20 February 2008

Surfas Restaurant Supply & Valentine's Day

It seems there's a frozen food for every level of foodie. Convenience stores have those wonderfully cheap Tina's frozen burritos. Supermarkets take it up a notch, with everything from Michelina's (my college preference) to Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones (Camille's work food of choice) to those frozen pasta bags that actually resemble real food after some time in a frying pan. Trader Joe and trader pals Jose, Ming, and Giotto have stuff that you could seriously fool people into thinking was more expensive.

And then there's Surfas Restaurant Supply in Culver City, which is more expensive and could seriously fool people into thinking you're some kind of chef. In fact, when I went to buy my Valentine's Day dinner ingredients, the kindly clerk asked, "Are you a chef?" Apparently, duck confit, dried figs, juniper berries, and foie gras are not the normal purchases of, say, aspiring screenwriting foodies who blog in their spare time.
I found Surfas because they are one of the few places in Los Angeles that sells foie gras, which Camille and I tried for the first time a couple months back and which I've been anxious to cook myself. It's insanely delicious, and not just because it makes you sound like a peace-mongering Frenchman when you say it. Rich, creamy, smooth, delicate -- it tastes absolutely sinful. And according to animal rights activists, it is sinful. Look, if these geese and duck had watched The Shawshank Redemption, then they'd know to get busy living and fly away. Really, it's their fault.

Anyway, I'd planned on only buying foie gras, but being in Surfas is being the proverbial kid in the candy store. The fridge and freezer section alone contained numerous items of culinary holiness like creme fraiche, duck fat, rillettes, and, yes, frozen duck confit. Confit is another dish I've wanted to try, except it's one of those things that requires a lot of lead time, what with the curing in salt for days. Now, in the time it took me to grab the frozen duck and foie gras out of cold storage, I had pretty much finished my main dish. And get mistaken for a chef, no less!

Duck confit, seared foie gras, fig and port charoset, pine nut cous cous.

This dinner is incredibly rich. The duck confit is wonderfully crisp on the outside, juicy within, and savory all over. It could easily be replaced by a lighter poultry dish to help offset the richness of the foie gras and the figs and port. I mean, if you're a wimp like that.

The thing that puts seared foie gras over the top is the texture. Yes, it's creamy and rich, but searing it properly gives it a crust and a lovely bite. It crunches slightly, then melts in your mouth. All geese should have the good fortune of exiting the world in this fashion.

According the the Epicurious recipe I got, the fig and port charoset is apparently a staple of Jewish seder. I don't know anything about that, but it ends up being a sweet, sticky fig chutney mush which works really well as a side dish. Plus, you'll have an open bottle of port begging you to finish it off while you're cooking, which is just fine and dandy.

The first two ingredients are cheats. Of course, cous cous is insanely easy, so it's not much of a shortcut to buy the prepackaged box. As for the confit, there's that curing in salt business. Yeah, no...

2 confit duck legs and thighs
1 package pine nut cous cous
1/3 lb. foie gras (about two 1" slices)
1/2 cub dried figs, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup port wine
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 tbs. butter

2 small pots (seriously, who calls small pots "saucepans?")
1 frying pan

Preheat oven to 375.

Place duck confit into the oven and bake 20-25 minutes. Good job, chef.

Combine port and figs in small pot #1, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add the onions, and cook, stirring often, until the onions lightly caramelize, about 15-20 minutes.

Place the onions in a bowl and let cool slightly, add the port and figs, and mix. Add pepper to taste. Set aside.

Cook the cous cous. It should take about 6 minutes tops.

Turn the oven off, flip on your broiler, and move the duck confit to the top rack just underneath. Broil for 1-2 minutes until the skin is crisp. Remove and let rest.

Wipe down the frying pan (or use a fresh one) and melt the butter over high heat until the bubbles subside. Lay in the foie gras slices and sear for about a minute. Flip and repeat. In order to quasi-sear the sides, tilt the pan so the butter pools in one end, then use your spatula to splash the hot butter over the foie gras. Remove to a paper towel to drain.

Plate and serve.

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