For me the sauces are what makes a meal for the most part, and this is where French food reigns supreme. The subtle flavorings, herb infusions and measured spices given to each dish makes this a truly memorable cuisine.
It doesn't matter what dish you're searching for since you can find it all well represented here. But if you notice even a "simple" salad is turned into something special done "the French way"..... they just have something unique to contribute to the culinary arts.
Let's not even get into the rest of the country. Yes, I'm a definite "Francophile".... even my husband at first didn't understand what "the big deal was all about".... all it took was one long stay in France to make him into a convert. Between the architecture, the organization of the country, the food of course, but to him the deciding value came in the form of the wine. That did it and it's been "it" ever since..... If only the Euro would cooperate we would be in heaven....
Anyway, let's get to the reason for my post. Food, naturally, and among the food is one of my top choices: Duck. Found some great "magret's" at my butcher's and this was all I needed to get inspired; but first let me explain what magret's are: these are boneless duck breasts that have the skin attached. They make excellent servings, are a snap to cook right and can be paired with any sauce to make them special.
Let me share some of my best recipes with you:
Duck a l'Orange.- I could have this every day (but I don't of course)....the best!
- Prepare the oranges: Remove the peel from two oranges with a vegetable peeler. Cut the white pith off the back with a very sharp knife. Cut into julienne, (very thin slices) and blanch three times in boiling water. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside. Squeeze the juice of those two oranges and reserve. Peel and cut the remaining two oranges into sections,(into supremes: cut them between the membrane) draining their juice into the other juice, and set the sections aside. You now have one dish of blanched julienned orange zest, about 1 cup/250 ml orange juice, and a dish of orange sections.
- Prepare the duck breasts: Score the fat side of the breasts with a knife making diamond shapes. Set them fat side down over low heat and render the fat, about 10 minutes. Remove the duck and pour off the fat. Increase the heat in the pan and put the breasts back in skin-side down. Sauté until done to your liking, or about seven minutes on the fat side, then another three on the other. Remove to a carving board to rest, about 15 min, covering to keep warm.
- Make the sauce: Put the sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until golden, about three minutes. Add the vinegar and orange juice. Reduce slightly. Now add the stock and the zests. Boil down to sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Check the seasonings. Add the orange sections. Carve the duck breasts and arrange on a serving platter. Spoon over the sauce, and serve.
Crispy Duck Breasts with Whisky Sauce.- Don't let the sauce fool you, this is a subtle flavor: (serves 2)
- 1 small, boneless duck breast
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup whisky (I used Glenlivit, use what you like)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 3 whole allspice
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 F. Score skin of duck in a diamond pattern. Place garlic, thyme, and duck (skin-side down) in an oven proof skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 15 min, or until the duck skin becomes brown and crispy. Drain and discard fat. Flip duck over and cook the meaty side for 2 min. Transfer pan to oven and roast for 7 about min.
Meanwhile, combine shallots and honey in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook about 5 min, allowing honey to begin to caramelize. Add whisky and cook 2 min. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then allow to reduce by about half.
Transfer duck to a plate and cover with foil. Allow to rest for 5 min. Discard any duck fat in the pan. Return the pan to the stove and add the whisky sauce. Simmer about 3 min over medium heat. Slice the duck and spoon sauce on top.****************************************************
Duck Breasts in Blackberry Sauce.- This is a great pairing of flavors, you'll love it!
3 tbl butter
3 tbl sugar
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tbl orange vinegar or raspberry vinegar
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 3/4 cup beef broth
2 tbl brandy
1 tbl pure maple syrup
2 5-6 oz duck breast halves with skin
Melt 2 tbl butter in a heavy large saucepan. Add sugar, stir until sugar dissolves and mixture turns deep amber color, about 5 min. Keep an eye on this and take care.
Add wine, orange juice and vinegar and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve caramel. Add berries and broth and boil until the sauce is thickened and reduced to about 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 25 min.
Strain into small saucepan, mix in cognac and maple syrup and remaining butter. Set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the skin but not the meat of the duck breast into a diamond pattern (this will allow the fat to drain and help the skin get wonderfully crisp). Season duck with salt and pepper. Heat heavy large ovenproof skillet over high heat until hot. Add duck, skin side down, and sear until brown, about 5 min. Turn over, cook 3 min and then transfer to the hot oven and cook for about 3 more min. Allow to rest about 15 min, then slice and serve.
You didn't think I would let you go without a word about dessert, did you? Course not! So here are my two favorites..... don't think these are super hard and you can't possible make them- they're easy, just take it one step at a time (you'll be glad you did...)- They both involve crepes but in different, yet equally wonderful, ways....
Cherries Jubilee.- One of THE dishes that French food is known for.....
For the crepes:
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbl butter, melted, plus 2 to 3 tsp for coating the pan
For the Sauce:
8 6-7-inch dessert crepes, flavored with brandy or kirsch if desired (you can add 1 tbl to batter)
3 tbl unsalted butter
3 tbl sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup ruby Port
12 oz (1 1/2 cups) bing cherries, pitted (can be canned in a pinch)
1 tbl fresh lemon juice
3 tbl brandy or Cognac
Vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream
Make the crepes:
In a blender or food processor, blend the eggs, milk, water, flour, sugar, vanilla, optional flavoring, and the 2 tbl melted butter for 5 seconds, or until smooth. Stir down and repeat, if necessary. Or, to mix by hand, sift the flour into a medium bowl and add the sugar. Whisk the eggs until blended, mix in the milk, water, vanilla, and optional flavoring, and whisk this mixture into the flour; stir in the 2 tbl melted butter. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (2 hours is preferable) or up to 24 hours.
Gently stir the batter if it has separated. Heat a seasoned 6-7-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat until hot. (Use a 9-10-inch pan for larger crepes.) Wipe the pan lightly with butter, lift the pan from the heat, and pour in 2 to 3 tbl of batter for a 6-7-inch pan, or about 1/4 cup for a 9-10-inch pan, tilting and rotating the pan to coat the surface. Cook until almost dry on top and lightly browned on the edges, about 1 min. Loosen the edges with a spatula and flip the crepe over using your fingers or the spatula, then cook the other side for about 15 seconds.
Turn the crepe out onto a clean tea towel to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter, wiping the pan with butter as needed and stacking the crepes as they are cooked. For serving immediately, cover the crepes with aluminum foil and keep them warm in a preheated 200 F oven. For serving later, wrap them in plastic wrap in quantities intended for each use and slip them into a zip-lock bag. Refrigerate the crepes for up to 3 days, or freeze them for up to 2 months. Makes 16-18 6-7 inch crepes, or 10-12 9-10 inch crepes.
For the sauce:
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until it foams. Sprinkle in the sugar and cook for 1 to 2 min. Pour in the water and wine and cook until it reduces to the consistency of a syrup. Add the cherries, heat through, and stir in the lemon juice. Fold the crepes into triangles and add them to the skillet, coating them in the sauce.
Push the crepes to one side. Heat the brandy, ignite with a match, and spoon the flaming brandy over the sauce. When the flames subside, serve 2 crepes and a spoonful or two of sauce on each plate. Top with a dollop of frozen yogurt or ice cream. Serve at once. Makes 8 crepes; serves 4.
Last but by all means, not least is my Christmas Crepe Cake.- This is called "Mille Crepe" in France and I've "tweeked" the recipe some, but it's just the way I like it. You must be patient with this one, but it's truly worth your patience, believe me:
For the crepe batter:
6 tbl butter
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tbl sugar
The day before serving the cake, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. For the batter, cook the butter in a small pan until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 min. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight. (remember I said be patient...)
To make the crepes, bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with the oil, then add about 3 tbl batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 min, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.
For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
1 tbl vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tbl butter
Bring the milk to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract then set aside for 10 min. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.
In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 min. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.
To assemble the cake:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbl sugar
3 tbl Kirsch
icing sugar (optional)
Whip the heavy cream with the tbl of sugar and the Kirsch. It won’t hold stiff peaks but that’s okay. Fold it into the pastry cream.
Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using a spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 min before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tbl sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Slice like a cake and be transported to heaven.....
If you're lucky enough to go to France (and Paris especially...) take your time to savour each and every moment in this special place. The best thing to do in Paris is walk. The second best thing to do is go to a street market, buy bread and cheese and wine, and eat it in one of the marvelous parks and people watch. The food hall at Au Bon Marche (the department store) is a foodie paradise. A paradise! The best way to get into the Louvre is through the mall underneath (the Carrousel du Louvre, where the lines are much shorter. Stay out of the tourist areas and eat where the locals eat. Try all the pastries and don't deny yourself, they're worth it and they will never taste the same anywhere else. Try "Gargantua" on Rue St. Honore located in the 1st Arondissment, fabulous! And do take the Metro everywhere, it's not only economical, especially if you get a weekly pass, but safe, full of art, convenient and wonderful!
P.S.- When you get to Paris, give it a kiss for me, for once you've been there, a small piece of your heart will always remain..... now if the Lotto would just cooperate.....