Saturday, October 23, 2004

A Run on Duck

I should have known that things weren't going to go as planned.

Professional chefs who advocate seasonal cooking advise not to go to the market with a set recipe; instead, see what is fresh and available and plan from there. But I wasn't looking for strawberries or corn in the middle of autumn. I was looking for duck legs for bolognese sauce.

John and I headed over to Andronico's, a small, family-owned chain that is also our local market. We selected a butternut squash for the pureed soup. At the cheese counter, I had a piece of aged Manchego cut to order and picked up some thinly sliced serrano ham. The only thing left was the duck over at the butcher counter.

I stared at a small sign marked 'duck legs,' but there was no such thing to be found. In its place was a clean patch of ice. The butcher apologized and told me that a customer had cleaned him out. I couldn't believe it. Why not pheasant or rabbit or some other seldomly cooked game? And why oh why on the day of my dinner party?

The butcher could see that I was trying to suppress a nervous breakdown. I was thinking as quickly as I could as I scanned the meat counter. Braised lamb shanks or osso buco...not enough time. Porterhouses...Brenda's not a fan of rare meat. Halibut, trout, tilapia...Andy's allergic to fish.
Chicken...yawn. John stroked my arm as I tried to make a decision.

I spotted some freshly cut and tied pork loin roasts. They're like boneless porkchops and take to a variety of seasoning very well. As the butcher handed us our five pound roast, he said, "All day people have been asking for duck legs. Was there a recipe in the paper or something?" We replied that we didn't know.

At 6:30, Brenda and Andy came in from the cold rain. As soon as they shed their coats, we pressed glasses of sparkling, honey-scented Domaine Chandon Riche into their hands. They munched on hot-from-the-oven cheddar biscuits, manchego with membrillo, and slices of serrano ham while John gave them a tour of the flat.

As I slid the roast into the oven, John ladled out bowls of curry-flavored butternut squash puree. We poured a bottle of 2003 Handley Cellars Brightlighter White, a crisp, fresh Riesling-Gewurztraminer blend that pairs nicely with spicy foods. This friendly, accessible wine was a winner with Andy and Brenda.

I pulled out the thyme-rubbed pork roast when it registered 150-degrees on the meat thermometer. While it rested, I reduced the sauce and enriched it with a nugget of butter. The potatoes--intended for the scuttled gnocchi--ended up sliced and layered with creme fraiche and Gruyere for a potato gratin. A dish of sauteed green beans and shitakes rounded out the meal. By the time I set down the main course, everyone was savoring the aroma of the 2001 J Robert Thomas Pinot Noir. This is the most elegant of J's pinots, its softness and earthy notes matching nicely with the mushrooms.

We retired to the living room for dessert. Brenda brought pineapple sherbet from Mitchell's, a San Francisco institution. I placed scoops of sherbet next to slices of the lemon cake I baked earlier. To encourage our guests to linger, we offered them glasses of 2002 Navarro Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, a sweet, unctuous dessert wine. The floral and peach flavors captivate even people who don't like sweet wines.

After the last wine glass was dried and put away, I did a little sleuthing to solve the mystery of the sold out duck legs. Sure enough, last week's Food section of the San Francisco Chronicle featured a recipe for braised duck and wild mushrooms. I made a note to reserve some duck with the butcher and try the recipe myself.


Comments:
This sounds like a dinner party I'd like to attend. You should submit your writings to a magazine or other publication that is about food. I am always floored by the quality of your writing.
 
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