Cookbooks aren't just vessels of cooking know-how. More and more, they mythologize their authors, or perhaps more accurately consecrate the mythologizing process the Internet has already sent into full swing. Marcella Hazan is a mythological character in Italian cooking because her knowledge is boundless and her tone authoritarian to the point of belligerence. The young chefs who, a couple of years after winning national awards, release gorgeous, dense volumes on Ten Speed Press care as much about celebrating their much-documented narratives of pluck and luck as teaching us how to cook like them.
That's a good thing.
Just as Mission Street Food acted as a sort of manifesto for the establishment of a DIY cart-to-Commonwealth behemoth, and Ed Lee's recent book used recipes to plot Lee's bourbon-and-soy-soaked passage from New York to Kentucky, the new Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird sells the power of place. Not in the sense that it calls attention to the Pacific Northwestern bounty, which it does in multitudes — from musty chanterelles to shimmering sides of salmon. On sale Sept. 17, Le Pigeon celebrates the city, Portland — where polymath kook investors, cheese nerds, wine guys, madcap mushroom hunters and skater savants comfortably pool their talents and wing it.
And Le Pigeon's Portlandia is not a place where the waiter saunters over to tell you the name of your pampered chicken. In case the name didn't tip you off, Le Pigeon doesn't do much in the way of chicken. Instead, there's guinea fowl, quail, pheasant, the namesake bird and nine rabbit preparations. The restaurant Le Pigeon serves technique-driven fare that toys with a diner's notion of high and low cuisines — duck confit “nuggets,” Buffalo sweetbreads, a lamb belly BLT, a toasted foie gras-and-jelly sandwich. The wine list is smart and unpretentious. In the book, recipe sections are tastefully intercut with brief essays chronicling the restaurant's five-year ascent and introducing the people who power Le Pigeon.
The photos are what you'd expect: really beautiful pictures of piles of proteins slaked with vivid sauces and verdant tangles of greens, the odd mist-kissed landscape, and plenty of tattoos adorning the arms of busy cooks.
Unlike many cookbooks that peddle mythologies, Le Pigeon doesn't diverge much from the food. The thesis is strung around the recipes, which offer even a pedestrian home cook lots of intriguing preparation ideas. The potato-crusted sea bass calls for instant mashed potatoes to easily achieve the desired crust. Swordfish steaks are larded with boquerones. Often ingredients are so thoroughly woven throughout the fabric of a dish — duck breast with cheese pierogies double-stuffed with duck confit, for instance — that the effect comes across as excessive and telegraphed. As you clutch your number at the meat counter, you might wonder: Is the double dose of duck really necessary?
Yet, if you've eaten at Le Pigeon, you know that sometimes more is more. Especially beguiling — ironically, considering the dozens of recipes dedicated to tripe, tongue and other dirty bits — are the vegetable dishes, including a tomato tart with an egg salad and bread pudding with fennel puree. You could do a whole Thanksgiving of these and your guests would melt into rivers of Velveeta. That's a metaphor that might please the brains behind this book as well as those inclined to cook from it.
Read on for a recipe.
DUCK, DUCK, PIGEON
Duck confit salad, duck liver vinaigrette, and pan-roasted squab–or, as we say, Duck, Duck, Pigeon. It's all in the title. (Serves 4)
Duck Liver Vinaigrette
1⁄2 cup (125 ml) plus 1 tablespoon neutral oil
4 good-sized duck livers, about 4 ounces (130 g) each
1⁄4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) Champagne vinegar
2 pigeons, cleaned and halved, backbone removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons neutral oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups (120 g) frisée
1 cup (200 g) seedless red grapes
1⁄4 cup (55 g) roasted walnuts
1⁄4 cup (10 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chives, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) lengths
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
1⁄2 cup (45 g) shredded Duck Confit (use your favorite recipe)
Maldon flake salt
Good-quality balsamic vinegar for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. To make the vinaigrette, heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season the duck livers liberally with salt and add to the pan. Be careful, as they are likely to spit at you. Sear for about 1 minute and turn over; you want to keep them medium-rare, because there's nothing worse than overcooked livers, which become grainy and have an overwhelming iron flavor, like biting into a rusty pipe. Remove the livers from the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Add the butter, shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the shallot is soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the champagne vinegar.
3. Transfer the liver mixture to a blender and puree, adding the remaining ½ cup (125 ml) oil in a thin, steady stream; the protein in the liver provides the base for the emulsion in this recipe. Hit it with a good squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt. Check the consistency and add water if needed; it should be the consistency of a nice, thick salad dressing. Set aside until you're ready to finish the dish. It will last 5 days in the fridge, although it will firm up when cold, so take it out at least 2 hours before you use it.
4. To make the pigeon, season the pigeon halves with salt and pepper. In a heavy sauté pan over high heat, heat the oil. Once the oil is just at the smoking point, add the pigeons, skin side down, and sear until the skin is browned, about 2 minutes. Turn the birds over and add the garlic, thyme, and pat of butter. Tilt the pan back toward you and, using a spoon, continuously baste with the butter, which should be nice and foamy, for another minute. Place the pan in the oven and cook until a meat thermometer reads 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare, another 4 to 5 minutes. You don't want to overcook the pigeons or they will taste livery, and I don't mean in a good way. The ideal internal temperature of pigeon is 140°F (60°C). Remove from the oven, transfer the pigeons to a plate, and let rest while you assemble the salad.
5. To make the salad, toss the frisée, grapes, walnuts, parsley, chives, and tarragon together. Toss in the duck confit and season to taste with Maldon salt. Dress the salad with 3 tablespoons of the duck liver vinaigrette. Give a squeeze of lemon and divide the salad between four plates. Arrange a pigeon half next to the salad and drizzle some more vinaigrette on top. Finish with a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Le Pigeon by Gabriel Rucker & Meredith Erickson, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House Inc.
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