Story of a Dish: Duck Leg & Spätzle
CHEF: EHREN RYAN
RESTAURANT: COMMON LOT
With a cooking résumé that spans three continents—and several highly acclaimed kitchens—it is not surprising that Ehren Ryan defines his cuisine as globally inspired. “To stick to one genre is, for us, impossible,” Ryan says. As executive chef and owner of Common Lot in Millburn, he focuses instead on “good food that we enjoy cooking and eating.”
Ryan’s confit duck leg and spätzle is a case in point. The dish marries traditional comfort food from Austria—the home country of his wife (and business partner) Nadine—with rich, meaty slow-cooked duck and a salty-umami kick from Asian-inspired cured egg yolks. The evolution of this dish began with cheese-infused spätzle, which Ryan offered at the restaurant he ran back home in Australia.
When he opened Common Lot in early 2016, he included a duckbreast dish on his menu, which meant that he had to find a use for the leftover legs. That sparked the idea of combining spätzle with intensely flavored, meltingly tender duck confit.
“From there, we needed a salty component,” Ryan says, noting that duck confit goes well with very pronounced flavors. “We needed an acidic component, we needed texture, and we needed that little bit of richness or fattiness to balance out the dish.”
After three weeks of tweaking, the final dish emerged. Texture came from toasted hazelnuts, which, Ryan says, have the right kind of nuttiness for a dish like this. Sauerkraut added a bit of acidity and a touch of Austrian influence. And saltiness— and a hit of color—came from cured duck egg yolk grated over the dish. “The cured egg yolk, when it’s grated, dissolves in your mouth. It’s almost as if it vanishes,” Ryan says. “But it’s a very intense duck egg [flavor].” As a final touch, leftover duck skin is fried, crumbled, and spooned over the dish.
Ryan tweaks and changes this dish in intriguing ways. Replacing the hazelnuts with pistachio cream, he echoes a classic terrine pairing that adds a pop of green to the plate and a creamy finish to the dish. In the hazelnut version, he moistens the dish with duck jus rather than a cream sauce, which creates a slightly drier finish. Ryan also likes to switch up the acidic element, preferring to pair sauerkraut with pistachios and pickled onions with hazelnuts. For a twist on another classic flavor combination, Ryan uses chestnuts with preserved or pickled cherries.
If cost were no object, however, he’d go with his home country’s favorite native nut—macadamia. “If I could use macadamia in everything, I probably would,” Ryan says. “That is my favorite nut by far. You just roast it slightly, a little bit of salt and it’s the perfect nut.”
27 Main Street, Millburn