A Farmer Ken Connection and Quatre Epices

Quatre Epices -  a spice mixture that in French means "four spices", which is deceiving because the recipe I have from Robert is actually made with 8. Anyhow, it can be used in almost every dish imaginable, savory and sweet, including duck confit.  The recipe for it is at the bottom of this very post - to be dashed in your mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, roasted chicken, etc, etc, etc. If need or desire be, skip the duck adventure and scroll on down... No offense taken. 

It's true, every woman needs a source of duck, and I am no exception. I became entranced with the dish of duck during my second session at The Chef's Studio where a theme quickly became apparent - all things duck. I can still pull recipes from that session's notebook and smell the aroma of duck fat, those intoxicating molecules which cling to every object it glides by.

Pulling that notebook from the moving boxes, I had a longing for  - all things duck. But I was new to Santa Fe and couldn't find it in any of the stores. Which is where my connection with Farmer Ken and his food came in - I met Ken at his booth at the farmer's market selling his duck eggs... And I thought: Where there are duck eggs, there are ducks! Ken sat with a friendly style, donning blue coveralls as I asked him: Do you sell the duck itself? No, he didn't - the butchering is too time-consuming. He sold rabbits though! Well that's fine, I like rabbit, but right now I'm on a hunt for a duck. But I saw an opening so naturally... I offered to come to his farm and help with the butchering.

Which is why last week I got in the car and drove an hour north through wildly beautiful northern New Mexico to KJ Farms (K=Ken, J=Judy). Thankfully, he still donned the blue coveralls and friendly style, which seemed to brighten on his own soil. KJ farms is actually primarily an egg farm so the soil was mostly inhabited with free ranging chickens. Cage Free Indeed.
But I was not here for a tour, I was here for a chore: Supper.

Please do not take me as a minimizer... Being this close to the death of supper is a viscerally-intense experience I don't take lightly. My stomach is in knots; my throat carries a lump. But my heart is also appreciative for the opportunity to be so close to our food source. I see it as a privilege honestly - eating with my eyes so wide open. Ultimately, it's important to me to know I can be involved in the death of supper and still sit down to it. Otherwise for me it should be lentils all the way. But that's just me.

It was clear that Ken was in the same boat - he spoke and moved with a calming confidence in the pens, but there was his severe silence after the knife fell, the kind of deafening quiet that comes with a belly full of knowledge - Life has left something. It would be odd to me if the silence wasn't there. Speaking commences only after several long minutes.

So Ken and I plucked and plucked, and then the duck came home with me, still with some serious plucking to be done (Thanks Eric!). Of course I did not depart KJ Farms before seeing what was clearly Ken's favorite part of his operation, the thing he is most proud of - his rabbits.

So for supper we had the freshest duck breast I've ever had, seasoned and then poached in butter, its center still pink. (My focus on them was so intense I totally lapsed on taking photos. Argh!) I simmered the carcass for stock, rendered the fat, salted the legs with a pinch of that quatre epices for confit and put the liver on ice for a mousse.

Thanks be to Ken and Judy for opening their farm to me, the strange new woman in town in search of fresh, local poultry. Thanks be to new connections over the reverence of providing and cooking a meal.

The duck confit with tomato coulis

Quatre Epices Art!... Before and After Grinding

Quatre Epices
adapted from Robert Reynold's recipe (I cut the tarragon in half...Not a big fan of it.)
Note: You can double, triple, quadruple this recipe to have more and more on hand.

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon finely crushed dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon finely crumbled dried marjoram

Mix the spices and herbs in a blender. I use an old coffee grinder that is specifically for spices. Blend until everything is finely powdered. Keep in tightly sealed jar.  Enjoy!

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