Angels vs demons in the kitchen
Chef Mandi Mimms gives us a play-by-play of her “naughty” recipe — video by Brigitte Bouvier
Armed with traditional Christmas ingredients, two restaurants face off to produce one naughty dish and one nice. Can a healthy meal be as tasty as a decadent one?
Photographs by Cole Burston
In an alleyway behind Back Lane Café, a narrow space strewn with parked cars, hardwood for a pizza oven, refuse bins and the occasional inquisitive cat, pastry chef Quinn Davis tugs on a cigarette as he and executive chef Michael Hay ponder the nuances of naughty and nice.
Of course, we all have our angelic side: Some people hold the door open for others; on a really good day they may not walk against a red light.
But when it comes to food, Davis, who is only 25 years old, considers himself mostly naughty, while for this assignment, the older and wiser Hay, 27, assumes the mantle of nice. With all its fat and decadence, naughty food most often tastes better than the low-cal stuff, yet in the right hands, healthy choices can be made tasty, too. It just takes a little more effort.
“I would definitely be a naughty person,” Quinn decides, dragging on his smoke.
“I enjoy real gluttony in life, in everything.”
No surprise, then, the boys at Back Lane (who put this together for us before Davis moved to Toronto in search of new adventures in November) seemed a perfect kitchen duo to explore the nuances of healthy versus indulgent in this culinary assignment when they were asked to create something naughty and something nice.
Joining them in the mission across town at Bistrofiftyfour at Amberwood Golf and Country Club in Stittsville, chef and co-owner Mandi Mimms, 26, accepts both sides of the challenge, offering two recipes — one healthy and the other somewhat less so.
In all cases, chefs were asked to work with duck and aromatics, such as cloves or cinnamon, to toast the wintery holiday season soon upon us. Beyond that, they were left to their own creativity.
“I wanted to make my nice version healthy,” Mimms says, “which is a challenge because duck is so, ah, fatty.
“So, for me duck confit cooked in fat was out of the question. It was fun to make cinnamon a focal point, where normally it isn’t, so I decided to use cinnamon sticks to smoke the duck. If you’re going to do duck, this is about as good for you as it gets.”
Hay, on the other hand, opted for low-fat consommé in his nod to good health. “Consommé is nice because it’s the essence of purity,” Hay says.
“It’s like soup nirvana because you’re removing all the detritus, getting rid of everything except the truth, right? You’ve got nothing but clarity.”
As for Davis: On cue, he combined virtually every naughty ingredient he could imagine in his foie gras-frosted doughnuts served with home-made beery ice cream, featuring eggs, gobs of butter, whisky, sugar and, yes, even tobacco, to infuse the ridiculously rich sabayon sauce.
Among these deadly sins, he’s even got pride covered. It’s so darned delicious, he beams.
“When I thought of duck, I immediately came up with foie gras, so I incorporated that into my dish by making a foie-sting doughnut,” Davis laughs. “It’s basically just sugar and fat, so it doesn’t get much better than that.
“Then I tried to add as much booze as I could. You’ve got alcohol, tobacco, fat, and pretty much all the ingredients that kill people. Ha, ha. It’s murderous. It’s the best foie gras doughnut in town, so that’s my pride talking. Someone else could come up with one, but it wouldn’t be as good.”
Although his lengthy recipe appears intimidating, Davis insists an “ambitious” cook could make it at home. In this case, however, we broke out various elements so the foie gras frosting, beer ice cream, cranberry compote and even the dough can be made a day ahead. Even then, more tentative cooks may substitute quality chocolate-chip ice cream from the store, and leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce from the fridge.
As for the foie gras itself, Davis suggests searing it very briefly on a hot skillet, then removing it immediately to avoid overcooking — even a few seconds too long on high heat will render the fat to an icky yellow puddle, leaving behind a shrivelled sliver of liver with the texture of beef jerky.
Again on the naughty agenda, Mimms says she took pains to create a duck dish that’s “horrendously unhealthy.”
“I like the idea of using pink banana squash, which you may find at some farmers’ markets, or you can substitute acorn squash,” she suggests.
“I think the butterscotch sauce is hilarious: it’s something I associate with the holidays. And butterscotch is not exactly health food.
“I also wanted spicy notes in the dish, so that’s the chili pepper in the potato shot-glass soup. And, rather than do something with alcohol, I chose spice and butter, so in this dish, it’s all cream, butter and flavour.”
Over on the side of angels, Hay says he was immediately confronted with the problem of “getting rid of all that unhealthy duck fat.”
“So I gave all the fat to Quinn. What I got was a consommé, lovingly skimmed so there’s nothing left but the essence. And it’s frugal.”
Given the choice, Mimms says she’d be hard-pressed to choose between extremes. “I definitely had more fun with the naughty dish, which I think is what people like.
“When I came to Amberwood in the spring, I expected our golfing clientele would be looking for low-fat, healthy dishes, but I quickly discovered a lot of people value flavour over low-cal. So we use butter and brie — brie cheese is a huge seller here on our pizzas, in omelets. We sell lots of smoked meat, fries, gravy. And we use a lot of dessert sauces.
“The fact is, people want to treat themselves. Even at home, when folks come over, I don’t make rabbit food. They want big taste, and we all know fat is flavour.”
Chalk one up for the naughty side.
Very Nice Duck Consommé
Michael Hay, executive chef, Back Lane Café
For the consommé base:
5 pounds (2.25 kg) duck carcasses, cut/broken to 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
2 tablespoons (25 mL) rendered duck fat (from a butcher)
2 cups (500 mL) onion, sliced
1 cup (250 mL) carrots, diced
1/4 cup (50 mL) garlic, minced
1 cup (250 mL) celery, diced
1 cup (250 mL) leeks, white part only, diced
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons (25 mL) tomato paste
1 cup (250 mL) dry shiitake mushrooms
12 Szechuan (or other) peppercorns
4 whole star anise
10 cups (2.5 L) chicken stock
To clarify the consommé:
4 egg whites
1/2 cup (125 mL) ground chicken breast
1 cup (250 mL) mirepoix, small dice (mixture onion, carrot, celery)
1 teaspoon (5 mL) rice vinegar
Dark soy sauce, season to taste
Fresh shemiji mushrooms, sliced green onions and diced soft tofu
1. For the base consommé, preheat oven to 375˚F (190˚C). In a shallow pan, with edges to prevent spills, roast duck bones in a single layer until golden brown, about 1 hour, turning bones every 15 minutes to ensure even browning.
2. Melt duck fat in 4-quart (4-L) stock pot on medium heat and add onion, carrots, garlic, celery, leeks and ginger; sauté until they caramelize to golden colour, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and sauté another 5 minutes, then add dried mushrooms.
3. Make a sachet by wrapping peppercorns and anise in a double-thickness of cheesecloth, tying end with butcher twine to secure, and add to pot. Cover with chicken stock and bring to low simmer over medium heat, skimming constantly to remove impurities that float to the surface.
4. Reduce liquid to 6 cups (1.5 L), skimming frequently over 5 hours to remove fat and impurities, then strain through a fine sieve or chinoise.
5. To finish the consommé, in a separate bowl, whisk together egg whites, ground chicken, mirepoix and vinegar to combine well. Add this mixture to reduced stock and whisk thoroughly.
6. Gradually increase heat, removing whisk. Do not disturb as the egg white mixture forms a “raft” on the top that removes impurities. Keep consommé at a gentle heat; raft will fully form in about 30 minutes.
7. Create a small hole in the centre of the egg white raft using a small ladle; liquid under raft should be completely clear. Ladle out clear liquid through the hole, discard the raft, and filter consommé through triple-layer of cheesecloth or coffee filter. Season to taste with dark soy sauce.
8. To serve, reheat, ladle into bowls and garnish with shemiji mushrooms, green onions and soft tofu.
Very Naughty Foie Gras-Frosted Doughnuts with Tobacco Sabayon
Chef Quinn Davis, Back Lane Café
Makes about 6 doughnuts
This recipe has been simplified and broken into components, many of which can be made the day before. For simplicity, you may substitute quality ice cream in place of the pumpkin ale ice cream, and homemade cranberry sauce spiced with powdered cayenne pepper, to taste, instead of the cranberry compote.
For the brioche dough (make day before):
1 1/2 tablespoons (22 mL) honey
1/2 cup (125 mL) warm milk
1 teaspoon (5 mL) fast-rising granulated yeast
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 mL) duck fat, cool and cut into cubes, or substitute bacon drippings
For the pumpkin ale ice cream (make day before):
2 cups (500 mL) sugar, divided
3 cups (750 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream
9 egg yolks
2 1/3 cups (575 mL) Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
2 cups (500 mL) shaved chocolate
For the spiced cranberry compote (make day before):
5 1/4 ounces (150 g) peeled Granny Smith apples, diced small (about 2 apples)
7 ounces (200 g) cranberries (1/2 package)
1 2/3 cups (400 mL) sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground nutmeg
1 lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
2 bird’s-eye chilis, or substitute 1/2 habanero, not chopped
For the frosting (make day before):
3 1/2 ounces (100 g) foie gras
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar, divided
1/3 cup (75 mL) water
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon (5 mL) cream of tartar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
For the sabayon (make same day):
1/3 cup (75 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream
1 tablespoon (15 mL) tobacco, from a cigar (not cigarette)
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 mL) demerara, or brown sugar
2 tablespoons (25 mL) lemon juice
4 dashes cherry bitters (at better grocery stores or gourmet food shops)
2 tablespoons (25 mL) whisky
For cinnamon sugar:
1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground cinnamon
To make brioche dough for doughnuts:
1. In a stand mixer bowl, dissolve honey in warm milk. Add yeast, 2 1/4 cups (550 mL) flour, salt, and knead on medium speed using dough hook until dough comes together. Add butter and duck fat, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time, while mixing; mix 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time with motor running; beat to make a soft and sticky dough. Continue until dough is shiny and elastic and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, adding reserved flour as necessary.
2. Set aside 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the ice cream:
1. In a large saucepan, combine half the sugar with the cream and bring just to simmer. In a mixing bowl, beat remaining sugar with egg yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly stream hot cream into the yolk mixture. Slowly heat cream-yolk mixture in a stainless steel bowl resting on a saucepan of simmering water (double boiler), stirring until mix thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and refrigerate.
2. When cooled, whisk in pumpkin ale, salt; set aside 1 hour in the fridge, then churn the custard mixture in a household ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions, adding shaved chocolate halfway through the process. Freeze until needed.
To make the cranberry compote:
1. In a large sauté pan, place diced apples and cranberries in a preheated oven at 350˚F (180˚C) until soft, about 30 minutes.
2. Put sugar in a large saucepan, and just barely cover with water. On medium-high heat, cook to caramelize to golden colour, until it reaches 300˚F (150˚C).
3. Remove apples-cranberries from oven. Reduce stovetop heat to low and carefully spoon fruit into caramelized sugar; mix to incorporate well. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, vanilla, salt, chili pepper; cook about 15 minutes on low, then remove from heat. Discard chili pepper, allow to cool and store in refrigerator, covered, until needed.
To make frosting:
1. In a heavy frypan, on high heat, quickly sear foie gras 30 seconds each side, then immediately transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl to stop cooking. Mash the foie gras well with rendered fat from fry pan until very smooth; set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water on medium heat; mix to dissolve, raising temperature to 245˚F (118˚C).
3. As it warms, in another bowl using an electric hand beater, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form, about 1 or 2 minutes.
4. Slowly pour hot syrup into the egg mixture with electric beater running on high. Slowly beat in foie gras mixture, add vanilla extract and beat to combine; cool, then cover and refrigerate until needed.
For the tobacco sabayon:
1. In a small saucepan, gently heat cream until steaming, but not boiled; add tobacco and let steep until cool, then strain out and discard tobacco particles.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized stainless steel mixing bowl, whip egg yolks until light and fluffy, then set on top of another saucepan (double boiler) with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of simmering water to heat gently. Stir in brown sugar, lemon juice, cherry bitters, whisky and tobacco-infused cream. Continue whipping in bowl over simmering water until mixture reaches 170˚F (77˚C) — mixture should have tripled in volume.
3. Remove from heat source, transfer to a sink with 1 inch (2.5 cm) cold water, and continue whipping as it cools in the stainless steel bowl; set aside.
To make doughnuts:
1. Roll brioche dough on a lightly floured surface to 3/4-inch (2-cm) thickness, then cut into rounds about 3 1/2 to 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter using the rim of a small soup bowl. Cut out doughnut holes in centre using the rim of a shot glass or other small cutter. Transfer doughnuts to wax paper-lined sheet, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rise at room temperature to double in thickness, about 1 hour.
2. Using a deep-fryer appliance or large heavy pot with 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) of vegetable oil, heat oil to 400˚F (200˚C) and gently place doughnuts in oil to fry to golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to cooling rack for 30 seconds.
3. Combine cinnamon sugar ingredients well and dust doughnuts.
1. Remove frosting from refrigerator about 1 hour before using. With a spatula, frost doughnuts while still warm from frying.
2. To plate, spoon sabayon sauce on each plate (1 plate per doughnut). Place doughnut on sabayon, then spoon ice cream in hole topped with cranberry compote. (Or, spoon compote in hole with ice cream on top, as you prefer.)
Oh-So-Nice: Smoked Duck with Garlic and Cranberry Terrine, Squash and Wilted Spinach
Chef Mandi Mimms, Bistrofiftyfour at Amberwood
For the terrine:
1/2 cup (125 mL) sweetened cranberry juice
1/4 cup (50 mL) orange juice
1 cup (250 mL) whole cranberries, halved
1 large bulb garlic, chopped fine
1 packet (1 tablespoon/15 mL) powdered gelatin
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole pecans, shelled
For the duck:
2 duck legs, thigh attached
2 teaspoons (10 mL) kosher salt
1 teaspoon (5 mL) black peppercorns, cracked
1 cup (250 mL) hickory wood chips, soaked overnight
5 sticks cinnamon, smashed
For the vegetables:
1 sugarloaf squash (or acorn squash) about 3 inches (7 cm) in diameter and 6 inches (15 cm) long
2 tablespoons (25 mL) olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
2 cups (1 L) baby spinach leaves
1. Prepare terrine ahead by simmering cranberry and orange juices, berries and garlic in 2-quart (2-L) saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then sprinkle powdered gelatin over top, stirring to dissolve. Pour into small loaf pan lined with plastic food wrap and set in refrigerator 10 minutes, then sprinkle top with pecans. Refrigerate up to a day ahead, covered, until needed.
2. For the duck, rub legs with salt, pepper. If you don’t have a smoker, create a smoking pouch by enclosing hickory chips and cinnamon sticks in triple-thickness of aluminum foil, perforated with a paring knife to allow smoke to escape.
3. Use a smoker to smoke duck at 225˚F (107˚C) about 20 minutes; if using gas grill, place wood-foil packet on lit side of gas grill and duck on grate above non-lit side to smoke over indirect heat. Transfer duck to preheated oven at 375˚F (190˚C) another 10 minutes to medium doneness. Meat will still be a bit pink inside. Temperature of meat should be 165˚F (74˚C).
4. For the vegetables, peel squash, remove core/seeds and slice into french-fry matchsticks, then toss with olive oil. Grill on each side on high heat about 1 minute.
5. Just before serving, heat fry pan with a little olive oil and wine and sauté spinach on high heat until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes.
6. To serve, divide spinach between 2 plates and place in centre of each. Stack squash sticks to one side, then lean duck against spinach, and sliced terrine on opposite side of duck.
The Naughty Side, Duo Duck with Butterscotch, Lime Fizz, Squash Purée and Potato Shot
Chef Mandi Mimms, Bistrofiftyfour at Amberwood
For the duck:
2 duck breasts
2 tablespoons (25 mL) kosher salt
2 tablespoons (25 mL) black peppercorns, cracked
2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons (10 mL) allspice 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cloves
2 duck sausages
For the butterscotch:
2 cups (500 mL) sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice
1/4 cup (50 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream
3 large spoonfuls (40 mL) bacon drippings
For fizz garnish:
2 teaspoons (10 mL) lime zest
2 teaspoons (10 mL) fresh mint, very finely chopped
1 packet pop rocks candy (about 2 tablespoons/25 mL)
For the vegetables:
1 pink banana squash, about 2 1/2 lbs (1.1 kg), diced 1-inch (2.5-cm), or substitute acorn squash
1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream
1/2 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped fine
Duck fat, reserved from frying
For the potato shot soup:
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced leek, white part only
2 teaspoons (10 mL) fresh sage, chopped
1 cherry bomb chili pepper, chopped fine (may substitute jalapeno)
2 large russet (baking) potatoes, peeled, boiled to tender and mashed well
1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream
1. For the duck breast, using sharp paring knife, cross-hatch fat (without penetrating meat). In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice and cloves and rub breasts well in mixture. Cover and cure overnight in refrigerator, or minimum 3 hours.
2. Preheat heavy frypan on medium burner and, with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of vegetable oil, place breast fat-side down to sear; cook to render fat and crispen skin, about 7 minutes, then transfer to oven-safe dish and bake with sausages at 350˚F (180˚C) about 7 minutes. Reserve duck fat. Remove duck, transfer duck to plate and tent with foil while sausage bakes an additional 5 minutes until done, internal temperature 165˚F (74˚C).
3. For the duck butterscotch, in a saucepan add sugar, water and lemon juice on medium heat. Simmer about 10 minutes to caramelize to a dark brown colour, but not black. Remove from heat, then quickly whisk in cream and bacon drippings, being careful not to splatter — because it is hot!
4. For the fizz, in a small airtight container with lid, combine lime zest, mint and pop rocks. Set aside with lid on for an hour to infuse flavours.
5. To make squash purée, roast squash cubes in preheated oven at 350˚F (180˚C) about 15 minutes, or until tender. While still hot, transfer to large mixing bowl and whip with cream, thyme and rendered duck fat from breast.
6. To make the spicy potato shot, in a frypan with a little butter, sauté leek, sage; when softened, add finely chopped chili pepper, to taste, and sauté until well caramelized and golden in colour, then add potato and whisk in cream to soupy consistency.
7. To plate, use a rectangular plate and spoon squash purée at one end and in the centre of the plate. On opposite end, place potato soup in shot glass. Place duck breast in the centre, on top of the squash, and place the sausage on the breast. Spoon butterscotch sauce on sausage and breast, then pop rock mixture as garnish around perimeter.