Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adobo Duck Tacos

El Bulli is closed. Temple of culinary exploration, the workshop of invention, forge of avant-garde tastes closed its doors at the end of July.  Regarded for many years as the best restaurant in the world, El Bulli was a mythological place for most all of us. Located an ocean away in rural northeastern Spain, it might as well have sat on Mount Olympus. A god created there, and a heavenly pedigree was needed to obtain a reservation. What does such a place mean to us mere mortals, those without privilege to the sacred fruits? I have Chef Ferran Adria’s book “A Day at ElBulli.” The cover suggests its forbidden nature, “2,000,000 requests for 8,000 places every year.” The quotes on the back describe the reasons: “’The best cook on the planet’ – Joel Robuchon” and “’Ferran is a genius. Without a doubt, he’s had the biggest influence on modern gastronomy of any chef alive’ – Heston Blumenthal.”  What can any of us offer in the glare of such light?
The answer is inside of each of us, and is the most important thing for any cook. It is the heart, and from the heart, the passion that we bring to our cooking. Whether we bring greatness to our craft is measured in other ways, but because we apply ourselves with pure hearts, with love for our creations, we realize the full rewards of cooking. We feel the reason we cook, the enjoyment, the enrichment, the fulfillment. Each of us can say what Adria says, “I love to cook.” That is the most important thing.
And so, after watching a Tony Bourdain “No Reservations” episode on the closing El Bulli, I thought to myself, what should I cook? Would I shrink in self comparison to Adria? No, I would exalt in our shared passion and let that fuel another night’s personal experience. My only direct connection to El Bulli was that I would make something small, as a tasting plate might be. I have a cookbook entitled “Big Small Plates” by Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill in Napa Valley that features just such dishes. On the cover is this recipe for rabbit tostada with cumin-scented black beans and lime crème fraiche. On this evening, that would hit the spot. Is it something El Bulli would serve? I don’t know, and don’t really care. I was cooking ingredients I wanted in the way that I wanted. To that end, my version uses duck breast instead of rabbit and adobo sauce instead of a guajillo chile paste. They were both on hand and a little less involved than the original recipe. Was this my own creation birthed in a laboratory in Madrid? No, and neither was it prepared on the Mediterranean seaside south of Barcelona. But it was fun, it was interesting, it was my own and it fueled my passion for cooking. Make this your own and feel the passion.  Serves 2
2 duck breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chicken stock
1-2 tsp adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 can black beans
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 limes
1/4 cup creme fraiche
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 pinch chile flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
6 (6-inch) corn tortillas
In a saute pan over medium-high eat, cook the duck breasts skin side down until the fat is rendered.  Turn the duck breast and brown the other side.  Transfer the breasts to a platter and poor off the duck fat, leaving 1-2 tbsp.  Add 1/2 of the chopped onions and saute until softened.  Add 1 tsp of the adobo sauce and stir into the onions to bring out the flavor.  Return the duck breasts and coat in the mixture.  Pour in 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock, bring to a simmer and cover.  Cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the other 1/2 of the chopped onions and saute until softened.  Add 1 clove of minced garlic and 1/2 tsp of cumin and saute a minute to release their flavors.  Stir in the black beans and cook another minute to coat the beans with the flavorrs.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock and bring to a simmer.  Turn the heat to low and cover to keep warm.
Zest one of the limes and juice half into a bowl.  Stir in the creme fraiche, season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.
Whisk together 1 clove of minced garlic, 2 tbsp lemon juice, the red wine vinegar, brown sugar, pinch of chile flakes, 1/2 tsp of cumin and the olive oil.  Shred the cabbage and mix with the desired amount of vinaigrette to coat.
Remove the duck breasts from the saute pan and shread with two forks.  Return the shredded duck to the pan to coat with the sauce and spoon out to a plate.  Microwave the tortillas for 30 seconds if desired.  Season the black beans to taste with salt and pepper and stir in a small handful of cilantro.  Place the rest of the cilantro in a bowl. 
Assemble the tacos with the black beans, duck and shredded cabbage as a base.  Spoon on the lime creme fraiche and add cilantro and crumbled goat cheese to taste.

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