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Posts tagged ‘classic french cooking’

The Duck Press: A French Classic

In the history of world cuisine, French chefs have been accused of being many things, but rarely ever “shy.” The French tradition holds dear the notion of not only using every part of an animal, leaving nothing edible to waste, but also of celebrating certain dishes that that often make more squeamish diners fold their napkins away and politely excuse themselves from the table.

There’s foie gras, of course, the production of which is abhorred by many and cherished by many more (us included, obviously). And then we have the ortolan, a small songbird that, due to the traditional preparation — it is gorged on grains, drowned in Armagnac and then roasted, served, and consumed in a single mouthful– has become illegal in France, although many intrepid diners continue to find gastronomic speakeasies that continue to serve it.

But one of our absolute favorite dishes — and kitchen implements — is the much lauded and feared duck press. Considered by many to be the most spectacular entree in classical French cuisine, the duck press is a device and method of preparation that was invented by a man named Machenet in Paris at the dawn of the 19th century, quickly becoming popular among the culinarily elite. The contraption, and its corresponding dish, canard à la rouennaise (or, “duck in blood sauce”) was later adopted by Chef Frèdèric of the restaurant La Tour d’ Argent (or “Silver Tower”), making it his restaurant’s signature dish, which they continue to serve today.

the-number-of-your-duck

La Tour d’Argent issues a card with the number of your pressed duck, in sequence from the very first duck they every pressed.

So, what is this infamous dish often labeled as barbaric and macabre? It begins simply, with one of our favorite things in the world: a roasted duck. The whole duck — and this includes all of the internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs of the beast, though the liver is removed and reserved — is seasoned, the skin lightly scored, and then roasted. Some chefs, including Daniel Boulud, opt to marinate the duck for up to two days before roasting quickly over very high heat, until the duck is appropriately rare. The beautifully roasted bird is carried by the chef to the diners’ table, where the rest of the elaborate process continues in full view of the restaurant’s guests. The duck’s magret (breasts) and legs are removed and reserved, and the chef uses poultry shears to cut the remaining carcass in half lengthwise.Duck Press 2

Now comes the fun part.

The chef packs the roasted carcass and internal organs into the duck press, a large, squat, menacing piece of kitchen machinery, usually made from a heavy metal such as brass, with a large crank, a wheel, and four legs that are sometimes, in a delightfully morbid fashion, made to look like duck feet. Many people like to compare the object to a medieval torture device, and, if you get a chance to see one, you’d be hard “pressed” do disagree. The increasing pressure of the crank plate compacts the bird until its bones are pulverized, the organs liquified, and the carcass blood juices out of the animal, all of which sluice through a small spout in the duck press and are collected in a pan, then strained through a fine chinois.

Duck press spigot

The chef then thickens the mixture with the pureed duck liver, adds Cognac and red wine, and reduces it carefully until it achieves a deep burgundy, almost black color. Diners are then treated to thin slices of the duck breast in the exquisite blood sauce, followed by a second course of roasted duck legs and thighs.

You'll never guess what's being pressed!

Ariane and Chef David Burke press a Bloody Mary.

Duck presses aren’t easy or inexpensive to come by these days, though our friends Chef David Burke and Chef Daniel Boulud both use them. While pressed duck isn’t nearly as popular as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, the tradition of the duck press — whether or not you consider it macabre or sublime — continues. And for that, we are most certainly thankful.

Saucy Series XII: Financiere

Welcome to guest blogger Deana Sidney of Lost Past Remembered, a blog dedicated to discovering, replicating and adapting historic recipes. In this saucy series she demystifies one of the cornerstones of classic French cuisine: the mother sauces.

Sauce Financière

Sauce Financière is a ‘fork-list’ addition to my Sauce Series –– it’s something I’ve always wanted to make. The name has always whispered the Croesusian promise of shimmering golden lucre and made me want to try anything with the name attached to it. I’m in good company making the golden connection since no less than MFK Fisher said “The word financière, for fairly obvious reasons, means richness, extravagance, a nonchalant disregard of the purse, but I sometimes suspect that I use it oftener than it warrants to denote anything Lucullan. I need only reread some Victorian cookery books to reassure myself and justify my preoccupation with the word.”

Sauce Financiere 2

There are a few things with the name. There’s a buttery-sweet goldbrick of a cake called Financiére but also a creamy Ragoût a la Financière made with sweetbreads, cockscombs and mushrooms (often nestled in pastry) in addition to that sauce I wanted to make –– a sauce redolent of truffles and madeira –– hence the financière connection.

When I started digging for historical connections to financière, I didn’t have to look far. A dinner held for Abraham Lincoln in 1861 had Vol au Vent Financière (a pastry case stuffed with that Ragoût a la Financière). A famous 1877 literary event known as “The Whittier Dinner” saw Mark Twain as the star speaker and most of the literary lions of the day attending. The menu featured “Filet of Beef, larded, Sauce Financière.”

Since this is another entry into my Sauce Series, I am making my financière sauce using some great D’Artagnan products. I’m using their Moulard duck breast as the base for the dish because it is perfect for the sauce with its meaty lusciousness.

For the sauce itself you can make the “Federal Reserve” version with sliced truffles or the “Banker’s Reserve” using truffle oil and truffle butter for that truffle magic. You can use pricey mushrooms like morels (although a good handful is only $6) or buttons.

Either way, you will love the sauce on pretty much anything from chicken to game birds to steak. It’s a keeper. I decided to combine a few recipes for the sauce from Gouffé, Francatelli and even Oscar of the Waldorf. The result was just what I wanted and it is quick to make and is not terribly rich –– just rich tasting!

If you want to go for full-out Fort Knox extravagance, you can use a few shavings of fresh white truffle in season or add a cube or 2 of foie gras to the sauce before serving

Duck Breast with Sauce Financiére

serves 2 -4

2 duck breasts, cooked and sliced (each breast gives about 8 slices)
1 recipe sauce financiére
2 – 4 pieces fried bread
herbs for garnish (sage, chervil, marjoram)

Place the sliced duck breast on the bread and spoon the mushrooms and sauce over the meat. Garnish with herbs.

Sauce financiere 1

Sauce Financiére

1cup mushrooms (morels and sliced shitakes or creminis)
2 T butter or truffle butter or olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 t pepper
salt to taste
1 t mushroom ketchup (recipe HERE) or soy sauce
1 c D’Artagnan demi-glace
1 T meat glaze (a super reduced demi-glace or stock)
1 T Espagnole sauce (the recipe is HERE) or 1 t ketchup
3 T madeira (I would use Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho)
1 D’Artagnan canned truffle, or fresh truffle sliced and/or D’Artagnan white truffle oil to taste
1 or 2 tablespoons foie gras, chopped (optional)

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter till softened a bit, add the truffle slices. Add the spices and mushroom ketchup or salt.

Add the demi-glace and meat glaze and Espagnole. Reduce to a slightly syrupy consistency (you will have around 1/3 to 1/2 a cup) and add the madeira and keep warm or reheat gently. Add the truffle oil just before serving. If you are using foie gras, put it in at the end and stir it in using a gentle heat.

Sauce Financiere 4

Duck Breast

2 large duck breasts from D’Artagnan* (there are smaller ones, if you use them change the cooking time)
Salt & Pepper

This is a virtually foolproof technique. Preheat the oven to 400º. Score the fat of the duck breasts with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in the skillet to render the fat, about 6 minutes. Turn the duck breasts over and sear for 1 minute. Turn the fat side down again and place the skillet into the oven to roast for 7 minutes, until breasts are medium rare (4 minutes for the smaller breasts). Rest them for 5 minutes then slice