[Correct Dining by Wilfrid: June 9, 2009]
Sunday morning, the sun was beating the sidewalks of Chinatown, and durians were adding that interesting edge of New York summer smells coming out of the drains.
Fortunately, I knew pretty much where I was headed.
The Bayard Street Meat Market has long been a favorite of mine for one stop shopping. Meat, of course, but also fish and prepared foods; by no means everyone speaks English, but it's laid out so you can see what you want. Walk to the bottom of Elizabeth, and it's opposite you on Bayard.
The brace of partridge is one of the city's best bargains - one bird would make a generous single portion. I picked up the double pack, then a twelve pack of sweet, rice-wine marinated sausages ($3.99). Fresh shrimp too for the congee I had planned.
It makes multiple-course home cooking easier if good foods which need no extra attention take care of one course. Charcuterie is an obvious way to go, but at the Bayard Street meat market there are a few dozen curious meat dishes already steeped in sauces. I decided pig bung might upset you all, so I picked up a half pound of chicken feet in black bean sauce. Total for this shopping, including the partridges, just under $20.
Through the Bowery arcade, turn right, and the White Swan has dessert options. I spent about $5 there.
You can season the partridge, stuff it with some herbs, and roast it whole, but I wanted to break it down and use it in two courses. These birds do come whole, so a heavy knife or cleaver comes in handy for separating the heads and feet. I reserved the necks, and removed the wings, bones and breasts. The carcasses could be used for soup or stock later.
I seasoned the wings and necks, rubbed with some oyster sauce, and put them in a hot oven on a lightly oiled pan. Caramelized and sweet, they would be mixed in to add variety to the chicken feet appetizer. In a separate pan, I cooked the legs with a dry rosemary and thyme rub, draped with shredded ramp leaves.
I served the feet, wings and necks with some sharp mixed pickles I picked up from the Pickle Guys on Essex Street on the way home.
Congee is easy, as long as you have the time and patience. You can't walk away and forget about it, so make it while you're doing other things in the kitchen. Essentially you overcook the rice, adding water whenever it's in danger of drying, but being careful not to swamp it. I also add some big pieces of fresh ginger; you can grate it if you wish, but I find the big pieces impart flavor and are easy to fish out before serving. I had some ramps, and added a few chopped bulbs; shallotts, scallions, onions can all be used, finely chopped.
The partridge breasts are so delicate that they take just minutes to poach in a little red wine. Reduce the wine for a little pan sauce. I served those with the legs and some broccoli.
The White Swan desserts were chosen pretty randomly, I admit. Custard tarts, as I called them when I was growing up, and some sweet pies which turned out to have a hard, slightly salty egg yolk in the center. I am going to research them further and add a more precise description.
Four courses, about $12 or $13 a head, and plenty of congee left over for breakfast.
The rice breaks down finally into the characteristic soft porridge texture. It can take about an hour (I had also thrown in a few of the dried vegetable flakes I picked up on Ninth Avenue a few weeks back). Meanwhile, I had seared the shrimp, cooled them in the refrigerator, and peeled them - which itself takes long enough. With the chopped sausage added in time to warm through, the congee was done.