Preparing Meditarreanean and Dutch dishes red wine and citrus braised duck legs and Compote of fennel with onion, pancetta and currants with cooks Josiah Citrin, Paula Wolfert
In the 1960s and '70s thrifty housewives cooked tough cuts of meat and a few potatoes at a low temperature for endless hours in Dutch ovens, confident they would serve their husbands a pot roast so tender it would put smiles on their faces when they got home.
The Michelin two-star Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., features braised veal cheeks, pork bellies, lamb shanks and short ribs cooked to perfection in a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven. Across town in Culver City, Akasha restaurant serves red wine and citrus braised duck legs in "green" stainless steel cookware. And cookbook author Paula Wolfert braises Mediterranean and Moroccan dishes — and her favorite tarte Tatin — in flameproof ceramic cookware.
Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse, practices the art of braising and has pondered each step to perfection. As he explained, "Start with a beautiful cut of meat, pat it dry, lightly salt and pepper it, then sear it at a high temperature to lock in the flavor, add herbs, garlic, vegetables and liquid, then place a tight-fitting lid on the pot, transfer it to a very low oven and cook it from two to six hours, depending on the cut. When the meat is fork tender, deglaze it with wine, surround it with roasted vegetables and … voila."
Citrin also braises vegetables and fruits in their own juices. He loves slow-cooking big chunks of carrots in cumin, lemon juice, chicken stock and carrot juice. Sliced apples get cinnamon, cloves and apple juice. Pears are combined with rosemary and pear juice. All are braised in the oven at the same low temperature for 45 minutes to 11/2 hours, or until tender. This produces a beautiful sweet flavor, he said.
Wolfert has been braising in clay for 50 years, from the time she lived in Morocco in the 1960s. The author of "Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking," she discovered that clay produces a more natural, earthy, richer tasting dish. Her unglazed and glazed clay pot collection numbers in the hundreds, giving her the luxury of cooking in pots that are dedicated to just one dish, such as a duck confit.
This produces amazing flavors, she said. Every time the dish is cooked in the same pot it becomes more densely flavored.
Red wine and citrus braised duck legs
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 2 1/2 hours
Makes: 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe by Akasha Richmond, chef-owner of Akasha in Culver City, Calif.
4 large whole duck legs, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped