Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chicken Leg Confit

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A few months ago, Melissa and I subscribed to the Soul Food Farms CSA, giving ourselves a regular injection of excellent chickens and eggs. When we signed up, Bonnie, Ethicurean extraordinaire and the CSA organizer, mentioned that Eric Koefoed, the husband half of the Soul Food duo, would be making chicken leg confit at some point in the future.

I didn't feel like waiting.

When we got our second chicken, I broke it down and seasoned the legs with kosher salt ground in the food processor with a 2:2:1 mix of tarragon, thyme, and parsley. I spread the green powder onto a plate, pressed the chicken legs down into it, put them in a container flesh side down, and sprinkled the rest of the cure over the skin. After leaving the legs in the refrigerator for 24 hours, I cooked them for about an hour — until the meat was fork-tender — in a 190° mix of olive oil, butter, and duck fat. (A good sign that your legs are done is that the skin pulls away from the joint where the foot would be, but that's also a bit beyond the ideal.) Then I left the chicken legs buried in the cooking fat for a week in the refrigerator.

When we finally ate the legs, I reheated them in an oven, adjusting the heat and the rack height until the skin became crunchy.

It was one of the best dishes I've ever made. The leg meat was fall-apart tender. The skin had a delicate crunch. The cure had added an herb character to each bite. The salt had worked its way through the meat, seasoning it evenly and enhancing the flavor of the high-quality chickens. I made it a favorite in Mise En Place.

I don't have a recipe for it yet; maybe with the next batch I'll start taking notes. But if you've got access to really good chickens and you know the basics of confiting meat, you can probably figure it out. I like to serve it with rice and steamed carrots. You can serve it with a weighty white wine or a light-bodied red wine, as long as the wine has a high acidity; I love it with Mondeuse from the Bugey region of France.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Announcements: Menu for Hope, Classes

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Menu For Hope
Each year, food and wine bloggers around the world contribute their time and money to feeding the hungry through an event called Menu For Hope. It raises significant amounts of money for the United Nations World Food Programme.

And you can be a part of it. Menu For Hope is a worldwide raffle, and each $10 raffle ticket purchased through December 25 translates directly into funds that help feed people in need. Each $10 raffle ticket also gives you the chance to win one of many kick-ass prizes: dinner for two at the top-notch Bay Area restaurant Manresa, a SousVide Supreme, or a weeklong vacation in Tuscany. There are approximately one zillion prizes to bid on, all donated by the community of food bloggers. You could even buy a ticket (or 20) as Christmas presents. Slip them into stockings on Christmas Eve, and the people on your Nice list could end up with incredible gifts.

If you haven't entered yet, you can use this form to pick your prizes and make your donation.

Melissa and I were lame this year and didn't get our act together to assemble a prize. True, I donate my time for the raffle itself, which means that I can point you to the raffle but can't bid myself (as the person who spends a couple of days cleaning data before the program runs, let me again point you to this form for choosing your tickets). But just because you can't bid on our offering shouldn't stop you from bidding on all the great prizes my fellow food bloggers have contributed.

UCB Classes
While you should buy lots of Menu For Hope tickets as presents, you may want to also give something more concrete. How about a seat in one of my UCB Extension wine classes? I think that would make an awesome gift for a friend, family member, or even yourself.

I'm teaching two classes this semester. One is my normal Fundamentals of Wine Studies II, where I teach students how to describe wine in detail. The other is Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe, which is about … Well, I guess that one's more obvious.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Come on here, Carmenere

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Over the last year, I've fallen out of the habit of writing detailed, professional tasting notes. I still evaluate wines, of course — I don't think I can stop — but I haven't been filling up my small, spiral-bound notebook with half-pages of commentary. I get home, make dinner, plate it, serve it, and then clink glasses with Melissa before we chat about the day. It's a quiet pause together.

It's not the best time to be hunched over a pad of paper, scribbling "delicate" and "hints of" and "intense."

But this in turn means that I've fallen behind on analyzing samples. I prefer to give samples the respect they deserve: a full tasting note and analysis, even if that only goes into my notebook and not to OWF, one of my print articles, or my class.

I'm trying to get back in the habit of writing these. If we open the wine well in advance of dinner, I can write a full note when there's a lull in dinner preparations. If we plan for it, we can open a bunch of wine on weekends to taste through in the afternoon.

That's how we found ourselves drinking through five Chilean Carmenères recently. They had been sent to me a while ago, but, for a variety of reasons, we hadn't gotten to them yet. (Actually, the PR person sent us six, but one was corked.) So take note that these wines are probably a year past release.

Carmenère isn't always an easy grape to like. On its own, it often has strong green notes that overpower anything else. That may be why it has, traditionally, been one of the blending grapes of Bordeaux.

Then Chile entered the world's wine scene. Chile didn't set out to be the new world capital of Carmenère, but 15 years ago they discovered that a lot of the Merlot in their vineyards was actually Carmenère. Oops. (Or, perhaps, (oops)). They now bottle a fair amount as varietal wines.

Here are my tasting notes for the five we managed to taste. Except as noted, the wines are Carmenère varietals:

2007 Casillero del Diablo Reserve, Concha y Toro, Chile
This was, with one caveat, our favorite of the first tasting round (three of the wines), despite a strong green stem character in the nose. Tobacco leaf and cedar managed to struggle out of the green stream. On the palate, it had a juicy fruit character with just a hint of peppermint on the medium-long finish. A bit thin as a wine, it nonetheless had enough acidity and fine-grained tannins to keep me interested. So what's the caveat? After it was open for about 10 minutes, it developed an intense skunk aroma. But after about 10 minutes in that state, it settled back down to the original aroma set, where it stayed as we drank it.

2006 Reserva de Familia Santa Carolina, Valle del Rapel, Chile
This deep, red-black wine has plenty of green stem character with subtle aromas of milk chocolate and cinnamon. It tasted of rich, red fruit, with a bit of vanilla on the medium-long finish. This wine might have been our favorite if its tannins weren't out of balance. Probably the wine will improve with age: There's enough character behind the tannins to make that a reasonable bet.

2006 Apaltagua "Envero", Colchagua Valley, Chile
This ruby-red wine has green stemminess, of course, with some green bell pepper, but it also has a more welcoming strawberry and wild cherry Life-Saver aroma. Thick flavors of ripe red fruit make this seem like a wine you should chew, despite the low acidity and the low tannins. That low acidity was the reason it didn't make it to our favorite spot: It felt like it could have used more. "Thick in flavor, thin in body" was Melissa's comment.

2006 Caliterra "Tribute",Valle de Colchagua, Chile
Forget the green stems you're used to: This ruby red wine smells of raspberries and blackberry jam, and that juicy fruit character extends right to the palate, along with a bright acidity and moderate tannins. Fruity and pleasant, this would probably appeal to a wide range of drinkers.

2005 Carmen Reserva, Valle del Maipo, 60 percent Carmenère, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon
This red-black wine was the favorite in our second round, with aromas of tomato sauce and sausage, bright, pretty acidity, and fine-grained tannins. The palate featured ripe red strawberries that lingered through the fairly long finish.