A student approaches his master and says, `Master, I have done it! I have followed your example. I have settled deeper and deeper into a meditative state until finding transcendence.’
The master replies, `Oh that? Don’t worry. It’ll pass.’
This story went through my mind this morning as I approached the final bite of my duck ham bennies.
It’s probably not a good idea to play around with eggs benedict. It’s a Sunday Brunch classic for a reason: churchgoing has got nothing on it.
But alas, if you noticed in my entry on imperfect chocolate mousse, one of the threads I like pursuing in the kitchen, and indeed life, is transcendent failings: stumbling around in full acknowledgement of our shortcomings, and yet, aspiring for something with a tiny taste of divine.
Hence, imperfect chocolate mousse… And this morning, taking a risk with eggs benedict, what Adam and Eve surely must have eaten for breakfast every morning before smartenin’ up on that apple.
Indeed, these duck ham bennies started a week ago. In truth, I hadn’t set out to make them. As all good cooking stories go, this one starts with a big mistake: I fell for a special offer by my online grocer for a whole duck.
Before double clicking, I hadn’t thought too much about how my wife doesn’t eat meat if it’s red, my 5 year old daughter thinks eating duck is crueler than killing Santa Claus, and my 3 month old son has no teeth.
It’s just me and a whole duck. Fortunately for me, when the duck arrived at the door, so did the cold weather.
It occurred to me that it might be a good moment to make duck ham. (Here’s how: pack the duck breasts in salt for 24 hours, rinse thorougly in water, and then wrap in cheese cloth and hang in a cool, humid place for a week (50-60 degrees F).)
I tried to convince the family to turn the heat off for a week, but no can do. So, the duck ham project was sent to the shed to hang from a hook next to my bicycles.
I have fond memories of packing meat in salt. One of my first realisations that I was in the sh£t, as it were, at Le Jabadao, was a moment early in the apprenticeship, when Emmanuel, the chef, baked a large sea bass in a giant sleeping bag of salt.
The theory behind this practice is that the flesh of the fish will be tender and taste most like the sea, as its juices are sealed in tight by a salt crust. But I actually think this is quite overstated (sorry River Cottage).
The better reason for salting fish is simpler: a lot of salt is fun to touch and very pleasurable to look at. It’s also fun to conceal things like fish in salt. It’s also a lot of fun to crack the salt encasing after it’s hardened from the baking.
And then of course, there is the gradual build up of anticipation that comes with not knowing what will be inside when the salt crust is peeled away in chunks.
Baked fish? A shiny pearl? Who knows?
After 24 hours packed in salt, the duck breast was still duck breast, but smaller in size, an even deeper maroon, and a bit more stiff.
After a week hanging in cheese cloth in my garage, I could hardly sleep not knowing what the next day might bring. So like a 34 year old boy on Christmas morning, I ran out into my garage in my skivvies whilst still dark to fetch my hanging duck breasts.
I peeled off the cheese cloth and alas! They had handlebars, cranks, pedals, wheels, and a chain! Okay… Not that exciting: sliced, they look like proscuitto.
So, I didn’t know what to do with them this morning until my daughter asked for scones for breakfast. With this provocation, beaty was born.
Here’s how I made the duck ham bennies:
First, I made red currant scones for my daughter. Here is a reliable recipe. Just add red currants.
Then, I thinly sliced the duck ham on the bias. This requires using a very sharp knife.
I seared some of the duck ham in a touch of hot olive oil in a saucepan in order to get some crispy bits. I also left some as is for some not so crispy bits. In addition to contrasting textures, the color contrast is nice too.
I put the crispy duck ham on top of a sliced and buttered red currant scone. Then, I put the `raw’ duck ham on top of the black peppered poached eggs.
Finally, I topped it all with some apple mint chutney that was recently given to us as a gift. The bright sweet/savoury chutney cut through the richness of the dish, rather than burying/smothering/bothering it in hollandaise sauce.
While eating this dish, I forgot I was alive. Once I remembered, I felt thankful.Tweet