Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Aren't The French Fat?

Why aren't the French fat? I know. You've heard this before. But it honestly does puzzle me. Some say they're svelte because they eat in moderation. That's all well and good, but eating duck cooked in duck fat on a regular basis, even in moderation, seems to me like it would get you on the cover of the latest tabloid magazine with the caption, "Fork-lift breaks while attempting to remove world's heaviest man from his house." "Man says...I won't leave without my baked brie"

However, when it comes to French food...what isn't there to love? I have a passion for the stuff. I could eat stinky, ooey, gooey, looks like it should be in a baby's diaper and not on a cracker cheese until I became the fork-lift guy. I would bathe in a Cotes du Rhone Syrah(you know, those wild and crazy Japanese have wine baths...but that's another story). And if I possessed just an ounce less willpower I would eat duck(perhaps cooked in duck fat) on a VERY regular basis. The French have, in my mind, created some of the world's greatest foods. And contrary to what some people think, the beauty of French cuisine is in the simplicity of the ingredients. Don't get me wrong, the technique is borderline impossible in some cases, but in general, lots of French cuisine is very accessible to anyone who cares to approach it. And I...well, I came right out and proposed to it on the first date...and we've lived happily ever after ;)

A great example of approachable French cuisine can be found in a brasserie. Whether you're sitting outside a brasserie on the Rue Cler in Paris...waiting for your steak tartar...sipping a glass of house wine and watching the local Parisians walk by (this was probably one of the best hours of my life...pics left and right...we had our first meal in Paris here at Cafe Du Marche...we just stumbled upon it because it was close to our hotel and once seated realized that everyone there was either a local or had Rick Steves' guide book on their table...I found this article when we got back: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/france/ruecler0208.htm ... I love Rick Steves' and I loved Cafe Du Marche) ... Or sitting in Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York... Or sitting in your own little homemade brasserie(that doubles as your kitchen).

Just last weekend the hubby and I took a day trip to NY City. We skipped breakfast in anticipation of a big 'ol lunch and when we stumbled upon Brasserie Les Halles on Park Ave.(probably most well known as being the place that launched Anthony Bourdain's career) we were delighted.
In true brasserie form the menu listed an array of classic French dishes: Boudin aux Pommes(blood sausage and apples) - Les Rillettes du Boucher(shredded pork confit) - Steak au poivre & frites(peppercorn covered steak w/fries) - Cassoulet(no translation for that one...it's a cassoulet) - Moules Frites(mussels and fries) - the list goes on and on...
The hubby had the Steak au poivre and I.......I had the Confit de Canard......and then I made a simplified version last night for dinner and YOU can too! Honestly. It's easy as pie...and tastier in my opinion. This is the type of dish I was talking about earlier. The French classic(with a bit of a twist) that is approachable and delectable.

Now. Confit de Canard...Duck confit...is pretty damn tough to make on your own. It is basically salt cured duck leg that is then poached in it's own fat. It's delicious and amazing and a work of art. This is where I try to re-create the dish in my own way and make it approachable....and I have to pat myself on the back and say I did a damn good job. The duck confit I had at Les Halles(pic left) was moist, tender, fall off the bone delicious, but it had simple flavors. The most prominent flavors were garlic, salt and pepper. Yup. Like I said. Simple ingredients. They presented the leg on a piece of rustic bread rubbed with garlic and served it with a side of truffled potatoes and a frisee salad. I was out of truffles at home(I mean come on...who keeps truffles lying around) so I made my own salad and potato side dish(potatoes fried in rendered duck fat and crispy skin topped salad). Then for the duck I simply seasoned it, crisped the skin and put in in the oven to roast. I think that although it wasn't a perfect re-creation of the Les Halles meal I kept true to the idea of using as much of the duck as possible and keeping the flavors traditional. Give this a try. It may sound difficult but I PROMISE you....you can do it.

Crispy Duck Leg - Fries - Craklin' Canard Salad - Fresh English peas


1 fresh duck leg per person - skin ON - trim any skin that is not attached to meat
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325. in an oven proof skillet heat enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan on medium high heat. Pat the duck leg dry then sprinkle it with a light dusting of salt(kosher if you've got it), black pepper, thyme and rosemary. Now lay the duck skin side down in the pan. It will sizzle. It will pop. Leave the legs alone for about 5 - 7 mins or until the skin is a deep golden brown. Once you achieve golden brown-ness flip the legs over and immediately transfer to the oven. Roast in the oven for approx 45 mins to an hour. I love my duck breasts cooked medium with some pink still in the meat but I like my legs cooked through. The bone and the skin will retain the moisture and you won't have dry duck legs...I promise. When they're almost done check the skin. If it isn't quite as crispy as you'd like it place the legs under the broiler for a few mins. Watch them carefully! They should crisp in just a few mins. Once the skin is crisp(don't let it burn) take the duck legs out and let them sit for a few mins before serving. Serve over a toasted piece of french bread that has been rubbed with a garlic clove. The bread will soak up the duck juices and become the greatest crouton you've ever tasted!

Duck fat fried potatoes:

Trimmed fat and skin from duck legs
Potatoes - thinly sliced or cut into "shoestring" sized fries - any kind of potato will do

When you're starting the duck legs start this too. Take the trimmed duck fat and place in a small pot over medium heat. You're going to render the fat. Basically this will work itself out. Just keep an eye on the heat to be sure the fat isn't burning. You just want to "melt" the fat off the skin. It will take about a half hour. Once the skin and fatty bits begin to crisp remove them from the pot and keep the duck fat warm until you're ready to fry your potatoes. When you've got about 15 mins left before serving heat the oil on medium-high heat. I didn't have a candy thermometer to use so I just dropped a few trial pieces of potato in to test it. You want the potato to float to the top quickly once dropped in and not burn immediately. Fry the potatoes in small batches until golden brown. Then remove, place on a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt immediately.


Almost every dish you get at a brasserie comes with a green salad on the side. I just took fresh mixed greens and topped them with any salad dressing you have OR you can make this one. Then I crumbled the crispy duck skin over the salad like bacon bits.....ducky bits!

Dressing: Take 1 tbs. of mayo and whisk into it 1/2 tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp worcheshire, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp brown mustard, salt & pepper(to taste)

Fresh English Peas:

You don't even really need these peas. The salad and the potatoes makes this a pretty traditional brasserie meal. I just had them in the fridge so I used them. They complimented the meal well so if you would like to make them here's the non-recipe(it's as easy as boiling water).

1 cup fresh peas
enough water to cover the peas
1 tbs. butter

Boil the peas until tender (fresh peas are a lot different than your frozen variety...they require a decent amount of cooking and will still be a bit al-dente) about 10 mins. Drain peas and toss with butter, salt and pepper to taste. That's it! If you like you can sprinkle some fresh mint over the top if you have it.

No comments:

Post a Comment