June 22, 2010

6/22: France v S. Africa, Mexico v Uruguay, Greece v Argentina

Twelve days into the World Cup Food Challenge and we've addressed the cuisine of all 32 competing countries. As we move into the elimination rounds we become more selective in the kitchen as well as on the pitch. The menu for today begin evolving last Thursday during the Mexico v France game. Upon all the jokes regarding French surrender, I thought, wouldn't it be brilliant if I took something ubiquitously French and wrapped it in a tamale? My first thoughts were of foie gras, but a few price checks cut that out from the budget. After briefly considering a simple pâté but dismissing its integration with Mexico, I arrived at the idea of duck confit - a dish I've always wanted to prepare. The famous confit de canard, a salt-cured preparation of duck leg slowly poached in it's own fat, is a source of great pride and joy for the French; ensconcing it in traditional Latin street foods brings the sweet irony of the games into our kitchen.

Also playing today are Uruguay and Argentina, two countries similar in backgrounds and tastes known globally for their elegant baked empanadas. Uruguay, with its unusually heavy Italian influence, brings all the traditional pastas to the table. To represent these countries, and also because its genuinely never a good idea to have too many tamales around, we're including our duck confit in empanadas and ravioli!

A classic confit is prepared with a fattened bird, as for fois gras, using the wings and breasts in addition to the legs. If you are lucky enough to possess a source for a fattened duck or goose and an ample supply of their fat, by all means, you are far luckier than I am! Those of us impoverished and sans fattened ducks shall settle for a few cheaply procured birds from the neighborhood Korean grocer and a quality Spanish olive oil. While the type of fat used greatly effects the flavor, use of any fat accomplishes the essence of confit - slow poaching in fat keeps the flavors and juices from escaping as the gentle heat breaks down the meat into delicate, moist flesh.

You can order a 2 lb bucket of duck fat or even Hudson Valley Duck Leg Confit. As duck fat rendering and confit are such slow processes, this is a great resource in case of duck fat emergencies.
Us Houstonians, blessed with the glorious grocery of Central Market, can purchase duck fat at our local butcher's counter or about $6/lb.
Photo: Flickr cinnachick

France: Confit de Canard
4 duck legs, with thighs
~1 Qt Duck, goose or pork fat or even olive oil
Rub ~1/2 tsp per leg of salt into the flesh and skin of each leg. You can also add an equal amount of fresh herbs to the mixture. We went with a mixture of thyme and rosemary. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
After the legs have been cured, remove excess salt and lay, skin-side-up, on a baking tray. Sear in oven at ~400 F until browned (~15 min). Remove and turn the heat down to 225 F. Cover the legs with fat and roast ~2 hrs until tender. Crisp the legs at 420 F until the skin is golden.
Once the confit has cooked, it is best to let it rest in the refrigerator for a few days before eating in order to allow the flavors to develop. The duck will keep, submerged in fat, for months in the refrigerator. We recommend you revisit your confit weeks down the line and watch its flavors develop. Make sure to save some for the World Cup Finals!
Since we're using the excess fat for our dough, we'll prepare the tamales, empanadas and ravioli immediately and then reserve most of them for a few days before eating. Today, however, is game day, so we're "forced" to try one of each. Such are our terribly challenging lives.

Mexico: Tamales
Masa para tamales is possibly the first thing I ever learned to make. As a toddler, I never thought I would grow up to substitute rendered duck fat for our homemade lard and post it for the world to see. Alas, traditionally we prepare the masa by combining harina, creamed lard, water, a pinch of chile powder and salt by hand until a thick, sticky consistency. All ingredients are added by taste and feel, with a heavy dependence on the exact ingredients used, as homemade lard and brands of harina will vary, and perfection is a simple but glorious art achieved after years of masa making.
1 1/2 C Masa Harina
1/2 C fat
~2/4 C water
~ 1/2 tsp salt
Today we replace the traditional lard with rendered fat from our confit preparation. If your duck has not yielded enough fat, use the extra fat your purchased to prepare the duck. We also leave out the chile powder to let the duck's subtle flavors shine.
To prepare the tamales, spread each husk with ~2 T of masa. 

The masa should cover the husk enough to form a cohesive enclosure but not so much that it is thick and dominating. Then spread each tamal with ~1 T of confit. 
Fold sides together, sealing with a bit of masa, and fold the ends of the corn husk down to hold them together. You may prefer to tie the ends with strings from the corn husks as folding technique comes with time and many a tamal with ooze out of its husk and drown in a tragic death of dough.
Once assembled, steam the tamales for 40 min. You should have about 2 dozen medium-sized tamales depending on the size of your corn husks.

Argentina: Empanadas
Variations on an empanada take forms of small, large, baked, fried, yeast dough, fatty dough, and on and on through Spain and the countries of its former empire. Argentinean empanadas are baked, rather than fried, in a small, crescent shape. Their dough is heavy and crisped on the outside with the golden sheen of an egg wash.
Prepare the dough:
1 package or 1 T baker's yeast
1 1/2 C water or milk
3 T of remaining fat from confit
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 T sugar
~4 C AP Flour
Oven: 400F

Soak the yeast in 1/2 C warm water (105-115 F).
Bring remaining water or milk to a simmer, then remove from heat. Add fat, salt and sugar. Cool to lukewarm.
Add flour until it forms a cohesive dough. Do not let the dough rise.
Roll out to 1/8 in thick and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place ~1 T of confit in center of the round, fold and pinch together, sealing the edges by pinching them between your thumb and forefinger, creating tiny ridges. Let stand for 10 min. then brush with egg wash and bake until golden, ~10 min.
You can make as many confit empanadas as you like, but will have excess dough. You can save the pre-cut rounds of dough in the freezer for months, or simply fill them with any mixture of minced meat.

Uruguay: Ravioli
2 C AP Flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 T olive oil
Cornmeal, for dusting
Either by hand or using your mixers dough hook, combine flour and salt, then add eggs one at a time. Drizzle in 1 T oil and incorporate until dough forms a cohesive ball. You should knead for ~10 min before it is smooth. Brush the dough with remaining oil, cover and rest 30 min.
If you have a ravioli press, flour a work surface and roll out the dough until 1/8 in thick, then press into the ravioli cutter. Alternatively, you can roll out the dough and cut each square by hand similar to making the empanadas.
Fill each pillow with confit and fold to seal the ravioli, gently pressing to seal. Dust the ravioli with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Cook in boiling salted water for ~4 min. or until they float to the top.

HEY! We've seen that cuisine before! Cook the foods of today's competing countries using other recipes: try South African-Mexican Bobotie Tacos and Uruguayan-French Crème Brûlée, Korean ribs with a side of Greek Salad and Nigerian Zobo, or pair Nigerian Suya with Argentinean chimichurri. As we get deeper into the tournament, it's time to bring out the leftovers, mix & match and let the fusion menus run wild like a frenzied North Korean defense.

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