I recently found myself with a bunch of carrots and parsnips in my fridge, so I wanted to showcase them along with some duck breast I found in the supermarket. Parsnips are closely related to carrots, and great in purees, with a surprising sweetness to them. The actual carrots in this recipe are done very simply, just cooked in a pan with some stock, but the real star of the show is a fluid gel made from their leafy tops. A fluid gel is a liquid that has been set into a gel with a hydrocolloid like agar or gellan gum, and then blended again for a luscious, glossy texture - ChefSteps has a great class on them here.
This was my first time making a fluid gel out of tender leafy greens. For the hydrocolloids (gelling agents) to work properly, they need to be boiled for several minutes before setting - this step is called hydration. However, I found this made the carrot tops brown a bit, and lose some of their vibrant green. The next time I make this, I might try making a neutral-flavored gel out of water, then blending with blanched leaves (a technique I found from Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in NYC). Or, if I had sodium bisulfite I might add about 0.1% by weight to the mix, to prevent oxidation responsible for browning.
A note on the fluid gel: I originally made this recipe with the leaves from 1 bunch of carrot tops. I found this didn't make enough gel to blend properly in my blender after setting! I had to rescue it with some extra water and xanthan gum. I've had this problem several times with fluid gels - for it to work, you need to make a whole bunch more than you'll need. What follows is the exact proportions I used multiplied by three (minus the extra water and xanthan) - the percentages are what matter. If you want to make less, you may have luck blending the gel in a cup with an immersion blender.
The dish is finished with a simple sauce of reduced beef stock and soy sauce. I highly encourage you to make your own beef stock, which is easy, delicious, and lets you control the salt content. I don't add any salt at all to my stocks, which allows for finer control of salt when making reductions.
For 2 servings.
2-3 white pearl onions
Herbs such as parsley, for garnish
Finishing salt such as Maldon
For the carrot top fluid gel:
Carrot top leaves, rinsed, stems trimmed, from 3 bunches
Salt and pepper
Agar agar powder (see recipe for weight)
Xanthan gum (see recipe for weight)
For the parsnip puree:
For the carrots:
1/3 cup beef stock
For the duck:
1 duck breast
For the sauce:
1/2 cup beef stock (ideally unsalted)
Sous vide setup
Prepare the duck: heat your sous vide unit to 134F. Vacuum seal the duck breast with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Prepare the carrot top fluid gel: Blanch the carrot tops in boiling salted water for 10-15 seconds. Plunge into an ice bath, drain well, and gently squeeze out excess water.
Weigh the blanched rinsed carrot tops, then blend with 2x their weight in water, and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Strain through a chinois and weigh for 100% scaling value (in my case: 495g).
Measure and add 1% agar and 0.3% xanthan gum. Blend thoroughly to disperse into the mixture.
Bring to a boil in a pot for 1 minute to hydrate the hydrocolloids, then chill in a sheet pan in the refrigerator until set, about 1 hour.
Blend the set gel until smooth, and adjust salt/acid as necessary. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and reserve.
Prepare the parsnip puree: Peel the parsnips, then slice into 1/4" slices. Cover with water, add salt, then bring to a boil in a pot with a cracked lid and boil under tender, about 10m.
Strain the parsnips, then weigh for 100% scaling value. Blend with 75% milk, plus salt and pepper to taste. If you're unsatisfied with the texture, add more milk to thin, or xanthan gum to thicken. Transfer to a pot on the stove and keep warm.
Prepare the carrots: peel and trim the carrots, then simmer in a covered pan with the beef stock and a pinch of salt until tender, about 10m. Drain, return to the pan and glaze with a bit of butter.
Prepare the sauce: in a pot, reduce the beef stock, cooking liquid from the duck bag, and soy sauce to taste (carefully monitor salt content). Strain, weigh, and whisk in 0.2% xanthan (or just eyeball a pinch).
Finish the duck and prepare the pearl onions: peel the onions, slice them in half and separate into layers. Remove the duck from the bag, and pat both sides dry. Score a checker pattern into the skin, making sure not to cut into the meat. Sear in a hot pan until crispy, 1-2 minutes - you won't need to add any additional fat to the pan, since the duck will naturally render quite a bit. At the same time, add the onion pieces to the rendered fat cut side down, and leave to char nicely. Sear the flesh side of the duck for 20-30 seconds, remove to a paper towel, and cut into a serving portion.
To plate, add a spoonful of parsnip puree to a warmed plate, and smush with the back of the spoon in a straight line. Add a piece of trimmed duck on top slightly to the side, and add a pinch of the finishing salt on top. Spoon some sauce over the breast. Lay a carrot next to the duck, on top of the puree. Add the onions around the plate, charred side up. Dot the plate with the carrot top gel (inside the pearl onion pieces, for that cliche Instagram look!). Finish with the herbs and serve.