Monday, November 23, 2009

Today's Secret Ingredient Is ... Duck Fat!

Thursday, November 12 was the Duck-Off at Grange, a cooking competition between Chef and Hank Shaw, a local food blogger, avid hunter and great cook. As part of the special event we offered a five course dinner menu featuring duck in each course. My assignment was to produce a dessert for the menu, with the only parameters being that I had to use pears, creme fraiche and duck fat in the crust. I thought, no problem ... I can do that. I simply substituted half of the butter in my standard tart dough with the fat. It was challenging to work with because duck fat melts when you merely touch it, and the dough had to be kept very cold at all stages. But it made a wonderfully flaky crust. OK, that was done. Now what? I wanted to surprise Chef and Hank by using the fat in another way in the dessert. I thought of how it's used in savory cooking, such as sauteeing potatoes in duck fat. Hey, what if I sauteed the pears in it? So that's what I did. I used small Bartlett pears, peeled, cut in half, cored, then sliced but with the halves kept intact. Sauteed in the hot fat and sugar, the pear halves took on a glistening golden brown color, with the slices softening and fanning out like a bird's wing. They tasted wonderfully sweet, but also had a delicious, lightly savory flavor from the duck fat. Pulling the dessert together, I chose huckleberries and port as the complementary components.

I assembled the dessert by filling the tart shells with lightly sweetened whipped creme fraiche and cream, then topped that with a layer of sweet huckleberry compote. The compote was drizzled with a port and star anise syrup, then a sauteed pear half was fanned out over it and napped with a pear brandy sabayon. I used a propane torch to toast the sabayon and warm the pear. A little more of the port syrup on the plate completed the dessert.

I was really pleased with the way it all came together and loved how the pears looked against the dark purple huckleberries. The duck fat made a great flaky crust but also gave an unexpected yet intriguing flavor note to the sweet, juicy pears. It was such a fun dessert to create and Hank told me that the pear tart was one of the most complimented dishes of the night ... very cool!

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