Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pan-Roasted Breast of Squab with Swiss Chard, Sautéed Duck Foie Gras, and Oven-Dried Black Figs

You know squab = pigeon, right? So you can see how some people might not be altogether thrilled to taste this dish. I have no qualms about eating pigeon (after eating pastilla in Morocco, bring it on, I say), and when I set about finding three squab to make the dish, I kept coming up empty-handed. None of the markets around here carried squab. Well, that's not true. One Asian market did, but when I opened the refrigerator case and felt a gust of warm air blow out, I high-tailed it out of there and hit the Internet. The French Laundry Cookbook recommended buying squab from D'Artagnan, which I eventually did, but I googled "squab" to see who else sold it, and compare prices just for kicks. Imagine my surprise to find a web site called Seriously, For all your squab needs. I toyed with the idea of buying my squab from them, just so I could come here and tell you I bought my squab from, but it wasn't really clear from their web site exactly where those squab were coming from, so I stuck with D'Artagnan. Wanna see 'em?

When people find out that I like to cook and that I'm doing this blog, one of the first questions I get is, "Do you watch Top Chef?" I tell them I do watch the show, but that there's really no such thing as "reality TV" so I take most of it with a grain of salt. I watch it more for the guest judges because hello, Eric Ripert? Daniel Boulud? Andre Soltner? Sirio Maccione? I'll listen to any wisdom they choose to impart, but I can't say I've learned a whole lot from any of the cheftestants in any of the three seasons. Today, however, I will confess that unbeknownst to me, I actually learned something from Top Chef this season. Remember the episode when the Quickfire Challenge was to race against one another to chop onions, shuck oysters, break down chickens, and whisk egg whites? Remember how Hung so awesomely and perfectly cut up those four chickens in about six seconds? When I saw those squab sitting on the cutting board, I thought, "hmmmmmm, I think I'm going to handle these squabs Hung-style" and I did. And, it was awesome. I have a great knife, and even though these birds were a little smaller than chickens, I didn't hack off my hand in my zealous butchering. Here's a shot of the squab breasts with wing attached in the frying pan:

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, so let me backtrack for two seconds. Or two days, actually, because that's when I made the oven-dried figs. I bought a box of black mission figs from the market, cut each one into six wedges, laid them on a parchment-lined backing sheet, and dusted them with confectioners sugar:

I put them in a 350-degree oven for a half-hour and then stored them in a container in the fridge until I was ready to complete and serve this dish. You'll see the dried figs in the final plating photo.

I also prepped the foie gras during the two days leading up to this dish. To see how to prepare foie gras, you can click here. That link also shows how to do squab spice, which I used in this dish, as well.

Alrighty-roo, back to present day. I got a pound or so of Swiss chard from the market, washed and dried it, then cut off the stalks and cut the leaves into two-inch pieces prior to sautéeing it in a little bit of butter.

Again, you'll see the final chard in the plating photo.

I heated some canola oil and put the squab in the pan, skin side down for about 4 minutes, then turned them and cooked them for another 3 minutes, then let them rest while I heated up the Quick squab sauce (again, see pages 228-229 in the book) and cubed the foie gras.

I started plating just before cooking the foie. First on the plate was the squab sauce, followed by the chard and dried figs. I then cooked the cubes of foie gras and put a piece on each plate, then added the squab breast. I did not cut and then french the wing prior to cooking as the book suggested, because I was a little pressed for time this particular evening and decided to forego that step. I also did not diagonally slice the squab breast into three pieces because, again, I did not manage my time properly and this dish was going to be pre-dinner treat for my friends and neighbors and I didn't want to delay their dinner plans. But enough excuses out of me; here's the final dish:

Are we at Hooters? Stop staring at my rack.... I'm referring to what looks like a chicken wing on the plate. Maybe I should've frenched those wings, huh? Forgive me Thomas Keller, for Hooterizing one of your gorgeous, gorgeous dishes (see the photo on page 175 of the book for what this really should look like). And, I'm sorry about the turd-tastic looking figs in the photo above. They looked much better in real life -- not like doody at all. There were some mixed in with the chard as the book directed, but I also put some extra ones on the plate because hey -- who doesn't love figs?

The foie made the house smell great, and the dish was delicious. This was the first time some of my friends had eaten foie gras, and there were mixed reactions, which is totally to be expected. This was also the first time many of us had eaten squab, and the two ten-year olds who tasted it said upon eating their first bite, "Hey, this tastes like eggs!" I had only eaten the squab with all the other elements of the dish, so I took a small bite of squab on its own and really tasted it. Yep, tastes just like a hard-boiled egg.

This dish was very rich and hearty, and I liked it. Would I make it again? Probably not. It's expensive for something that didn't really deliver a one-two punch of awesomeness. I did like the dried figs, and I think I'll make some more to nosh on over the next few days. They were delicious. The chard was better in the duck dish. It was a little disappointing in this one.

In all, this dish didn't suck, but I didn't love love love it. The lesson I learned from making this dish, however, is that if my current career becomes too much of a burden, I've already got the innate skillz to be a line cook at a place where orange terrycloth shorts are still in fashion. "Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined" goes their slogan. Yeah, that pretty much sums me up.

Up Next: Agnolotti -- either the sweet corn, or the sweet potatoes. Maybe both!

Squab from D'Artagnan
Swiss Chard, figs and chives from Whole Foods
Foie Gras from Hudson Valley

Music to Cook By: Maximo Park; Our Earthly Pleasures. I first heard Maximo Park on a KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic podcast. I listened to the segment and thought, "eh, these guys aren't bad." I downloaded a few songs and forgot about them. Lately, when my iPod is on Shuffle, a Maximo Park song ends up on the rotation, and everytime it does, I like it. So, I downloaded their albums and I really like them. They're a little Smiths and Smashing Pumpkins, with some 80s singer-songwriter, and a dash of punk. Perfect music to hack squab by!


Alexander said...

This comment is entirely pointless but I just wanted to say how elated I was to see that you're doing the agnolotti next because I made the Sweet Potato with Sage Cream recipe today and it was fantastic.

Kevin Kossowan said...

Hah, enjoyed the humor. And I really appreciate the ever-brutally-honest opinions on the results. Good work.

Ed said...

I was happy to see that you were turning to the agnolotti too--I've done the sweet potato and the fava bean varieties and they are brilliant!

This is my favorite food blog ever!

John said...

" -- not like doody at all"

Now there's a word I need to put back into my daily vocab!!!!

You write,you're funny and cute too!

Great post..entertaining as ever!!

Jim said...

I was dimly aware people ate pigeon (following the revelation while I read an article about Gordon Ramsay), but never really got a picture of the process. Strangely, I imagined squab meat would look more...gross.

Again I bemoan my fate as a Chicagoan; I will never get to try this dish at home, not unless I find a replacement for the foie gras. Damned PETA!

dd said...

While I truly enjoyed the "doody" reference, the "turd-tastic" comment completely made my day with laughter. Love your posts and enjoy watching your work!!

Kevin said...

Thanks for another wonderful post. I was wondering though, and sorry if this has been answered before; but when you make your "quick" sauces do you make your own stock or did you use store bought? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a Semi-Homemade way to make this dish?!

Sandra L.

Pastrymann said...

Hi Carol,
I am amazed that between your full time job and writing this blog that you have enough time to respond & comment to every remark that Michael Ruhlman post. You must be exhausted...

Oh yeah, I put together a tea smoked pork belly confit sandwich for today’s snack, on rather thin toasted tomato focaccia. It was tasty…Keep up your great work.

Sassy said...

Mmmmm. I was so inspired by all this talk of foie gras that I went out and got some myself. I just couldn't stand it for one more minute.

And BTW, "turd-tastic" is my favorite new word. Teehee!!!

Adrienne said...

Your photo of figs and confectioners' sugar is how I've always pictured heaven to look. Thanks for another great post!

Diner Girl said...

Kevin: I do make all my own stocks and quick sauces (and I'll do posts on those sometime when I have the time). I don't think you can replicate a quick sauce without doing it from scratch.

Sandy L.: Get the hell off my blog, you semi-ho.

Pastrymann: It's not exhausting at all -- when it involves something I love, I make the time. And Ruhlman writes stuff worth responding to, you know? Next time you make a pork-belly confit sandwich, please FedEx one to me. Thanks. Yer makin' me drool over here. I >heart< pork belly.

Jessica said...

It looks an sounds unbelievable. I love figs so much and they seem to be everyone nowadays!

Olga said...

LOVE figs; squab just looks eekie.