Posted by Rob Eshman
Over the High Holy Days, I used meat that I bought through KOL Foods Los Angeles buying club.
The Washington, D.C.-based company sells beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and duck that is raised on open pastures and killed according to the highest standards of humane slaughter and kashrut supervision. The L.A. buying club, organized by Got Kosher co-owner Evelyn Baron, enables people to make their purchases online and save on the high shipping costs, which can be more than the food itself.
You order online, using the drop-down menu to specify your buying club (they exist in Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities). You pay a flat rate of around $50 for shipping (which you can share with a friend or neighbor and you pick up at a designated location, which in Los Angeles is Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard. Because pickup locations have limited storage space, you must get your delivery on an appointed day, between specific hours. Hey, if you want easy, buy a Slim Jim.
Last Passover, I bought a turkey and some rib-eye steaks. They were excellent. This year, I bought beef brisket, chickens and whole ducks.
According to the warm and fuzzy Web site description, my ducks were raised on a Pennsylvania pasture by a sensitive Amish farmer named Aaron.
The grass-fed beef comes from a ranch in Montana. I don’t know the name of the guy there, but, judging by the photos, I do know both my cow and duck lived on much nicer spreads than I do.
So what, you ask? The end of my duck’s luxurious farm stay is the same as the end for a factory-raised duck: a long blade across the throat.
I have no illusions that the end in either case is not wholly pleasant. But an animal’s life beforehand doesn’t have to be nasty and brutish. A recent Forward investigation into the kosher beef industry in South America — where much Israeli meat comes from — revealed ongoing, unconscionable cruelty, all under the guise of kashrut.
That is blasphemy, and kosher suppliers and consumers who don’t act to improve conditions for the animals will cause serious damage to the kosher “brand,” not to mention its actual ethical foundation.
The ideal situation would be for our many local kosher meat stores to carry Aaron’s ducks and those Montana cattle. Not only is it the right thing to do, they taste better.
Both the duck and the brisket I cooked for Rosh Hashanah had superb flavor. But the duck was exceptional — far better than any commercially available kosher duck I’ve ever had. The huge magret was deep red and minerally rich. The meat was tender, and the two or more cups of rendered fat will flavor my roast potatoes all winter. With the brisket, I made my neighbor Holly Wiland’s Brisket With Fennel, Preserved Lemon and Olives. It is so flavorful and light, you think eating that much beef is good for you.
I turned the duck into Crispy Roast Duck With Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique. A gastrique is a sauce that balances sweet, usually in the form of sugar, with sour, usually in the form of vinegar. Duck is rich. It needs a bit of sour to counteract its fattiness. I used chopped fresh figs in the sauce for additional sweetness, and the first pomegranates off my tree for sharpness. Coastal pomegranates never get too sweet, they say. They’re right.
A 3 1/2-pound kosher duck with shipping will run you close to $40. It will require a certain amount of hassle. But what you get is great-tasting food from an animal that lived a pleasant animal life. Factory farming may be cheaper, but there is nothing kosher about it, absolutely nothing.
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October 17, 2011 | 5:32 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
This is a recipe the world desperately needs. We all know that the more green leafy vegetables we can stuff down our throats the better. Kale, collard greens, dandelion, chard—They have vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and, by the way, flavor. Prepared well, they taste like spring and earth and health.
Over Sukkot I’ve been taking advantage of all the Tuscan kale and chard in the markets. I like rainbow chard, which looks like candy and tastes like… chard.
The problem with most chard dishes is you use just the leaves. You blanch them, chop them, saute them. There’s a lot of recipes for chard leaves: stuffed chard, stir-fried chard, chard salad. These recipes always come with some variation on this instruction: “Separate leaves from ribs. Reserve ribs for another use.”
The problem is that “other use” never comes. Some recipes unhelpfully suggest using them in vegetable stock, to which I say (cue sarcasm): YUM! Chard rib stock. Sign me up. Otherwise, cookbooks are clueless about what you can do with your stockpile of chard ribs.
My solution to the eternal excess chard rib dilemma came when I was making stuffed chard leaves. For that you really have to cut out the thicker, tougher white rib, or else you can’t roll the leaves around the stuffing. I had some water boiling to blanch the leaves.
But before I did that, I took my pile of chard ribs, plunged them in hot water a minute, then immediately poured some rice wine vinegar over them and sprinkled in some sugar and salt. I refrigerated them until they were chilled, and when they emerged, I had chard rib pickles.
These became a standard pre-dinner nosh in our house. People eat them like chips. You can add chili oil, fresh or preserved lemon, fresh ginger, powdered sumac—anything you want to flavor them. But I think they do best with just the plain pickling solution. They keep in the fridge for a couple weeks.
Remember, if you make chard rib pickles, reserve leaves for another use.
Foodaism’s Chard Rib Pickles
Cut chard ribs into equal lengths.
Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.
Remove and place in bowl.
Cover with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, salt, and sugar. (About one teaspoon sugar and ½ t. salt for every cup of vinegar, but let taste be a better guide). Let cool, then cover and refrigerate. Within a few hours, they’ll be ready to eat.
October 12, 2011 | 3:57 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Two words you don’t often see in the same sentence: Bono and Sukkot.
But the rocker/activist’s ONE advocacy group, which fights poverty in the Horn of Africa, released a PDF booklet yesterday that links the desperate situation in Africa with the ancient Jewish holiday.
On Sukkot we gather in flimsy booths to remember when the Children of Israel wandered through the desert. But a fragile, hungry existence is the daily reality for millions of Africans.
The pamphlet provides Jews observing the holiday, and their rabbis, with facts, figures, text and rituals to make the connection between the lessons of Sukkot and the reality of Africa. The purpose, according to the project’s creator Marc Friend, an intern at the American Jewish World Service, is to inspire Jews to act to address the situation.
The three page pamphlet states:
In Jewish tradition, the
holiday of Sukkot, the
Feast of Tabernacles,
provides a time for
one to remember the
journey from Egypt to the
Promised Land and to celebrate
the benefits of the harvest, by
living in temporary structures, a
Sukkah for a week. Yet, for millions
in the Horn of Africa, living in temporary
structures is a reality. Currently the Horn of
Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60
years. More than 13 million people,mostly nomadic
pastoralists and farmers in parts of Somalia, Kenya
and Ethiopia are severely lacking access to food.
Instead of being able to celebrate the harvest, these millions
are left hungry and powerless. The holiday of Sukkot
provides an opportunity to celebrate our past, but recognize
that while we are free, others are still wondering the desert.
As the Horn of Africa faces such high levels of human
suffering, we can draw on our Jewish values and raise our
Bono founded ONE in 2002. (He wrote the song, “One,” in 1992. Monies from that went to benefit AIDS research.)
Download Bono’s Guide to Sukkot here.
While you’re reading it, listen to the song “One.” It still rocks.
October 12, 2011 | 3:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Last year, just before the High Holidays, a producer from TVK24, Korean Broadcasting emailed me asking if I knew someone whom they could interview for a series about food and tradition in Jewish culture.
Yes, I said, me.
Jisung Bahng asked if she could film me in my kitchen. I said I had a better idea. She could film me in my sukkah.
The perfect filming opportunity was coming up in a few weeks, when Jews celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. We build simple huts and eat in them.
She asked if I had any photos of these huts, and I sent them along. I think she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t arrive at my home to find eight people huddled around a Bunson burner in a cardboard box.
After Jisung and I confirmed a date—the day before the actual start of the holiday, a kind of Faux-kot—I started thinking up a menu. TK TV is aired in America, Korea and Europe. It dawned on me I’d be representing Jews to millions of Korean speakers. My wife Naomi, a rabbi, I knew, could ace the orals, explaining what Sukkot is on camera. My job was to come up with a menu that didn’t embarrass us.
Truthfully, it was easy. At Sukkot the markets are overflowing with end of summer and early fall produce. Swing a lulav and you’ll find something good to eat. Seasonal food, fresh, great ingredients and plenty of it. Here’s what I decided to cook:
Eggplant with Tahini and Date Syrup
Sugar Pumpkin with Garbanzo, Garlic, Potato and Chard
Stuffed Cabbage, Stuffed Chard and Stuffed Zucchini
Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives
Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate Seeds
Salad with Fig, Walnut, Mint and Lemon
Apple and Peach Gallette
Apple and Cranberry Gallette
Apple Strudel with Pomegranates and Dates (Recipe Below)
We invited my parents, our friends the Druckers, my niece, and our friends the Adlers. Jenna Adler’s parents are Korean, and it’s absolutely true we are happy to hang with them anytime, anywhere. But it did seem like we were trying awfully hard to show off by trotting out the one part-Korean heritage Jewish family we knew.
Jenna was up for it: she could tell her parents to catch her on Korean TV.
Many weeks after our meal, a DVD arrived in the mail. It was our Sukkah meal, translated into Korean (with English subtitles), and produced for a Korean audience.
The title of the food documentary series in which our episode appears is, “Living and Breathing DNA.” Talk about Lost in Translation.
The segment begins with a wide shot of me picking vegetables for dinner, and Naomi picking pomegranates. I wonder if Koreans are keyed in to the whole backyard local sustainable thing, or if what looks so cool to us looks like peasant life to them. Just how bad is that recession?
Watching the video a year later, two things jump out at me: For someone trying to explain the joyous nature of Sukkot, I look like a constipated undertaker. Naomi is smiling, explaining the holiday with a relaxed cheer.
“Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest,” Naomi said. “We build these booths to remind us of the time the Children of Israel wandered in desert for 40 years. It was considered a time when the Children of Israel felt close to God.”
I look at her like I just swallowed a bug. And when it’s my turn to speak, when Jisung asks me what’s special about Sukkot food, I mumble through my explanation of its seasonal nature, the symbolism, yada yada yada.
Here’s the insight I contribute: “It’s a really fun holiday,” I say. “You sit outside and eat a meal.”
Four thousand years of Jewish civilization as interpreted by Beavis.
I began to feel self conscious—never a good thing on camera. Jisung, an earnest and charming young woman, was hanging on my every word, like the entire Korean nation would take this as they way Jews are. Over my left shoulder, out the living room window, Goldie Horn, our Nigerian Dwarf goat, had climbed onto the chicken coop, and was watching through the bay window. She was probably thinking, “Hey, I could do better than you.”
Plus, I notice I keep using the word “traditional. Like, in every sentence.
“Pomegranates are traditional,” I say.
“The holiday speaks to tradition.”
“The stuffed vegetables are traditional.”
Hate all you want on Food Network, but there is something to be said for a director.
Naomi of course needed no direction. She said exactly what I think about Sukkot, about the overarching role food plays in connecting us to our pasts, to our people, to our memory (I’m NOT going to say the T word).
“Nothing connects us more to the past than the smell of food from childhood,” she says on camera. “Every time we have a holiday it’s not just thinking about today, it’s rooting us in the past. For every people there’s a need to know where you come from, and what keeps you rooted where you are, and that food, that tradition, those aromas, that taste, bring you back to where you come from, and it’s so important to keep the traditions alive, to remember where you came from and feel that connection.”
The show really takes off for me when the guests arrive and the food comes out. We had plenty of bottles of wine, and the food really was good. The cameraman made the Sukkah, lit up in the center of a dark yard, look mysterious and warm.
They interviewed our guests at the table, and between bites I noticed everyone used the T word.
For some reason the one person they didn’t interview was Jenna. I still haven’t figured that one out.
Maybe, for their audience, a Jewish Korean American would be too—untraditional.
Apple Strudel with Pomegranates and Dates
There is no better dessert for a meat meal this time of year. Using olive oil instead of butter makes a lighter and flakier strudel. The better the apples, the better the strudel. Buy a mix of tart and sweet apples. Stay away from Red and Golden Delicious. If the apples are superb and fresh, don’t peel them: there’s flavor and color in the peel.
This recipe wants you to not follow it. Use pears instead of apples for all or part of the fruit. Figs instead of dates. Brown sugar instead of honey. Melted butter instead of olive oil, if you prefer.
12 apples, cored and diced into 1/8-1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cup walnuts
3/4 c. sugar or raw sugar
1/2 - 1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 c. pomegranate seeds
3/4 c. chopped fresh dates or figs
Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with bakers parchment or grease well.
In a large bowl, add apples, 1/2 c. chopped walnuts, honey and cinamon to taste. Taste: add enough lemon juice to balance flavor. Stir well.
Pulse remaining walnuts in a blender or food processor with sugar a dash more cinamon.
Place olive oil in a dish and get brush ready.
Lay out filo flat, and keep covered with saran.
Take a sheet of filo, brush lightly but thoroughly (and quickly) with olive oil. Sprinkle with ground nut mixture. Top with another sheet of filo. Repeat drill for up to 6 sheets. Spoon filling along the edge of the long side in 3 inch cylinder. Form into perfect shape with hands. Press ends closed.
Roll gently but not too tightly. Place seam side down on baking sheet. Use remaining filling to make another strudel.
Brush tops of strudel with olive oil and sprinkle with more walnut mixture. Bake until crispy brown and the apples inside are tender, about 40 minutes.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE:
October 10, 2011 | 3:19 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Only after Steve Jobs died did I learn that his birth father is still alive. His name is Abdulfattah John Jandali. He is 80 years old, He lives in Reno, Nevada. And Jobs, who died last week at age 56, never spoke to him.
That’s right: the man who devoted his life to making it easy for us to communicate with one another from anywhere on the planet never once connected with his father, who lived 250 miles away.
Jandali and Joanne Carole Schieble gave birth to Jobs out of wedlock, when both were 23 years old. Because they weren’t married, they gave their son up for adoption to Paul and Clara Jobs. Later in life, Jobs hired a private detective to track down his birth parents. He developed a close relationship with the daughter the couple eventually had after they were married, the novelist Mona Simpson. And he grew closer to his birth mother. But for reasons he never disclosed in public, he never talked to Jandali.
In an August 2011 interview with The Sun newspaper, Jandali said he too never called his son. He said as a Syrian he was too proud to be the one to make the first call — he said he didn’t want his son to think he was interested in his money. Jandali, who was divorced from Schieble, was also estranged from his daughter Simpson.
So, yes, families are strange and mysterious and everyone has their reasons. Jobs himself acknowledged that one of the things he regretted most in his life was having abandoned his own daughter, whom he had out of wedlock when he was 23. He didn’t reconcile with her until later in his life.
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a man whose psyche was formed, at least in part, by his inability, and later his unwillingness, to connect with his father, would make connection the central driving force of his career. Jobs set off on a hero’s quest to find what was missing inside him, and in so doing fulfilled his destiny to change the world.
He changed it by enabling the rest of us to talk to our fathers and mothers and sons and daughters face to face, no matter where they are on the planet. He developed tools that made a virtual connection as easy, or in his case, easier, than a real one. He gave us the tools to do what he, up to his dying day, couldn’t.
Many years ago I was walking up Fifth Avenue with my son, on his first visit to New York. We passed the iconic square glass cube that marks the entrance to the underground Apple Store, and he asked what it was.
“A Sukkah,” I said. “There’s so many Jews in New York, they have a permanent glass sukkah.”
“No, really,” he said.
I hadn’t thought about that little joke until this week, reading about Jobs just before the holiday of Sukkah.
What do we do on Sukkot? We build huts. They are the stripped down, Jobsian version of a house—one room, three walls that are barely walls, a roof that is barely a roof. When Jobs said that the secret to design is what you leave out, he might as well have been describing a sukkah.
God must have known His People are not especially handy, at least His menfolk. Sukkot are easy to build. They are not plumbed or wired. Inside, there are no distractions. They are a primitive kind of technology, but a technology nonetheless — designed to accomplish a task. Like a Jobs product, sukkot do one thing, and they do it exceptionally well: they bring us together.
Within this simple structure, we gather with friends and family to eat, pray, sing and talk. That’s it.
Yes, they also remind us of our foundational story as a People: that we wandered in the desert for 40 years. And they serve as useful metaphors for any number of sermons: that life is fragile and fleeting (ask Steve Jobs) and that our only true shelter is God.
But all that is on the level of identity and intellect. The social function of the sukkah needs no explanation: it forces us to come together. There are no additional walls inside a sukkah, no other rooms to escape to, no work stations, no outlets. It is the annual reminder that you can’t build real community remotely. “Virtual community” is an oxymoron. We want our iPhones and iPads—and we should, they are useful, remarkable machines.
But we crave, we need, real contact. I believe Steve Jobs craved it so much he devoted his whole life to developing substitutes. Sukkot is the real thing.
October 7, 2011 | 1:27 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Yom Kippur fast begins at sundown today and goes for 25 hours. In Los Angeles the start time is 6:13 pm. The fast ends at 7:06 pm Saturday.
The Yom Kippur fast is no Hollywood diet. There’s no cayenne or green drink, not even maple syrup. No food, no water—nothing. Of course, don’t fast if you or your physician thinks it will endanger your health.
Your fast should be a time to focus on prayer and personal reflection. It should not endanger you, or make you so miserable that you can’t experience the physical and spiritual power of the day.
Here’s five tips to help you to a tsom kal, or easy fast:
1. Drink plenty of water.
Start now, if you haven’t already. The hardest part of fasting is dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the rest of today.
2. Avoid coffee, sugar, fatty and spicy foods. And junk food.
Keep these out of your system before beginning the fast, as they will increase your need for water tomorrow. Junk foods won’t give you the sustainable nutrition you need—not for Yom Kippur, not ever.
3. Eat normal meals full of complex carbs and healthy foods.
Here’s a trick your rabbi may not tell you: oatmeal. A bowl of whole grain cereal between now and sundown will give you a good base of healthy energy for tomorrow. Don’t try to eat for two days or two people—it will increase your thirst and discomfort.
4. Sleep well.
You need will power to maintain a 25 hour fast, and lack of sleep breaks down the will. After services tonight, get rest. What are you going to do anyway, go out?
5. Don’t rush your final meal.
Give yourself time to eat a healthy, normal meal. Don’t reach for the saltshaker. Have two glasses of water and cut down on the wine. Just before the fast, have another glass of water, floss and brush, and enjoy the day.
6. Avert your gaze.
I almost forgot another important point: Keep all this food out of your line of vision. We eat first with our eyes, then with our noses, finally with our mouths. You can avoid a lot of temptation by going through your home today and putting away any food that’s on the counters, hiding the cookbooks, and turning over the food magazines. Think of this month’s Saveur as a mirror in a house of mourning—cover it up.
Now, what about how to break the fast?
Start with something light—I like a piece of toast or bread with fresh avocado, olive oil and salt. Then again, I always like a piece of toast with avocado, olive oil and salt.
If you don’t gorge when Yom Kippur ends, the day’s spiritual high seems to linger.
Many years ago, when I worked in the Moroccan Jewish neighborhood of Musrara in Jerusalem, I noticed that the men would gather at the end of the fast and do a shot of Boukha, or fig brandy.
Call me a fundamentalist, but I’ve been doing that ever since. But that’s just me…
Let me know your fasting tips in the comments section below….
October 7, 2011 | 12:09 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
I think my wife Naomi struggles to find the good in the farm I’ve crammed onto our city lot. Sometimes she reaches her limit—like when the goats escape and barge into the house—or when she’s trying to write or study and the chickens are clucking and the dogs are barking and I can practically see the thought bubble forming above her head of a regular backyard with a lawn, a couple of flower beds, and a hammock where you can lay down without fear that a pair of goat horns might reach up through the bottom. That’s happened.
But she tries. I think the times the farm brings her the most joy is when it helps her bring a Jewish text or ritual to life. And that happens, too. Because you can’t read Biblical texts read like a farmers almanac: fat years, lean years, shepherds, oxen, goats, barley, milk, honey—Jews are an urban people whose whose greatest literature revolves around the country.
We’ve had chickens for years now, and for years we’ve talked about doing a humane homemade version of kapparas. Kapparas is an atonement ritual. In traditional communities its practiced between the New Year and Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement. Traditionally it involves swinging a white rooster (if you’re a man) or a white hen (if you’re a woman) above your head, while reciting a prayer that transfers one’s sins to the bird. The animal is the given to the poor, which completes the expiation.
Because in many Orthodox communities the chickens have been terribly mistreated, manhandled and malnourished and crippled by the handling and the swinging, animal rights groups and Jewish activists have fought to change the ritual. In many communities it has been de-chickenified—a pledge of money is given to the poor in lieu of poultry.
That’s usually what Naomi does.
But last night, after dark, when we were lying in bed, Naomi asked me if I wanted to do kapparas. Real kapparas.
“Sure,” I said.
After all, we have 6 chickens outside, and at night they are especially docile—chickens are pretty much night blind and somniferous starting at sundown.
Naomi gathered her ritual handbook and a flashlight, and a baseball cap. This would involve holding a chicken above our heads.
I entered the chicken yard and picked up one of the older ones. She melted into my arms, her eyes wide open but otherwise very still.
She read a long passage in Hebrew:
Children of Man, who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, shackled in affliction and iron. He removed them from darkness and the shadow of death, an broke open their shackles. The fools—because of their sinful path and their iniquities they were afflicted.
It goes on for a while about how awful we humans are, then comes the out:
If there will be for someone but a single defending angel out of a thousand to declare a man’s uprightness on his behalf, then He will be gracious to him and say, ‘Redeem hium from descending to the Pit; I have found atonement.
Then comes the chicken part. Naomi instructed me to pass the chicken over her head each time she recited, in Hebrew, the sentence below, for a total of three times.
‘This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This hen will go to its death while I will enter and go on to a good long lif, and to peace.
Fortunately our chickens don’t understand ancient Hebrew, just modern.
The prayer book had an out, in brackets, for people who have abandoned the killing chickens part. It provided substitute, “or this money will go to charity,” that you could recite instead.
But we had a chicken, and she really didn’t seem bothered at all. At one point her heavy lids closed, and she only snapped them open when I put her back on her perch with a quiet, “Thanks.”
Naomi closed her prayer book and kissed it. She took off her baseball cap. Tomorrow we would each give the equivalent of the chicken’s value to the poor. (I rescued the chicken from a butcher shop, where I paid $7 for her). According to the rule book, it’s a perfectly legit switch.
I am all for stopping the cruel aspects of kapparas as it is still practiced in a few neighborhoods. I’ve seen it and written about it, and it’s vile and cruel. Chickens stacked in battery cages. Terrified, often sick and crippled and then hauled off to slaughter. It’s not atonement, it’s an actual sin in itself.
But as of tonight I can see why the people who do it with birds prefer it: weird, mysterious rituals have a weird, mysterious power. Our religion, like our lives, has moved further and further away from its natural anchors, and something is lost in the distance. Yes, we gave up sacrifice—not a bad thing. But we also gave up the intimate, interdependent relationship we had with the natural world—a world through which the people who forged early Judaism understood the very power of God.
A humane kapparas is not a bad thing: we walked away feeling connected to an ancient tradition, and maybe just a tad more cleansed. And the chicken, she couldn’t have cared less.
Tomorrow, some poor person will get $14. And we’ll get another egg. And Naomi may find one more reason not to be fed up with the farm.
October 4, 2011 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Washington, D.C.-based company sells beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and duck that is raised on open pasture and killed according to the highest standards of humane slaughter and kashrut supervision. The LA buying club, organized by Got Kosher co-owner Evelyn Baron, enables people to make their purchase online and save on the high shipping costs, which can be more than the food itself.
You order online, using the drop down menu to specify your buying club (They exist in Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities). You pay a flat rate of around $50 for shipping (which you can share with a friend or neighbor). The pick up location in LA is Temple Beth Am on La Cienega. Because the pick up locations have limited storage space, you must get your delivery on the appointed day, between specific hours. Hey, if you want easy, buy a Slim Jim.
Last Passover I bought a turkey and some ribeye steaks. They were excellent. This Rosh Hashana I bought beef brisket and whole ducks.
According to the warm and fuzzy web site description, my ducks were raised on a Pennsylania pasture by a sensitive Amish farmer named Aaron.
The grass-fed beef comes from George Lake’s Appalachian Trail Beef. It’s not clear from the web site where exactly on the Appalachian Trail Mr. Lake raises his cows. But judging by the photos, I do know my cow and ducks lived on much nicer spreads than mine.
Both had superb flavor. But the duck was exceptional—far better than any commercially available kosher duck I’ve had. The huge magret was deep red and mineral-rich. The meat was tender and the two or more cups of rendered fat will flavor my roast potatoes all winter. From the brisket I made my neighbor Holly Wiland’s Brisket with Fennel, Preserved Lemon and Olives. It is so flavorful and light, you’ think eating that much beef were good for you.
The duck I turned into Crispy Roast Duck with Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique. A gastrique is a sauce that balances sweet, usually in the form of sugar, with sour, usually in the form of vinegar. Duck is rich. It needs a bit of sour to counteract the fattiness. I used chopped fresh figs in the sauce for additional sweetness, and the first pomegranates off my tree for sharpness. Coastal pomegranates never get too sweet, they say. They’re right.
A 3 ½ pound kosher duck without shipping will run you close to $40. It will require a certain amount of hassle. But what you get is great tasting food from an animal that lived a pleasant animal life. It may be cheaper, but there is nothing kosher about factory farming, absolutely nothing.
Crispy Roast Duck with Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique.
Duck is not chicken. You have to work to get the fat out. This recipe is the fastest roast duck I know. There’s no overnight preparation or pre-boiling. But you do have to sear the duck, which requires good ventilation. If you have questions about this or any recipe, email-me.
2 ducks, about 3 1/2 -4 pounds each
8 ounces raw sugar
8 ounces red wine vinegar
1 quart chicken stock
½ cup Boukha (Tunisian fig brandy) (optional)
1 pint (about 30) very ripe fresh figs, chop 20 and quarter 10.
1 fresh pomegranate, or 1 cup pomegranate seeds, or ½ cup fresh, pure, real farmers market pomegranate juice (What I mean is, not POM, and not the bottled Persian stuff)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash ducks well. Trim off fat (see way below) and use a paring knife to pull out errant feathers. Rinse again and dry well. Using a sharp knife, score skin in a diamond pattern all over without cutting into flesh. Using a sharp fork, prick ducks all over. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make sauce: Place sugar in a heavy quart saucepan and heat over low to medium heat without stirring until sugar melts and caramelizes. Do not let it burn. Remove from heat and add the vinegar (keep your face away—it may splatter), then the stock, the optional liquor, and the chopped figs and the crushed seeds of a pomegranate.
Simmer until the sauce is thickened and flavorful—about 30 minutes. Strain through a chinois or sieve.
Return the strainer sauce to the pan and simmer. Add the quartered figs. Taste and adjust for tartness by adding some squeezed-in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Finish the Duck: Heat a large cast iron or heavy skillet over a high flame. Film with oil. Brown each duck on all sides, draining the copious amounts of fat that drains off through the cuts you made.
Place the well-browned ducks on a roasting rack in a large pan, and roast breast side down for 45 minutes. Turn, baste with sauce, and roast 20 minutes. Turn, baste with sauce, and roast 10 minutes.
Test with a meat thermometer. The ducks should reach about 185 degrees. If not, continue roasting and basting until well browned and cooked.
Remove from oven. Let stand a bit, then carve. Spoon some sauce on the plate, top with a portion of duck, surround with a bit more sauce and fig quarters. Pass extra sauce. And Wet Naps.
Coda: The duck fat. Cook trimmed fat in a small saucepan and save. Drain off all excess fat when searing duck and save it in the fridge in a covered container. Next time you roast potatoes, use a few spoonfuls along with a bit of olive oil. You can also use it to brown chicken in. It sounds wrong, but the chickens don’t seem to mind.