Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Qing wha'? Qing Hua! 2nd rev. ed.

qing hua 1 fig. a: the remains of the soup

"Soupes raviolis."

Yes, that's what the window reads: soupes raviolis. We'd seen the sign before, but didn't realize soupes raviolis = dumpling heaven.

Qing Hua is a tiny little shopfront establishment that sits in the basement of a building at the corner of St-Marc and Tupper. There's seating for maybe 20. The menu consists entirely of three options: dumplings, salads, and soups. The dumplings make up about 90% of the menu and are the star attraction. To emphasize this point a bilingual placard on the wall explains in just a few short words the long and glorious history of the Chinese dumpling.

more qing hua fig. b: 1400 years' history

Dumpling options are broken down into three categories: vegetarian/seafood, seafood/seafood with meat, and pork/beef/lamb. Orders range in price from $6.49 to $13.99 and contain about 18-20 dumplings (we didn't bother counting because, frankly, we just couldn't wait to dig in). We'd been told that an order of the beef noodle soup with fresh, hand-pulled noodles was a must, but apparently the folks at Qing Hua won't be offering the beef noodle soup for about a month, because the chef suffered a noodle-related injury (we didn't ask too many questions). So we went with the wonton soup instead, and it was a stunner. You see, it's all about the dumplings, and at Qing Hua every single dumpling is made to order. When our orders of freshly steamed pork & cabbage and pork & shrimp dumplings arrived we nearly cried. Our favorites were the shrimp & pork dumplings--each of them contained a whole shrimp, and they were a little brothier than their siblings. We recommend having them with the Chinkiang vinegar and a few droplets of the chili oil from the fixin's bar.

qing hua 2 fig. c: the menu

Afterwards, we noticed a FOR RENT sign in a window just down the street. It was only a 3 1/2--probably a little tight for the two of us plus our two beloved cats--but we looked at one another and said the exact same thing: "We could get take-out! All the time!"

Qing Hua Dumpling, 1240 St-Marc, (438) 288-5366

Note: Qing Hua has moved. They're now at 1676 Lincoln Ave. (near Guy). The phone # remains the same. So does the quality. They're just as good as ever.

sugar shock 2

sugar shack map fig. a: actual map used to get to PDC Sugar Shack

By now, if you've been keeping up with the sugar shacking scene here in Quebec, as I'm sure you have been, the basic outline of this story is probably familiar to you:

1. Earlier this year, Martin Picard & the rest of the gang at Montreal's Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon took the next logical step in their 10-year plan and bought a nice chunk of land outside of Mirabel that came complete with an extensive sugar bush and a sugar shack.
2. There they went ahead and opened their latest venture, Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon.
3. In typical fashion, they took the classic cabane à sucre menu, and turned it on its porky little ear.
4. Crowds have come flocking and Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, which was originally meant to be something of a lark, a respite for Au Pied de Cochon's weary équipe and their loved ones, has been fully booked for weeks now.

Sensing that Quebec was more than ready for an upstart sugar shack (we certainly were), "...an endless banquet" went ahead and made a reservation for opening night, way back in March. The thing is, opening night got bumped. That's right, a couple of days before we got a polite phone call informing us that they'd had to roll back the opening by a night, and, unfortunately, the next night was out of the question for us. And by the time we got around to calling back and trying to rebook, they were totally complet--right into May. So we put ourselves on the waiting list and said our prayers.

And--wouldn't you know it--a few weeks later we actually got a call back. Some poor suckers had bowed out and suddenly we found ourselves with a reservation for three at the bar, which just happens to be our preferred way of dining at Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon.

From the moment we got to Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon's location in St-Benoît de Mirabel, we loved the look of the place. No sleigh rides, no petting zoo, no period costumes, and, this being a rather balmy late-April evening, no snow. Just a simple sugar shack, a street hockey court, and some tractors.

hockey night in canada fig. b: Hockey Night in Canada

And this ain't no vanity project either. Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon is an honest-to-goodness sugar shack sitting on a heavily forested parcel of land. Why buy gallons and gallons of maple syrup if you can make almost 550 gallons of your own? Why buy firewood for your famous wood-burning oven if you can chop your own? And wouldn't it be nice to raise 50 free-range pigs that actually lived free-range lives? Yes, it would. That's the idea, anyway. In the meantime, the team at Au Pied de Cochon has a big ole wood-burning evaporator, and they know how to use it.

the evaporator fig. c: the evaporator

And the food? Well, the rumors are true. The meal is stupendous. Three massive courses, and all three are totally mental. Three and a half, if you order an extra tourtière with real ketchup aux fruits, and our advice to you is that you'd be a fool to miss out.


1. omelet with scallops and sea bass
2. tourtière with real ketchup aux fruits
3. buckwheat ployes with cretons and house-cured gravlax
4. salad with oreilles de crisse, ham, hazelnuts and a mustard vinaigrette
5. tempura-fried lobster maki with foie gras
6. maple-glazed magret de canard with a luscious polenta and brussels sprouts
7. and the house banana split with maple barbe à papa, maple sponge toffee, maple-glazed peanuts, and maple ice cream was certainly the most dramatic of the three (!) desserts, but our favorite was the somewhat more subdued maple baked Alaska.

And that's only about 60% of the set menu. And that's their toned-down menu. They started off serving five totally mental courses (!).

Like I said, the rumors are true. This time the sugar shock lasted two days.

Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, 11382 rang de la Fresnière, St-Benoît de Mirabel, (450) 258-1732

prices are $45 for adults, $15 for kids under the age of 12, and little piggies under the age of 2 EAT FREE.


Monday, April 20, 2009

coming home

coming home fig. a: "Coming Home" at home

If all of our unbridled enthusiasm for Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors has managed to get you intrigued about Nguyen's book, but you still haven't gotten around to purchasing your own copy (we can't post every one of her recipes), and you're not a subscriber to Saveur, you might want to visit your local newsstand and shell out for this month's issue (May 2009). You see, one of the features is an amazingly evocative article by Nguyen called "Coming Home"--an account of her return to Saigon/Hô Chí Minh City with two of her sisters--and it comes with six recipes, a guide to shopping for Vietnamese specialty items, and a guide to Vietnamese herbs.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

fringe festival 2: Falafel Freiha

Fringe festival: a continuing series covering deliciousness on the edge of town.


Both of us are huge fans of the falafel sandwich and of falafel more generally, and we have been for years and years, but we'd more or less given up on Montreal falafel. So, about a year ago, when our friend Adam told us about an earthly falafel paradise hidden somewhere in Laval, we sat up and took notice. The thing is, that was all he told us. He didn't tell us the name, and he didn't tell us what its precise location was. Fearing we'd use "...an endless banquet" to go public with the information, thereby unleashing the colossal communications potential of the Information Superhighway and blowing a scoop, he merely teased us with the notion that the real deal might be hiding somewhere in the hinterlands. The Geneva Conventions have been invoked over less.

It took some work, but finally, a few weeks ago, we managed to convince Adam to take us to the promised land (those pesky Chowhounders had long since discovered Adam's precious find, so he was a little more willing to dish). And as we weaved our way up towards Rivière des Prairies and Laval, Adam briefed us:

AG: So, guys, here's the deal: Falafel Freiha is a hole-in-the-wall serving one dish only.

AEB: Falafel, right?

AG: Wrong. The best falafel you've ever tasted.

AEB: (Hmm... We've had some pretty fine falafel during the course of our journeys: San Francisco, Berlin, Köln, London, Paris...) Yeah?

AG: I'm serious. The owners are artists, their sandwich a story. It unfolds with a narrative arc...

I can't really remember the rest word-for-word. Frankly, all his talk about falafel and artistry--of an "erotics" of falafel--had me a little distracted. I just remember thinking that Adam had given this place a lot of thought, and that I was really, really hungry.

And? The verdict?

Well, all I can tell you is that if Falafel Freiha's house sandwich is a story, it's a short story, because it sure didn't last long. My sandwich was fresh, it was made with love, and it was generous, and, quite simply, I devoured it. We all did. One after another.

Actually, the shop itself is a pretty interesting story. The husband and wife team that operates Falafel Freiha comes from a family that has been a major name in falafel in Beirut for decades. They came to Laval seven years ago, promptly established their falafel shop, and have been doing the Freiha name proud ever since. The shop was busy, busy, busy, but they're not in it for the money, or so we were told. No way. It's all for the glory of falafel. Real falafel.

Sitting out in front of Falafel Freiha, eating our full loaded sandwiches (tomatoes, pickles, herbs, tarator sauce) in the bright spring sun, it was hard not to believe them.

Falafel Freiha, 3858 Blvd. Perron (corner of Curé Labelle), Laval, QC, (450) 686-2446


Friday, April 10, 2009

sugar shock

Sure, there were inevitable effects of consuming roughly a gallon of maple syrup and maple syrup products (from fèves au lard, to tire d'érable, to roughly eight cups of maple syrup-sweetened coffee), but the real shock came from finding ourselves at a sugar shack that actually serves good food in a low-key, honest-to-goodness, relatively kitsch-free atmosphere.

For a couple of years now, we'd been hearing that Rigaud's Sucrerie de la Montagne was a cut above. An enthusiastic review in The New York Times earlier this year seemed to confirm these reports. So we rounded up a gang of sugar-shack seekers and checked things out for ourselves. And, I have to say, we were impressed. The meal wasn't absolutely perfect--we had quibbles with the quality of the ham, the pie crust used for both the tourtière and the tarte au sucre, etc., and we still believe that if you want a truly exceptional sugar shack meal, DIY is the way to go*--but it was much better than average, they served some ultra-traditional dishes that I hadn't seen at sugar shacks before (like ragoût de boulettes), and the overall experience (location, aura, music, service, ambiance) was the best we've encountered, and that's something that's hard to duplicate at home.

In brief:

We liked the look of the place from the moment we set eyes on it.

barn fig. a: barn

Sucrerie de la Montagne is so close to Montreal, too. You barely leave the island and you're already there. It's possibly even a little too close. Rang St-Georges is pretty developed. But turn in to Sucrerie de la Montagne's parking lot, and suddenly the modern world fades into the distance a little.

horses & cart fig. b: cart & horses

It was almost worth going for the cart ride alone. The cart driver was a true prince. Great personality and a beautiful accent.

Michelle felt a little sorry for the horses, though, because of the way they got stuck with their hooves in a puddle while I took a picture of them. She decided to join them, in a show of solidarity. So I took a picture of her, too.

michelle fig. c: Michelle

Sucrerie de la Montagne doubles as an auberge--they've got a couple of rustic cabins that you can rent out all year long--at pretty reasonable rates, too. We've already made tentative plans to return mid-winter next year. Do a little snowshoeing, read some books by the fireplace, and emerge every now and then to eat a hearty québécois meal--who can argue with that? All of the accommodations were nice, but this cabin was our favorite.

cabin fig. d: cabin

Sucrerie de la Montagne is a fairly old-school sucrerie. The evaporator was running on firewood, and when you headed into the woods, it was sap buckets as far as the eye could see, not that space-age plastic tubing you see at most sucreries these days.

woods fig. e: sugar bush & sap buckets

We were happy to see that the buckets were from our friends at D & G.

D & G fig. f: bucket by D & G

Inside, the vibe was vintage, through and through.

horse & sleigh fig. g: horse & sleigh

The sucrerie itself was a grand old structure, with one main dining hall, and one set of smaller dining rooms, each one with their own band. Our party of nine got seated at a long table in the main dining hall, and not long afterwards the first course (pea soup) was served, the band (Les Cornus) got fired up, the kids started dancing, and the next thing we knew, we were off.

grub fig. h: the spread

Sugaring-off season is short, so if you'd like to take in a traditional sugar shack meal at Sucrerie de la Montagne, you gotta act fast.

Sucrerie de la Montagne, 300 Rang St-Georges, Rigaud, QC, (450) 451-0831


* Then again, we haven't tried Au Pied de Cochon's brand-new sugar shack yet, but we've heard nothing but raves. We're slated to go later this month, before the season is over. You can expect a full report.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

In the Mood for Rice

in the mood for rice fig. a: the rice cooker is unveiled

The premise:

In some ways, our whole month could have been inspired by this scene from Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love. It's 1962 and Mrs. Chan's (Maggie Cheung) imported electric rice cooker (from Japan, of course) causes quite a stir--no one in their Hong Kong apartment complex has ever seen anything like it. The rice cooker is a vision of modernity--one of many--but like every other such vision in Wong's film, it's an ambivalent one. It's tied to both romance and heartbreak. At this point in the film, however, the rice cooker is still simply an innocent novelty, and it generates a considerable amount of excitement and enthusiasm.

At the beginning of March, we took a pledge that had a lot to do with the excitement generated by our own newly acquired rice cooker: all-Asian, all month. Most of the month was spent trying out Far East Asian recipes (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), but we also made a whole lot of Southeast Asian food (mostly Vietnamese), and towards the end of the month we began to steer things towards South Asian cuisine (especially Indian). A few of these dishes were noodle-based (like Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow [Tony Leung], the two of us are both serious noodle lovers), but for the most part, because of the rice cooker, these meals were rice-based. As the month proceeded, we began to lovingly refer to the experiment as March Madness.

lavers x 2 fig. b: lavers!

The pitch:

Michelle was seriously psyched (maybe even hyped) about the prospect of an Asian banquet for her birthday, one that she was sure would be the crowning achievement of March Madness. She loved the idea of a big spread with lots of rice fresh from our rice cooker, lots of side dishes and condiments, and seasoned lavers to pick everything up with. She also liked the idea of people milling about and mingling, instead of our usual sit-down affairs. But when I asked her if she had any special requests, she said she wanted to build the party around some kind of activity. At first I thought she was just being difficult, but then it dawned on me...

What if we threw a big Asian-themed banquet at a bowling alley? We could rent a few lanes, invite about 15-20 people, haul in a big homecooked Asian spread, and plug in our rice cooker to make fresh rice. I was imagining one of those big bashes Elvis used to throw in the early days of his stardom, when he'd rent out an entire bowling alley or roller skating rink from closing hour until dawn so he could pal around with his friends--only, instead of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, there'd be things like Hawaiian-style ribs (after all, Elvis loved Hawaii, didn't he?). Anyway, we'd call the event Rice Bowl (pretty catchy, huh?) and though the sticky fingers might not make for too many perfect games, I thought it would make for an unforgettable birthday bash.

The problem:

As it turns out, no bowling alley or salon de quilles in Montreal will allow you to bring any food. Presumably because they all house concessions. Most of them won't even let you bring a birthday cake, unless it's for a kid's birthday. I begged and pleaded, but to no avail. I even laid the name of the event on them. Nada.

Then I thought, "Well, if we can't bring the spread to the bowling alley, maybe we can bring the bowling alley to the spread." So I got on the horn to see if someone had a Wii + Wii Sports (which I'd heard comes with simulation bowling) they'd be happy to loan for a good cause. I found plenty of Wiis, but no one willing/foolish enough to let us get our grubby hands all over their beloved vids.

So we scrapped the Rice Bowl concept and focused strictly on the food. Go ahead and use it, though. Seriously. If you happen to live in a town with bowling alleys that aren't so uptight about trucking in food, or if you have the moulah to rent out an entire bowling alley, Elvis-style, or if you happen to own a Wii, feel free to host your own Rice Bowl event. I mean it. It's yours.

The recipes:

The following are some of the highlights from our menu.

This is kind of a strange hybrid dish that we created, but it turned out to be one of the night's most popular dishes. The basic idea behind it--poaching the Vietnamese meatballs in soup--is a classic. Poaching them in a dashi was our idea.

Shiitake Dashi w/ Vietnamese Meatballs

For the meatballs:

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp tapioca starch
1 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp canola oil

Slice the breasts and thighs across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Keep any visible fat for richness, but trim away any cartilage or sinewy bits to make it easier to process.

Whisk together the baking powder, tapioca starch, sugar, fish sauce, and oil in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and use a rubber spatula to mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and ideally overnight. The chicken will stiffen as it sits.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and use a spoon to separate the pieces somewhat. Working in batches, grind the chicken in a food processor until a smooth, stiff, light pink paste results. (This step will take several minutes, and it'll really give your food processor a good workout.) Stop the food processor from time to time to scrape down the sides. When you are finished, there should be no visible bits of chicken and the paste should have a slight sheen to it. Using the rubber spatula, transfer each batch to another bowl.

This paste is the basis for a number of Vietnamese preparations (like sausages), but it can also be shaped into quenelle-shaped meatballs (using two spoons to shape them) and poached in soup, and that's exactly what we did.

This recipe will make an enormous number of quenelle-shaped meatballs. We made about 40-50 (roughly 3 per person) and froze the rest of the meat paste for later use.

For the soup:

16 medium dried shiitake mushrooms
4 cups water
light soy sauce

Bring water to boil in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms to the boiling water and simmer without a lid for 5-8 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and flavor to taste with salt, soy sauce, and sake.

Save the mushrooms and use them in another preparation.

Add the meatballs to the soup. When they float to the surface, let them simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked through. The meatballs will impart a subtle flavor to the broth. Adjust the seasonings and serve in bowls with one or two meatballs per bowl.

Serves 12 as an appetizer.

[recipe combines elements from recipes found in Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Soei Yanada's The Heart of Zen Cuisine]

March Madness was all about the rice, but it was also all about the Asian pickles. Along with the Carrot and Daikon Pickle featured in an earlier post, our other favorites were these two. If you have a mandolin (the kitchen tool, not the musical instrument), you're going to love this first one. (Actually you'll probably love it either way, but you'll only be able to make it if you have the kitchen tool variety.) No need to buy that weird dyed stuff at the store anymore.

Pickled Ginger

1 lb young ginger (use the freshest, most perfect ginger you can find)
2 tbsp sea salt
2 cups rice vinegar
3/4 cup sugar

Peel the ginger. Use a mandolin to slice the ginger crosswise very thin.

Place the ginger slices in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the salt. Toss with your fingers to blend well, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put a small pot of water on to boil. Rinse off the ginger with the boiling water and drain well.

Place the vinegar, sugar, and the remaining 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt in a small nonreactive pot and heat, stirring, until the sugar has entirely dissolved. Meanwhile, fill a wide-mouthed 1-quart jar with boiling water, then drain it.

Using tongs, place the ginger in the jar, then pour the hot vinegar mixture overtop. Cover tightly and let the pickled sit overnight before using. The ginger keeps, well sealed in the refrigerator, for 2 months or more.

[recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Seductions of Rice]

viet pickle 1 fig. c: Viet-style mixed vegetable pickle

Mixed Vegetable Pickle

1/4 cup salt
3 cups lukewarm water
1 large bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange), seeded and cut into strips 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/2 inches long
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matching pieces
1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
2-3 hot green chiles, chopped into thin rounds
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups cold water

Combine the salt and the lukewarm water in a large bowl and stir with your hand to dissolve. Add all the vegetables. The water should just cover them--if it doesn't, add more lukewarm water as needed. Set aside for 4-6 hours. The vegetables will soften and become slightly chewy.

Meanwhile, prepare the brine. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and cold water and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

When they're done, drain the salted vegetables, but do not rinse them. Put them in a 2- or 3-quart glass container. Pour in just enough brine to cover and discard the remainder. Cover the container and refrigerate overnight. The pickle is ready to eat the next day. It will keep well in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. After that, it will lose its edge.

[adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen]

This next recipe is unbelievably simple and remarkably satisfying. It's also 150% vegetarian.

Mushroom & Tofu Salad

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed and saved
2 small rectangles Japanese fried tofu
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sake
1/4 tsp sugar

Grill the mushrooms and tofu square directly over a gas flame or grill, turning them with tongs to ensure they are golden on all sides. OR, place on one or two small baking sheets under the broiler and broil until the mushrooms are tender and the fried tofu is touched with brown.

Slice the mushrooms into narrow strips, discarding any tough parts. Cut the tofu into strips the same length as the mushroom strips. Place in a shallow serving bowl.

In a small nonreactive saucepan, heat the soy sauce, vinegar, and sake. When they are warm, stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool slightly, then pour over the mushrooms and tofu and stir gently to coat. Sprinkle lightly with togarashi and serve.

[recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Seductions of Rice]

Hands down--no ifs, ands, or buts about it--our two most popular dishes of the evening were these next two: the spicy-sweet Hawaiian style ribs, and the Vietnamese-style glazed duck legs. Both literally vanished into thin air.

ribs & rice fig. d: ribs & rice

Hawaiian-Style Kalbi

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp Asian sesame oil
1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes
4 cloves garlic
1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 lbs pork baby back ribs
3 scallions, thinly sliced

Whisk together the brown sugar, the soy sauce, the sesame oil, the chile flakes, the garlic, the ginger, and 1/4 cup of water in a large bowl. Add the ribs and toss to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally to coat.

Heat the oven to 450º F. Remove the ribs from the marinade and arrange, curved side up, on a rack set over a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the marinade in a saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, about 20 minutes.

Using tongs, flip ribs and cook, basting frequently with the reduced marinade, until the ribs are browned, glazed, and tender, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the scallions.

[recipe from Saveur's March 2009 issue]

Honey-Roasted Duck Legs

4 cloves of garlic, smashed with the broad side of a knife
1" piece of fresh garlic, thinly sliced and smashed with the broad side of a knife
3/4 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp honey
2 tbsp light (regular) soy sauce
1 tbsp dark (black) soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp peeled and grated ginger, pressed through a fine-mesh sieve to extract 1 tsp ginger juice
6 whole duck legs, trimmed of excess fat and skin
2 tbsp hoisin sauce

special equipment: steamer

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, combine the garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, salt, honey, light and dark soy sauces, and wine. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. When the bubble action ceases, pour the glaze through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a medium-sized bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Let the glaze cool completely.

Select a large, shallow bowl or a deep plate that fits in your steamer tray. Add the salt, wine, and ginger juice and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the duck legs and use your fingers to coat the duck legs well with the marinade. Arrange the duck legs so that there is minimal overlap, to ensure even cooking. Put the bowl in the steamer tray and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Fill the steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the steamer tray, cover, and steam the duck for 25 minutes. The skin will pull back from the flesh, and cooking juices will collect in the bowl. Transfer the duck legs to a plate and discard the cooking juices.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425º F. To promote heat circulation and allow the fat to drip away from the duck, place a flat roasting rack on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put the duck, skin side up, on the rack, spacing the legs as far apart for one another as possible. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and lightly golden. Turn on the exhaust fan as the duck roasts, because the dripping fat can cause a fair bit of smoke. If more than 2 tbsp of fat accumulates in the pan during roasting, remove the duck from the rack, make a spout in one corner of the foil, and pour off the fat. Then quickly return the duck to the rack and continue roasting. (We had to execute this step twice.)

When the duck is ready, using tongs, lift each leg from the rack, roll it in the glaze to coat evenly, and hold it above the bowl to allow the excess glaze to drip off. Return the duck to the rack, skin side up. Roast the legs for 5 minutes and then coat them with the glaze again. Roast for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until the glaze richly colors the duck. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

After glazing the duck legs the second time, return the remaining glaze to the small saucepan and add the hoisin sauce to make a dipping sauce. Warm over medium heat, adding a spoonful or two of water if needed to balance out the flavor. Pour into a small serving bowl.

Using a heavy cleaver, chop the legs through the bone into bite-sized pieces. Or, slice the meat off the bone. Or, just serve the legs whole and let people chomp into them Friar Tuck-style, like we did. In any case, arrange the duck on a platter and serve with the sauce.

If you have any leftovers (highly unlikely, given how incredibly juicy and delicious these duck legs are), you might want to use the duck meat as the "boldly flavored meat" in your very own homemade bánh .

[recipe from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen]


Thursday, April 02, 2009

fringe festival 1: Dic Ann's

Fringe festival: a continuing series covering deliciousness on the edge of town.

Dic Ann's double w/ cheese fig. a: Dic Ann's double w/ cheese, fries, and a simple machine

I'd actually been to Dic Ann's numerous times. Once to their Vaudreuil-Dorion location, where Michelle and I successfully had a meal, and at least three times to the flagship location in Montreal North, where I kept getting shut out because I kept going on their off days (they're closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). So, as of a couple of weeks ago, I still had never actually completed my pilgrimage to Dic Ann's. (Michelle, on the other hand, did eventually make it, but that's another story, and one that, unfortunately, I wasn't a part of).

Anyway, when we found ourselves part of an excursion to deepest darkest Anjou in search of canning supplies, we decided to see if we couldn't talk our host into a little late-afternoon detour to Dic Ann's on the way back, to reward us for our efforts. We felt confident we'd get our way, too. Our host was something of a patsy when it comes to Dic Ann's, someone for whom the words "Dic" and "Ann's" hold powerful associations. We knew all we had to do was to utter those magic words and things would fall into place.

And fall into place they did. The next thing I knew, there I was, seated at the counter, ordering up my very first real Dic Ann's in a location that hasn't changed a whole heck of a lot in over fifty years of operation.

Now, if you're one of those for whom the words "Dic" and "Ann's" don't hold powerful associations, consider the following a primer. Dominick "Dick" Potenza hailed originally from West Virginia, was raised in Upstate New York (Utica), and became something of a mover and a shaker in the supper club scene of the Rochester-Buffalo corridor. It was there, as part of that scene, that he met Ann "Ann" Collechia, a jazz accordionist (!) who was performing under the stage name Ann "Ann" Russell. They got hitched, and, it being the early 1950s, they began fantasizing about opening their own fast food operation (you know how these things go), one that would showcase an original recipe they'd cooked up: a hot-sauce-smothered hamburger. They moved to Montreal, and in 1954 they opened their original hamburger joint at the corner of Papineau and Crémazie. Two years later, due to overwhelming popular demand, they picked up and moved to their Montreal North location. And the rest is hamburger history.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, the Dic Ann's burger is a thin burger. Unabashedly so. It was designed that way so that they could be produced at high volume.* The kicker is the famous hot sauce, which is essentially a spicy meat sauce. A patty is placed in the bottom half of the bun (a bun that's unusually flat, it must be noted), that trademark sauce gets drizzled all over the burger (meat on meat!), cheese gets added (or not), and then they slap the second half of the bun on top (as one might expect)--that's it, that's all. No ketchup, no pickles, no tomatoes--none of that jazz. The Dic Ann's experience is an elemental one. It's also an essential one.

Oh, yeah: and the popsicle stick/tongue depressor in the picture? It's to use as a lever, so you can work the burger up and out of the plate.

Dic Ann's fig. b: Dic Ann's on Pie-IX

Dic Ann's, 10910 Pie-IX Blvd., Montreal North
[they began franchising in the 1990s, and now have ten locations, including one in NDG and one in Longueuil, but in our books it's the Montreal North location or nothing]


* The system works. Dic Ann's production lines have set several world records in this department, including most burgers served in one hour (1,542), and largest "off the street" order for a single client (502 burgers, prepared in just over 24 minutes).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Top Ten #29

fassbinder/sirk fig. a: Fassbinder/Sir

1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, dir. Fassbinder (especially when it's part of a double bill with Imitation of Life, dir. Sirk)

2. Rice Bowl

3. James Villas, Villas At Table: A Passion for Food and Drink

4. homemade bánh mì

5. "Actions: What You Can Do With the City," Canadian Centre for Architecture

6. Hawaï

don fig. b: Don Drummond

7. The Best of Don Drummond

8. Dic Ann's

9. Duplicity, dir. Gilroy

10. uppuma