A complex but satisfying meal: North Fork Chef

Dinner with family and friends. (Credit: John Ross)

The following meal is complicated. Although each step by itself is very simple and takes only basic culinary skills, the final result is a two-day process. (Please don’t stop reading yet.)

I was searching for a menu that would be exciting to guests, be full of contrasting flavors and textures, and be friendly to my grandchildren. Personally, I wanted something that would be fun to prepare and would go well with a bottle of Alsatian gewürztraminer.

Finally, I wanted to sit down at the table with family and friends and experience the joy of dining. That brief time when you set aside your fears and anxieties (and electronic devices) and just enjoy the food, the wine and the company of others. This is what I enjoy most in life and I hope that you can share some of it with me. Cheers!

Pickled Vegetables with Hummus
The day before, heat 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar in a saucepan and add 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds and a dash of hot red pepper flakes. Bring this to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

Trim and cut 3 carrots into matchsticks; cut cauliflower florets to make 1 cup; cut broccoli florets to make 1 cup; cut 1 green and 1 red pepper into strips; and cut 3 stalks of celery into matchsticks. (Many other vegetables can be substituted.)

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Quickly blanch each vegetable separately, just bringing the water back to a boil and removing the vegetables with a slotted spoon or skimmer.

Place the blanched vegetables in a casserole and pour the hot brine over them. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

For the hummus, rinse 1 can of chick peas and add them to the bowl of your food processor. Add 3/4 cup tahini, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 minced cloves of garlic, a few drops of Tabasco, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Process until smooth and taste for seasoning. Refrigerate and serve on the side with the vegetables.

Peking Duck
The day before, place a 5- or 6-pound Long Island duck in the sink and remove the giblets and excess fat around the cavity before rinsing in cold water.

On a cutting board, cut off the tail and the flap of skin near the neck. Using the handle of a wooden spoon and your fingers, loosen the skin over the breasts and around the thighs.

Stir together 1/4 cup honey, 1 tablespoon five-spice powder and 2 teaspoons soy sauce.

Place the duck on a rack in a shallow pan and spoon the honey mixture over the skin.

Combine 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 2 teaspoons baking powder and sprinkle over the duck. Place the duck, uncovered, in the refrigerator and let it dry out overnight.

The next day put the duck on a rack over the sink and pour 2 quarts of boiling water over it, turning it over to cover both top and bottom.

Open a can of beer and pour out about one quarter of the can. Insert the can into the cavity of the duck so that it stands upright. Place the duck with the beer can on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 2 hours at 350 degrees, turning the duck once or twice during cooking to create even browning.

Reduce the heat to 275 and continue cooking until the wings and legs move easily in their joints, about another 30 minutes. Remove and let the duck rest for another 30 minutes at room temperature.

Place the duck on a cutting board and, using a paring knife, remove the crisp skin. With a sharp knife, remove the breast meat and the thighs and legs. Cut the skin into strips and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and keep warm.

Mandarin Pancakes
While the duck is cooking, place 2 cups flour in a bowl and adding 2/3 cup boiling water. With a wooden spoon stir into a coarse dough, then turn out onto a floured surface.

When the dough cools enough, knead by hand for 5 minutes into a smooth elastic ball. Let it rest for a few minutes and cut the ball into 16 equal pieces.

On a floured surface flatten half of these balls into 3-inch rounds and brush lightly with sesame oil. Flatten the other half and place them on top of the other balls of dough. Using a rolling pin, roll these circles out as thin as you can, about an 8-inch circle.

Heat a large sauté pan and spray lightly with no-stick. Cook the pancakes at medium heat until they start to bubble and brown, about 2 minutes per side.

When all pancakes are cooked, let them cool briefly, then peel them apart and stack on a plate. You should have 16 pancakes.

For the garnishes, cut 4 small cucumbers into strips and trim and cut 1 bunch of scallions into 3-inch pieces. Serve commercial hoisin sauce on the side.

At service time, place 2 pancakes on each plate with some duck skin and meat. Garnish with the cucumbers and scallions and a small container of hoisin sauce. Wrap the duck in the pancake with the vegetables and the sauce and enjoy.

Note: This method of beer can duck is adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. The beer has no effect on the flavor but it works to keep the duck upright. The advantage of cooking this way is to make the skin very crisp and drain away most of the fat. Using the same recipe with a conventional poultry V-rack also works fine.

Homemade Marshmallows with Caramel Sauce
The day before, place 3 packages of unflavored gelatin in the bowl of an electric mixer with 1/2 cup cold water.

As that rests, heat 1/2 cup water, 1 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cover and cook over high heat for 4 minutes, then lower the heat a little and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 8 minutes. (A candy thermometer should read 240 degrees.)

Turn the mixer on slow speed with the whisk attachment and gradually pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture. Increase the speed to high and whip the mixture for 15 minutes. It will become very thick and lukewarm. Near the end of mixing, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Spray a 13-by-9-inch pan with no-stick. Combine 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar with 1/4 cup cornstarch. Cover the bottom of the pan with this mixture, reserving some of it for the top.

Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan and dust with the cornstarch mixture. Let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature overnight.

The next day, cut the marshmallows into squares and dust them with a little more cornstarch mixture to prevent sticking together.

For the caramel sauce, combine 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup light corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil without stirring and cook for 8 minutes until it develops a light straw color. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until it darkens in color, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Serve over the marshmallows. (This will provide a sugar fix for both kids and adults.)

John Ross