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The Reinvention: Duck Consommé with Matzah Balls

Old-fashioned in its own right, Chef Marc Orfaly’s duck consommé with matzah balls employs classical French preparation methods. Born into an Armenian-Syrian family, Chef Orfaly is no stranger to the inner workings of food-obsessed home cooks. Named one of Food … Read More

By / March 28, 2007
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Old-fashioned in its own right, Chef Marc Orfaly’s duck consommé with matzah balls employs classical French preparation methods. Born into an Armenian-Syrian family, Chef Orfaly is no stranger to the inner workings of food-obsessed home cooks. Named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2004, and just nominated the third year in a row for a James Beard Best Chef: Northeast award, the Boston-based chef started cooking in high school to pay for drum sets. Mr. Orfaly is still a drummer, and his restaurants reflect that deceptive boyishness. The ideal companion to beer and Monday football, Marco and Pigalle are unpretentious at the outset, revealing their sophistication only upon closer inspection.

Mr. Orfaly’s contemporary matzah ball soup recipe necessitates two full days of cooking. Though the multiphase process allows for a fair amount of downtime between stages, I was never far enough away from my next charge to allow for a reasonable afternoon nap. And after all that, the recipe produces just four portions—less than half Ms. Lebewohl’s.

This recipe is not for an inexperienced home cook. The first few instructions include de-boning and butchering a whole duck. The consommé itself requires a trained eye for upwards of four hours simmering time, not to mention its unusual and messy flavorings, like chicken breast minced by a food processor. After seemingly endless stages—from roasting the bones to clarifying the liquid with an egg white–based raft, to finally straining it by the ladleful—you should have a clear, richly flavored broth.

But the most time-consuming element was the duck meat garnish. After legs and breasts marinate overnight, the legs roast for twelve hours, and the breasts pan-sear to crispy skinned delectability just before serving.

Duck is much fattier than chicken, and the brew accentuates the difference: The resulting cuisine is at once savory and sweet. The deep red-gold soup suggests—and delivers—rich, layered flavors, with accents of thyme. The thinly sliced breast and delicate leg meat, both showcasing well-crisped skin, boost the fatty richness even more.

Like Ms. Lebewohl’s traditional chicken soup, the matzah ball holds the power to make or break. Here, it breaks, resembling a dumpling more than a matzah ball, and noticeably lacking the Lebewohl levity. Its grainy texture recalls a chewy semolina or polenta, and after two days of hot stove labor, I’m left feeling dispirited.

Recipe: Duck Consomme with Matzah Balls

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