheated at the last minute.
MOCHA ALMOND BOMBE (8 servings) 1/2 gallon coffee ice cream 1/2 gallon buttered almond ice cream 1 cup toasted unblanched almonds (see recipe below), coarsely chopped Chocolate syrup
Line the bottom and sides of a 10-cup mold with all the coffee ice cream and stud with the chopped toasted almonds. Drizzle some chocolate syrup over the entire surface. Pack in enough of the buttered almond ice cream to fill the mold. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for at least 3 hours. To serve, dip the mold in hot water for 2 seconds, run a knife around the top and turn onto a serving dish. Drizzle more chocolate syrup over the bombe and slice at the table with a sharp knife dipped into a bowl of hot water.
TOASTED ALMONDS (Makes 4 cups) 3 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt 2 cups tepid water 4 cups unblanched almonds
Dissolve the salt in the water. Stir the almonds into the brine and let them soak for 40 minutes. Drain well, spread the almonds on a jelly roll pan and toast in a 300-degree oven. Stir every 10 minutes and at the end of 30 minutes turn off the oven and leave the almonds in the oven to dry overnight. Use 1 cup of the almonds for the bombe and reserve the other 3 cups for before-dinner drinks.