It rarely gives me any satisfaction to work so close to Penn Station, especially in the summer when the areas less salubrious residents are at their most pungent, and, dare I say, because of the heat, most crazed. It is at this time of year that the legion of stupefied zombies, fiending smackheads and other unfortunates, leaning precariously outwards from urine-stained walls or slumped droolingly over mailboxes as they await the opening of the methadone clinic, seem to be at their most numerous, and the sight of two filthy, toothless skags scrapping over a trodden cigarette-butt is as common as blue sky days in the desert. However, contrary to conventional New York wisdom, even in this charming setting good food can be found. In fact, this part of the city – at the southern end of the area traditionally known as Hell’s Kitchen – is rather better than the several blocks further east, where it is just as ugly and congested, but, most importantly, where there is a dearth of reasonable lunch spots.
Like another of my favorite communities, Carroll Gardens, the block of Ninth Ave between 36th and 37th streets is an old Italian-American neighborhood and features two special New York institutions – Manganaro Grosseria and Esposito Pork Shop. The former is my preferred lunch spot – where courtesy of the owner and in keeping the general spirit of the area, you get a fascinating window into an unbalanced (but, in this case, non-threatening) mind, and a touch of crazy with your giant sandwich – the latter is one of the finest butcher’s shops in the five boroughs, and it was here that I recently stopped to score a handful of duck legs, 2lbs of ground veal and a pair of porterhouses that must have been cut from a hippo.
The veal went into a Torinese sugo that we’ll post when it gets cool enough to eat that kind of food without engaging cooling systems, the steaks await the celebration of our son’s baptism this weekend, and the duck legs were simply sprinkled with salt, pepper and ground coriander and roasted in a hot oven for an hour. Served with a potato-celeriac mash and some shitake mushrooms in a butter-moscato sauce, this wasn’t exactly a light, seasonal meal either, but given the urban assault-course I endure everyday just to put a roof over our heads, it provided a calming and centering sensation, not unlike, so I am led to believe, the effects of a certain heroine-substitute.
- 4 medium duck legs (long island duck)
- 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2inch chunks
- 1/2 large celeriac (celery root), peeled and cut into 2inch chunks
- Other half of the celeriac sliced into matchsticks
- 1/2 red onion, shaved wafer thin
- 4 oz whole milk
- 6oz unsalted butter
- 4oz chanterelle, shitake or other good mushrooms
- 4oz dry moscato, or other dry white wine
- 4 tablespoons chopped chives
- 2oz good olive oil
- 1oz tarragon (or other white wine-based) vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
- Salt and black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400F/200C
- Season duck legs well with salt, black pepper and ground coriander, and rub with any neutral cooking oil.
- Place in the oven for 1 hour
- In abundant salted boiling water, boil potato and celeriac chunks until soft and mashable, about 12 minutes
- Drain, return to pot, add milk and 2oz butter, and mash or whip until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- In a non-reactive bowl, combine celeriac matchsticks, red onion, chopped chives, olive oil and tarragon vinegar and mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- In a saute pan, melt 2oz butter over medium heat and saute mushrooms until nicely cooked but still al dente, 4-6 minutes.
- Add white wine to pan, and allow to reduce, stirring regularly, before reducing heat and adding remaining butter.
- Season mushroom sauce with salt and pepper and any remaining chopped chives.
- After the hour has passed, remove duck legs from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes, before serving alongside mash, salad and mushroom sauce.