Sunday, February 26, 2012

A fennel conspiracy?

What is it with the French and their fennel?

I recently ran out of herbes de Provence, a variety from Savory Spice that I'm fond of, and decided to "splurge" on one of those familiar little crocks of the herb mix imported from France. Imagine my dismay when I peeled off its international plastic sani-wrap and discovered that about a third of it was the foul stuff.

Of course herbes de Provence should have some fennel, but this was more than I could bear. I started plucking the offensive seeds one by one before it dawned on me to to use a mesh colander. This allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and now the remaining mix has more breathing room.

Me, too. I was so horrified that my husband felt moved to pluck some daffodils from the garden to cheer me up. He also poured me a glass of wine, purely for medicinal purposes, which seems to be helping.

I know that fennel is adored by many, and I've been tricked into eating the braised bulb more than once and lived. My distaste for it in all forms even managed to offend an otherwise Zen butcher at Whole Foods, who recently bristled when I asked if they had any house-made turkey sausage without it.

"That's what makes it Italian," he said, looking at me as if I landed from Mars -- where it no doubt flourishes in its inhospitable environment.

So if anyone would like a jar of lavender-spiked fennel seeds, let me know.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No-Knead Pizza: Part II

Yes, I know I just made pizza. And yes, it was really good. But the pies I made tonight were even better.

In advance of the publication My Pizza, Bon Appetit just published the updated version of Jim Lahey's justifiably famous no-knead pizza dough. The ratios are similar to the one I found from 2009, but for some reason this one worked came together right away, was full of lovely bubbles after the rise, and was easy to stretch into the finished product.

In fact, I was so confident of the outcome that we got a second pizza stone today.

There's not much to add since the photos say it all. Graham's pizza had white sauce, mozzarella and fresh ricotta; it was topped with a handful of arugula tossed in a lemony vinaigrette, but it was whisked away before I could snap a picture. The next one had white sauce, caramelized onions and some meaty mushrooms that had been simmered in sherry. It also had mozzarella, ricotta and arugula.

Tim craved red sauce so I cooked down some crushed organic tomatoes -- which turned out to be the best topping of all. It had mushrooms, some shredded leftover chicken and the same cheese combo.

I'm cooking the rest of the crushed tomatoes down now for tomorrow's lunch, which will be calzones made from the leftover dough.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coconut Almond Wheatberries

We used to be a rice family. Arborio, brown or Carolina Gold, it found its way onto our dinner plates just about every week. But that was before Ancient Grains.

Emboldened by Maria Speck's clear guidance and the gift of an amusingly diverse assortment of, well, ancient grains, we've supped on curly quinoa and turned farro into a creamy breakfast porridge. We've also gained a keen appreciation of the chewy, nutty goodness of wheatberries.

In addition to their great flavor and nutritional profile, wheatberries boast the added benefit of quick cooking. Unlike some grains, these require no pre-soaking and can be on the table 20 minutes after you've had the good idea to make some. 

1 cup wheatberries
1-11.8 oz. can coconut juice (such as Foco)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Pour coconut juice and water into medium pot; add wheatberries and salt. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Add golden raisins and stir, then cover and cook 5-8 minutes longer or until  wheatberries are chewy but tender.

Meanwhile, put coconut and almonds in small nonstick pan. Toast over medium heat, shaking pan to flip contents until lightly golden.  

Drain wheatberries and raisins in colander, then stir in coconut mix. Transfer to serving dish and, if your family is anything like mine, don't worry about leftovers. There won't be any.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

First time's a charm with no-knead pizza

There is a curious temptation in things that are offered but vanish before you stake your claim. We've all had the experience staring down the last cookie on the plate, telling yourself you don't want it, or you'll save it for later -- until someone snatches it and you're sorry.

I felt that way when Food52 posted Jim Lahey's no-knead pizza dough as part of its Genius Recipe series, only to take it down following a request from Lahey's publisher, who understandably didn't want it circulating in advance of the release of My Pizza in March.

Before the post went dark, one reader slyly note that it can be found elsewhere, notably at Tasting Table, which posted it two years ago. It's reportedly been amended since then, but given the buzz it's generated  -- and Lahey's broad acclaim since his no-knead bread was first blessed by Mark Bittman in 2006 -- I figured it was worth a try.

It was. It's simple and, though you need to start the process the day before you bake, virtually hands-off until it's time to pat the sticky dough into shape. We made four personal-sized pizzas tonight -- two with arugula-pine nut pesto, a lucky leftover from Molly Steven's salmon entry in All About Roasting, and two with spoonfuls of Classico Creamy Alfredo lightly streaked with pesto. Both were topped with slices of fresh mozzarella and a scattering of home-canned tuna. Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with Maldon or other top-quality sea salt.

I couldn't resist tweaking the recipe linked above, so I used two cups of AP flour and one of white-wheat flour. I also substituted 2/3 cup of the water with leftover whey from my last batch of labneh, which imparted a mild but appealing tang.

The dough did not rise as much as I expected and, true to virtually every reference to the recipe I've seen online, it was wet and sticky. Given how much flour gets worked in at the end, I think I'll add an extra tablespoon or two on the front end next time.

While the linked instructions don't provide precise cooking directions, I preheated the oven to 500 degrees for about 40 minutes to let my pizza stone and a heavy comal get good and hot. I pressed the dough into shape atop parchment paper, which made transfer to the oven simple. The pizzas cooked on the stone were golden brown and crisp in seven minutes, but the pies baked on the comal were still a bit wet in the middle. If you've got a stone, this is a good time to use it.

Graham, who favors zpizza's cheese pizza dotted with fresh ricotta, declared them both a success -- and even preferred the pesto pizza.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Warning: These images may cause hunger pangs and drooling

My brother David M. Warren, who handles many of the food shoots for the Philadephia Inquirer, recently completed a very hush-hush project where he photographed many of Philly's top restaurants for the covered "Four Bell" awards given by criticv Craig LaBan. The photos are a strong endorsement of the city' vibrant dining scene.

A few of the photos are featured below, but they look much better on the newspaper website. To see them all, visit

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lucky 32 stakes claim in high-end, home-style fried chicken

This blog first appeared on Culinary Historians of Piedmont, which is partnering with Lucky 32 for a special dinner at 7 p.m. Wedensday, Feb. 15, at the Cary location. Click here to RSVP.
For a perfect appetizer, try Lucky 32's Sweet Potato Hushpuppies.

Chef Jay Pierce has turned an old joke upside down at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.

Why did the customer cross the road?

To get the locally-sourced, deeply-seasoned, irresistibly lard-fried chicken served on the other side.

Crowds are beginning to gather at the Cary location on Wednesday nights, where the three-piece chicken dinner – served with tender collards, mashed potatoes and a hunk of cornbread – is featured for $17. It’s even more popular at the Greensboro location, where it’s sold on Tuesdays.

Pierce knows diners could get fried chicken elsewhere, and probably for less, but he’s confident that his is the best.

“You expect people to come in with some contempt,” he said with a bemused shrug. “When people ask why we charge so much, I tell them, ‘You probably wouldn’t like it.’”

Actually, Pierce is more likely to playfully poke at diners who aren’t yet under the addictive spell of the special. “Sometimes we cook up a big order of wings and I walk around putting just one on the plates of people who didn’t order it,” he said. “I love to see their faces when they try it. I really want them to come back and have it next time.”

Creating the perfect fried chicken became something of an obsession for Pierce when the restaurant gave up its global menu and added Southern Kitchen to its name last year. The owner wanted a dish that would stir fond memories of grandma’s skillet-fried chicken – even if they never had it before.

There are at least two problems with that, Pierce said. First, cooking in skillets is not efficient in a large commercial kitchen. Also, while he admits to the guilty pleasure of Chik-Fil-A sandwiches, fried chicken was not native to Pierce’s experience of growing up in New Orleans.

“I tried so many variations before I worked it out,” he said, ticking off a list of soaks ranging from buttermilk and iced tea to pickle juice. He finally settled on a variation of the late chef Austin Leslie’s recipe featured in “Fried Chicken: An American Story” by John T. Edge. It’s also been published in Food & Wine.

“We put our own spin on it, but it’s a revelation,” said Pierce, stressing that the ingredient he borrows most from the original is the technique. “I can’t imagine chicken getting any better than that.”

Lucky 32’s version starts by generously seasoning chicken from Hopkins Poultry of Browns Summit with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. The dry-rubbed pieces then air-dry in the refrigerator at least eight hours to ensure deeply-flavored meat and crisp skin.

Just before frying, chicken pieces are dunked in a bath of beaten eggs and buttermilk from Homeland Creamery of Greensboro and dredged in a tub of Creole spice-spiked, self-rising flour from Midstate Mills of Newton. Next stop is a Swiss Braisier, a tilt skillet as big as grandma’s old wash tub, filled with 20 pounds of golden lard rendered by Cane Creek Farm of Snow Camp.

“It’s all non-hydrogenated,” Pierce said, gazing at the glistening fat that boiled vigorously as he deftly placed a row of plump breasts. “It’s a lot better for you than Crisco.”

The braisier is key to what makes Lucky 32’s friend chicken special. Instead of floating in a deep fryer, the chicken sizzles on a heavy grill pad that Pierce can tilt to swirl fat where it’s needed, such as a thicker breast portions, while the thighs and wings stay lightly submerged.

“It’s easier than using your grandmother’s skillet,” Pierce said, noting how the vast surface and finely-tuned thermostat keep the oil at a consistent temperature. “I can load at least 10 three-piece dinners in here at once – and I can fit 13 at the one we have in Greensboro.”

Pierce takes the challenge of fixing chicken seriously as he knows so many Southerners consider it the measure of a good cook. “It’s not as easy as it looks. There’s a lot of technique involved with cooking Southern food – good Southern Food, I mean.

“For people who grew up with it, fried chicken is practically a Proustian dish,” he said. “There are so many memories tied to it. That’s why it has to be so good.”

The Perfect Starter: Lucky 32's Sweet Potato Hushpuppies

See related story about Chef Jay Pierce and the fried chicken special at Lucky 32.

Like Jay Pierce’s journey to develop the ultimate fried chicken for Lucky 32, the sweet potato hushpuppies took several detours before landing on the appetizer menu.

“The truth?” Pierce said with a born storyteller’s glint in his eyes. “They started out as pumpkin ravioli.”

Before Lucky 32 expanded its name last year to include Southern Kitchen, it reduced the scope of its former global-cuisine menu. One of Pierce’s first targets with the fated ravioli.

“Actually, it was summer and winter squash in the same dish. Blasphemous!” he said with a shudder.

Pierce knew he wanted to modify the recipe to keep it seasonal, so he tweaked it several ways before he felt he’d found a tasty alternative: Deep-fried pumpkin ravioli in a ham cream sauce.

“Everyone loved it but the owner,” he recalled. “I mean, he liked it, but he said, ‘It’s not Southern.’ He told me, ‘You can do better.’”

Pierce went back to the drawing board and his culinary awakenings in Florida and the Gulf Coast. There, he said, hushpuppies are big and fluffy -- “not the scrawny Civil War rations” found in some North Carolina eateries.

“Some people think they’re not really hushpuppies because they’re bigger and less sweet,” he said. “They taste like what they are: earthy sweet potatoes.”

The dark, crispy globes are served atop a pool of creamy ham sauce scattered with green onion. Light and savory, they are a perfect start for a fried chicken dinner.

Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Hushpuppies

Disclaimer: All our recipes were originally designed for much larger batch size. This recipe has been reduced – but not tested at this scale. Please adjust as to your taste and portion size. Copyright 1989-2012 This recipe is property of Quaintance-Weaver, Inc. Unauthorized commercial use is forbidden.

2 cups roasted sweet potatoes
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/3 cup yellow corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
¾ cup green onions, chopped
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground mustard
8 eggs

Mix all ingredients in a mixer with paddle attachment until well combined.

Refrigerate till cold.

Drop desired size hushpuppies into a deep fat fryer and cook until done.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Labneh, mean it! Falling in love with homemade yogurt

Labneh, the tangy, creamy cheese
made from strained yogurt.
I've been making my own yogurt for a few weeks now and still can't get over how easy, delicious and inexpensive it is. I'm lucky to have a warming drawer built into my gas stove, which keeps contents at a fairly consistent 106-110 degrees, the ideal temperature for slowly converting scaled milk and starter into creamy Greek-style yogurt. 

Inspired by reader interactions and helpful advice from site co-founder Merrill Stubbs, I more or less follow the directions posted on Food52. I use organic whole milk each week as directed, and used a cup of organic whole milk Greek yogurt to get the first batch started. In subsequent weeks, I've used a jar of my own yogurt to feed the next batch. Additionally, instead of nine cups of organic whole milk, I now buy a half-gallon and add 1 cup of regular 1% milk, which is what I otherwise stock. I stir in capful of vanilla before pouring into a dozen canning jars for the slow transition into yogurt. It's terrific -- and costs only about 25 cents per serving.

I enjoy a jar nearly every morning for breakfast. Sometimes I spill in onto a half-cup of granola with a handful of dried blueberries. Other times I've stirred in homemade orange curd or other preserves. My current favorite is a great dollop of peach-Grand Marnier sauce. Yup, for breakfast. Awesome.

I posted this photo last week on Facebook and it caught the eye of a co-worker who wondered if I ever use my yogurt to make labneh, a yogurt cheese. I'm familiar with labneh as a condiment at Nemomonde, one of Raleigh's best Lebanese eateries, but I never realized it was something so easily produced at home. Encouraged by the rapturous look on his face as he recalled how his siti made labneh for him as a child, I decided to give it a try.

Recipes vary, but the general rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt to every cup of yogurt. Stir well and pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander or jelly bag set over a bowl. I used the latter and poured in four cups of salted yogurt before I left for work. It dripped in a steady stream for the first 15-20 minutes then settled into a slow plunk.

There is little consensus among recipes whether the yogurt should sit on the counter or be refrigerated for the nine or so hours necessary to fully drain. Since Graham was home, I split the difference and had him transfer the jelly bag and bowl to the refrigerator after about four hours.

When I returned home at the end of the work day, the resulting cheese had stopped dripping but was still quite moist. I gave the bag a good squeeze before peeling back the cloth and freeing the ball, which was handsomely textured by the mesh and deep seam. It was stunningly delicious right away -- tangy and very creamy -- and it firms up a bit with additional refrigeration.

I brought a sandwhich for lunch today of labneh generously slathered on fresh sourdough with a layer of baby arugula. It also was great on pita chips. I shared go-cups with a few friends and already have plans to make more with this week's yogurt. I'm eager to try some mashed into a hot roasted potato and, if sufficiently solid, I plan to roll small balls of labneh into minced herbs, zatar and nuts for a special appetizer plate.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Virginia Willis on the Food of Love: Chocolate Pots de Crème

Note: Virginia Willis will teach a class at A Southern Season on March 22 based on her new book, “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all.” This blog first appeared on Culinary Historians of the Piedmont.

Shakespeare famously wrote that “if music be the food of love, play on.” But don’t try to pull that mess on Virginia Willis.

“I once had a very romantic date with some chocolate,” said Willis with an amused sigh of recollection. “Loving and kissing just comes to mind.”

Though she’s published recipes for some intoxicating sweets in Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking and her new, much-praised Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company, Willis rarely swoons for cake or pie – even if chocolate is a key ingredient.

For true romance, the sort she proposes as necessary for a proper Valentine, it’s got to be Chocolate Pots de Crème, a decadent delight she first learned when studying culinary arts years ago at L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne in France.

“They are rich and indulgent, and certainly meant for special occasions,” Willis said during a recent phone call from her Atlanta kitchen. “But the best part is they are dead easy. There’s no worrying about curdling eggs or any of that. If you can melt chocolate, you can make pots de crème.”

Featured in her first book, and shared below, pots de crème may look complicated but are, she said, “nothing more than French pudding cups.” Their simple ingredients and mostly hands-off preparation allow plenty of time for what Willis deems the best part of any meal: the time spent with your beloved.

“I definitely prefer to eat at home on Valentine’s Day,” she said, pairing it with New Year’s Eve as the No. 1 days to eat in. “Restaurants are crowded, everyone is busy. It’s all about turning the tables.

“Having said that, I love to share the cooking and make it an enjoyable experience for us both,” she said. “But you don’t have to stress and do it all at once. This dessert, for example, can be made the day before. All you have to do is whip some cream.”

Despite her mother’s devotion to Cool Whip, which is humorously detailed in an anecdote printed above the recipe, Willis recommends that heavy cream to be whipped into a lush cloud, without sugar, just before serving.

“A friend of mine who is very healthful chooses to use fat-free, non-dairy Cool Whip,” she said with a distinct shudder. “To me, it’s just too sweet. I’d rather had a teaspoon of whipped cream then two cups of Cool Whip.”

Willis also suggests Crisp Roasted Duck with Peach Barbecue Sauce from the new book for the main course, and perhaps Apalachicola Oysters with Sauce Mignonette for a starter.

“It’s fairly typical, but it always makes people happy,” she said, acknowledging the mollusk’s MO as a heady aphrodisiac. “It’s easy and it’s delicious.”

While Willis is thrilled that Basic to Brilliant, Y’All has earned critical acclaim and landed on several year-ending best-of lists, she was less pleased that her name became entwined with Paula Deen’s recent announcement that she was diagnosed three years ago with Type 2 diabetes.

Amid the whirlwind of media attention that followed the news – a private matter, to be sure, but one revealed in connection to a lucrative pharmaceutical endorsement deal – New York Times writer Julia Moskin picked Willis to represent purveyors of “new” Southern cuisine.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I as writing recipes for a PTA newsletter, so I’m always surprised when anyone wants to talk to me about anything,” said Willis. “My position is that Southern cooking doesn’t have to stay trapped in the past. In fact, a lot of what’s been promoted as ‘traditional’ really isn’t. I did not grow up eating deep fried mac ‘n cheese wrapped in bacon, and neither did anyone I know.

“To think we are just fried chicken and overcooked greens is very one dimensional,” she said. “Also, we’re not all working on the farm anymore. We don’t need a 1,200-calorie breakfast to sit at a desk.”

Willis noted with pride that she has taught and cooked her recipes at some of the nation’s best-known spas “almost verbatim from my books.”

“There are a lot of problems with Southern food and big problems with obesity nationally. In a positive light, (the attention) is helping people have a constructive dialogue about Southern food and how it can be made delicious by using healthy, seasonal ingredients. For me, it’s all about fresh ingredients and not doing too much with them.”

Willis will continue to offer insights on Southern fare in what has become her Y’all series. She’s “noodling” on a theme now and hopes to have the next volume on book shelves within two years. In the mean time, the chef is drafting a different sort of book, “a very personal culinary story” about a fifth-generation farmer.

“It will really stretch me as a writer,” she said. “It’s amazingly satisfying to hear that that people like the stories in my books. People may be coming from a different place when they read me, but it’s all about the community you build at the table.”

And if your community includes a beloved partner, so much the better.

Chocolate Pots de Crème
(Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.)

Note: I made these in small cordial glasses
that yielded nine delicious portions.
Undeniably creamy and indulgent, these are the French version of pudding cups. Pots de crème are traditionally baked and served in individual ceramic pots with lids, how they got their name.

Much to my consternation, Mama buys Cool Whip instead of using freshly whipped cream. She recycles the tubs for food storage and other uses. I think a pet hamster was once gently laid to rest in a Cool Whip coffin. Whipping real cream is easy, and my mother’s opinion aside, it really does taste better. The key is that everything must be well chilled: the heavy cream in the refrigerator, and the mixer beaters and bowl in the freezer until cold to the touch. I prefer not to add sugar or vanilla to the cream, as I think the dessert is quite often sweet enough and sweetened whipped cream is overpowering.

Serves 6

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
5 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt
Whipped cream, for garnish

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place six 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan.

In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and chocolate over medium heat. Bring almost to a simmer; remove from the heat. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar. While whisking, add a little of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture to combine. (This technique is called tempering; it makes the temperatures of two mixtures—one containing raw egg— more similar, so the egg won’t curdle in the presence of heat.) Add the remaining milk mixture, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the vanilla and salt.

Pour approximately 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into each ramekin. Cover each ramekin tightly with aluminum foil to prevent a skin from forming. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are just set in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove the pots from the water, and place on a wire rack to cool, about 30 minutes. (I usually remove the pots with tongs and leave the roasting pan of water in the oven. Turn the oven off and let the water cool until it is safe to remove the pan.)

When the pots de crème have cooled completely, refrigerate to chill thoroughly, preferably overnight. Just before serving, top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Virginia Willis: Apalachicola Oysters with Sauce Mignonette

(Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.)

Most oysters are farmed, but Apalachicola oysters are harvested from some of the only wild oyster beds left in American waters, near Apalachicola, Florida. This area of the Gulf of Mexico is known as Florida’s “Forgotten Coast.” For generations, residents of the Florida panhandle have made their livelihood working the Apalachicola Bay and surrounding waters. The area’s real claim to fame may be oysters, but every Southerner should raise a chilled glass of sweet tea to Dr. John Gorrie. The kind doctor thought Apalachicola summers were too hot for his patients and was a pioneer in the invention of the artificial manufacture of ice, refrigeration, and air-conditioning (he was granted a patent in 1851 for the first ice maker).

This simple, peppery, vinegar sauce is a classic French accompaniment to freshly shucked oysters.

Makes 12 and serves 1 to 2 as a first course

1/2 cup best-quality white or red wine vinegar
1 small shallot, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt
12 fresh oysters

In a bowl, combine the vinegar, shallot, pepper, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt; set aside.

To shuck the oysters, using a towel, hold an oyster flat on the work surface, flat shell up. Insert the tip of an oyster knife into the hinge and twist to open it. Slide the knife along the inside of the upper shell to free the oyster from the shell; discard the upper shell. Slide the knife under the oyster to free it from the lower shell, but leave it in the shell.

Arrange the shucked oysters on two serving plates, preferably oyster plates with wells. If you are using regular plates, cover them with rock salt or fresh seaweed, sometimes available at the fishmonger, to create a nest for the oysters so they don’t tip over. Spoon a teaspoon of sauce over each oyster and serve immediately.

Virginia Willis: Crisp Roasted Duck with Peach Barbecue Sauce

(Reprinted with permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.)

There is no doubt a well-prepared, well-executed roast duck can be a bit of trouble for not a whole lot of meat. You will notice this recipe serves two to four, not the normal four to six. But, oh my, the flavor is worth every bit of effort.

Duck possesses a rich, red-meat flavor. Much in the way that pork has a natural affinity for sweet-tart barbecue sauce, so has duck. When peaches are not in season, you can substitute frozen peaches for the barbecue sauce.

Serves 2 to 4

1 (4-to-5-pound) whole duck
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil or rendered duck fat
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1½ cups ketchup
½ cup peach jam
2 ripe peaches, cut into ¾-inch chunks
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Pull any loose fat from the duck. Using the tip of a paring knife, make ¼-inch incisions all over the body of the duck. (This will allow for the fat to render during cooking.) Place the duck on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and refrigerate, uncovered, until dry, at least overnight or up to 3 days.

Place the bay leaves in the cavity of the duck. Set aside to come to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Fill a roasting pan with ¼ inch water and place on the lowest oven rack. (This will create steam and catch fat as it is released from the duck during roasting.) Pat the duck completely dry with paper towels. Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper.

Position a second rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F.

Place the duck, breast side up, directly on the oven rack and roast for about 15 minutes, until it starts to sizzle. Turn the duck onto one side, baste it with any accumulated fat, and roast for 15 minutes more. Turn the bird onto the other side, baste it with accumulated fat, and roast for 15 minutes more. Finally, return the duck to its back and continue roasting, basting often, until dark brown and slightly puffed, about 45 minutes. Total roasting time is about 1½ hours. (I know, cooking directly on the rack is a little dramatic. It is a technique I learned from the chef at Four Seasons in New York, once famous for its crisp roast duck. You can also place the duck on a rack in a roasting pan.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the ketchup, peach jam, peaches, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper; decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.

When the duck is cooked, transfer it to a warmed platter. Cover with foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. (Turn off the oven and allow the roasting pan of water to cool before removing it. Remember the magic fat? Pour the cooled water into a fat separator. Pour off and discard the water, but save the fat.)

Carve the duck and transfer to a warmed serving platter. Serve immediately with the warm barbecue sauce on the side.

Brilliant: Short Recipe
Quick Cucumber Pickle

Old-school barbecue joints almost always serve barbecue with pickles. Change this Basic, but somewhat fancy-pants roast duck to Brilliant by humbling it with a simple quick pickle. Slice 1 English cucumber into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place the slices in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon kosher salt; stir to combine. Let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain, and transfer to a large heatproof bowl. Meanwhile, combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar; ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar ½ Vidalia onion, thinly sliced; 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced; and ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the hot liquid over the cucumbers; stir to combine. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before serving alongside the duck. Makes about 1½ cups.