It’s one of the lesser-known places in Louisiana. A dome of earth perched atop a salt mine, made island only by the thin strips of brown bayou that encircle it. Land laced with marsh grass and wild animals, thick hot air that you can practically swallow with a spoon, and the heavy smell of murky water and boat exhaust that feels like home.
I’d never been to Avery Island before despite having grown up just 140 miles east of it; and despite my family ties to Cajun country. So when the McIlhennys, longtime residents of Avery Island and makers of the historic Tabasco hot sauce, invited a few of us bloggers out to stay at their family’s Marsh House smack dab in the middle of the island, I said yes as quickly as possible.
Our days there were filled with morning coffee under Oak trees bearded with Spanish moss and afternoon lunches of fully-dressed fried oyster po-boys; farm viewings of baby Tabasco pepper plants and factory tours where the famed red sauce moved from barrel to bottle to box. There were jungle gardens where bamboo forests grew like wild and airboat rides where you learn hard and fast not to smile too wide. Unless, you know, you prefer your daily floss with a side of marsh grass and mosquito leg. And there was a private cooking demonstration with Chef Isaac Toups followed by family dinner in the Marsh House dining room, which included courses such as rich seafood couvillion and pan-seared foie gras smeared with pepper jelly and sandwiched in between a buttermilk biscuit. And I swear to you, in the moment my teeth sank into that pillow-y bite of buttermilk bliss, the only thing I could think was please don’t let it end, please don’t let it end.
I’ve been experimenting with literally all the Tabasco sauces since I returned from Louisiana just a couple of weeks ago, with a renewed interest and curiosity about how sauce from aged peppers can transform and elevate a dish without just making it face-burning spicy. (Though, I should probably admit, I actually do enjoy a solid spice sweat.) After some trials and some errors and if you follow along on Snapchat (brookebasspdx) you already saw, lots of BBQ tasting experiments with friends, I settled on cheese. Rich, tangy goat cheese, mixed with the bright green jalapeño Tabasco turned into a creamy sauce for pappardelle by the addition of some cooked pasta water and a quick pour of cream. Add a handful of sweet, fresh green peas from the farmer’s market and a little savory, fall-off-the-bone braised duck leg. Because if there’s any meat that reminds me of home, it’s savory, gamey duck. And also battered and fried reptile, though I probably won’t be making alligator anytime soon for the blog. Probably.
This trip and post were sponsored by the folks at Tabasco. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. But for the record, my love of Tabasco runs deep.
- 2 duck legs*
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular or sea salt
- 2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
- ½ teaspoon of ground allspice
- 3 cups of duck (or chicken) broth
- 2 shallots, cut in half (skin can stay on)
- ½ head of garlic, broken apart into cloves (skin can stay on)
- 1 pound of fresh peas, shelled and pods discarded
- 4 ounces of goat cheese
- 2 tablespoons of cream
- 1-2 tablespoons of green Tabasco sauce, depending on spice preferences
- 1 cup of reserved pasta water
- 1 pound of fresh pappardelle pasta
- olive oil, for tossing cooking pasta
- grated parmesan, for garnish (optional)
- freshly cracked black pepper, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Rinse duck legs with cold water and pat dry. In a small bowl, toss together the salt, allspice, and thyme leaves. Sprinkle legs with salt mixture, pressing it into the skin and meat so it adheres. Heat a medium dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once dutch oven is hot, add the duck legs directly to it, skin side down—the legs have enough fat on them that you won’t need to add any extra to the dutch oven. Cook until the skin begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Remove duck legs, set aside, and reduce heat to low to allow dutch oven to cool slightly before proceeding.
- Next, add the broth to the dutch oven, enough so that the broth comes just to the skin but does not cover it—you want the skin to crisp in the oven while the meat braises in the liquid. Be careful when you add the broth—if you have not cooled your dutch oven enough, the water will bubble and steam wildly when it comes in contact with the rendered duck fat. (It will eventually settle but you just don’t want to be hovering over it if this happens!) Add shallots and garlic to the liquid. Bring to a boil for just a few seconds, then cover dutch oven with a tight fitting lid and cook in oven for 1.5 hours, or until meat is tender. Braised duck can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days before you’re ready to make the pasta. When ready to prepare the pasta, pick the meat from the bone.
- Heat a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat. While that’s heating, mix together the goat cheese and cream with the Tabasco sauce until well blended in a medium sized bowl. I like to use my hands to do this (just be sure not to touch your eyes afterwards!) Once the pasta water is boiling, add the peas and cook for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return the water to a boil and add the pasta to it, using chop sticks to agitate the pasta continuously while it cooks. This will prevent the strands from sticking together. Once the pasta is al dente, just under fully cooked, about 2 minutes if you’re using fresh pasta (follow package directions if you’re using dried), scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta in a colander, toss with olive oil so that it doesn’t stick together while you’re finishing the sauce.
- Add goat cheese, Tabasco, cream, and pasta water to the pot you used to cook the pasta in and whisk until well combined into a thick sauce. Add the pasta and cook over medium-high heat to finish cooking the pasta, about 1-2 minutes. Toss with duck meat and peas and serve on plates. Garnish each with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese (if desired) and freshly cracked black pepper.