Magret de Canard –

I’ve been spending the past few weeks in the south-west of France between Bordeaux and Bergerac with my wife and daughter.  We are staying in a great house in the town of Duras which we got for a bargain price as we booked for a good stretch of time during the low season month of November.

I used to work for a French company and lived for a time in Paris in the early part of the Millennium.  Due to my job, I spent the best part of the past 11 years to-ing and fro-ing between Paris and wherever else I was in the world.

Despite being English by birth, I guess you could say that I have become a bit of a francophile.  Although I have had some of the most frustrating (and amusing!) experience during my many visits to France, I am constantly delighted by something new that I always seem to find in France, french people, the culture or the cuisine.

The South West of France always makes me think of delicious duck, from the salty confit legs, to the buttery fois gras to the duck fat that seems to find it’s way into everything that is cooked in the region.  In my opinion, the finest duck in the world comes from this area along with some of the best ways to cook it.

I have eaten Magret du Canard many times throughout France, but staying in this region, with a well equipped kitchen gives me the chance to try my hand at cooking it.

Duck is a very rich meat, so needs something fruity and sour to accompany it, classically this has been orange or cherries, but I like to use what is available locally and paired my version with a pear and shallot sauce which had enough of the sweet and sourness to cut through the oily, rich duck.

I served this accompanied with some braised red cabbage sautéed in (dairy free – sacrilege I know!) butter, pepper and balsamic vinegar and some potatoes cubed and put in the oven with a twist of salt & pepper, thyme and some of the duck fat from the breasts as they were beginning to cook (a LOT comes out!).

Serves: 2 (and a 1/2  as a hungry toddler snaffled some of this!).

Ingredients

2 x 300g duck breasts – if you can, get the ones from the fois gras ducks.

salt and pepper

1 pear, chopped into slices

1 shallot, finely diced and previously softened in 25g butter (dairy free for us, but the naughty stuff works oh so well…)

1 glass of nice red wine

a little chicken stock

To serve:

3 medium potatoes cubed into 1cm chunks

3 sprigs of thyme

salt and pepper

1/2 head small red cabbage

balsamic vinegar

30g butter (dairy free once again if you have toddlers or other difficult type allergy people!)

Method

1) First for the cabbage, shred the cabbage finely and place in some boiling, salted water for 3 minutes.

2) Drain the cabbage and run the colander under cold water to stop the cooking.

3) Preheat oven to 200c and place cubed potatoes and thyme in a baking tray.  Season with salt and pepper and have ready near hob.

4) Place a medium frying pan on hob on a medium heat.

5) Season duck breasts with salt and pepper both sides and score the skin of the duck deeply into the fat in a diamond pattern, but avoid cutting the meat.

6) Place the duck into the pan, skin side down.  It will begin to release it’s fat, as soon as there is around 5 good tablespoons full, place this into the potatoes tray and give them a good swirl around in the fat.

7) Place the tray of potatoes and duck fat in the hot oven on the top shelf.

8) Keep the duck cooking skin side down for around a further 7-8 minutes.  Check that the skin is not burning every now and then, it should be going a delicious golden as more and more fat renders from it.

9) Turn the duck breast to go meat side down in the hot fat for 1 minute.  Take the duck from the frying pan and place in  a second baking tray and  in the hot oven for 5 or6 minutes if you like nice pink duck.  Longer if you prefer it grey(!).

10) Pour off the hot duck fat into a cup (save it as it is so good to cook other stuff in) and deglaze the pan with the glass of red wine.  Scrape around to blend in any crusty bits of duck.

11) add the previously softened shallots and pears and gently bubble.  Add enough chicken stock to form a good consistency sauce

12) In a separate pan, melt butter and add balsamic vinegar.  Sautee the cabbage in this until hot and add a good shake of black pepper.

13) Take duck from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Take potatoes out of oven and keep warm.

14) Slice duck at a diagonal angle and place slices on warm plate with potatoes and cabbage.

15) Spoon pear sauce over duck in a nice thick line and serve immediately with a hearty Bon Apetit!

Brioche Bread & Butter Pudding with Chocolate

It was my brother in law’s birthday a couple of months ago. Unfortunately for him, the day of his birth, September 11 is now far better known for other reasons, in fact he was 21 the day the planes struck the world trade centre so his special day became a bit of an irrelevance.

However, this year I cooked dinner for him and finished off the meal with a twist on traditional bread and butter pudding. I like how in this recipe there is a great partnership between the buttery brioches, creamy custard, bitter chocolate, sweet prunes and lifted by a far more adult slug of ameretto.

Apologies to my gluten, wheat and dairy intolerant followers (and daughter!) in advance for this recipe…

Serves: 8-10 portions (this is very rich, so small is better!)

Ingredients

1 good brioche loaf sliced or 4-6 small brioches sliced
1/2 a vanilla pod or best vanilla essence
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
350 ml of half fat milk
300 ml of single cream
120g of soft brown sugar
150g of best dark chocolate – 70% cocoa solids or better
Around 10 prunes
A good handful of pecans
A shot of ameretto liqueur
Sufficient butter to butter brioche slices
Sugar to sprinkle on top of pudding.

method

1. Put eggs in a bowl and mix with electric blender until slightly foamy and paler in co our.
2. Melt 100g of your chocolate in microwave with a tablespoonful or two of the milk. Do 15 second bursts and keep checking until just melted and combined with the milk.
3. Pour a little of chocolate in with eggs and combine with mixer. Then gradually add the rest whilst mixing constantly.
4. Put milk, cream, a few pecans crushed and the vanilla pod (or essence) in a large pan and bring really slowly to a simmer. Again, keep a good eye on it, as it starts to boil remove from the heat and let it cool somewhat.
5 Strain milk into egg/choc mixture and combine again with blender – if the milk is too hot and you don’t mix rapidly, then you will have a disaster!
6. Add your slug of ameretto. This is now your chocolate custard to use in pudding.
7. Chop remainder of chocolate, prunes and pecans into small chunks.
8. Butter brioche slices and place in a good size (20-25cm square?) baking dish. Between each layer of brioche, sprinkle in bits of the chocolate/prune/pecan mixture.
9. Once brioche is used or dish is full, pour in chocolate custard over the whole thing making sure the top layer of bread is well moistened with the custard mixture.
10. Sprinkle with sugar and leave for 30 mins or so (longer is fine) before baking.
11. Bake at 160c (fan oven) for 20-30 mins. The baking dish should be placed in a deep baking tray with some water in it to creat a Bain Marie whilst cooking.
12. Serve with some extra thick single cream.

Pinenut & Wasabi Crusted Rack Of Lamb

When I was a lot younger than I am now, I used to dislike meat with bones in and particularly Lamb. I think this was partly as a result of having a vegetarian mother who was not keen of cooking meat. When she did cook meat, she liked to ensure that there was no possibility of any food poisoning from the meat. Consequently, this meant that there was absolutely no pinkness, moisture or flavor in the meat!

My tastes have changed and I remember being given pink lamb by my sister when I was in my late teens. I didn’t like the look of it but, keen to be polite tried a mouthful. I honestly expected that I would have to spit it out, but…

I loved it. Suddenly i knew what all the fuss about getting to know your butcher was about and cooking stuff just so.

Since that time I have never looked back and enjoyed meat medium rare.

This dish is really quick and easy to cook and is great served with either a green salad and jacket potato for a quick family supper, or you could do some green beans and Boulangere potatoes for a great dinner party dish.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 racks of lamb – these must be French trimmed.
100g butter
4 Tbsp breadcrumbs (gluten free is fine)
3-4 tsp good Wasabi
3 Tbsp fresh mint
1-2 Tbsp fresh Thyme
125g pine nuts

Method

1. Check your racks of lamb to ensure that all of the fat has been trimmed from it and the bones showing are clean. If not, get busy with a small sharp knife.
2. To make the crust, whizz together all ingredients except lamb with stick blender or in food processor. Whizz until they are combined and smooth.
3. Using your hands, pat the crust onto the top of the lamb.
4. Chill in the fridge for 40 mins or freezer for 10 mins.
5. Place racks onto a baking sheet and into a preheated oven at 200c.
6. Cook for 15-20 mins for lamb to still be pink in the middle.
7. Rest meat for 5-10 mins under foil and cut into thick slices with 1 bone per slice.

Serve and accept the accolades.

Scallop with Chorizo

Some friends (you know who you are…) asked us around for dinner last weekend. They had just spent a bomb on putting in a new kitchen with loads of gadgets and wanted to show it off. The friends are regulars attending other people’s dinner parties, but have never really had people round for proper grown up type dinners. They asked me if I could suggest a recipe or two. This quickly turned into me preparing and cooking most of the food and very nearly shopping for it(!). Fortunately enough, they are old friends and can get away with a bit of cheek. Anyway, they forgot to buy rocket for my earlier recipe on scallops with chorizo and with the other guests arrived and hungry, I had to quickly improvise a new recipe. I have to say I think the results were even better than the original recipe and it certainly looked a stunning creation! Note: if you wish to economize, the dish will also work with 12 instead of 18 scallops. 🙂

Serves: 6 as a starter

Ingredients

18 queen or king scallops, as fresh as you can possibly get them with roe removed

Around 450g of whole chorizo

250g of frozen petit pois

2 tsp ground cumin

Bunch fresh coriander

75g butter

125ml of marsala wine or sherry

Salt and pepper

Method

1. Place peas in a pan of fast boiling salted water and boil for 3 minutes.

2. Drain water and add butter, cumin and 80% of coriander in pan.

3. Using a stick blender, blitz everything until it is a vibrant green purée. Taste and season if necessary.

4. Get your plates ready and lined up and place 3-4 Tbsp of the pea mixture on the centre of each of them.

5. Pick over the scallops and if there is any of the tough muscle that connects them to the shell, chop it out. Give them a grind of pepper and set aside.

6. Cut the chorizo into medium thick slices.

7. Heat the pan over a medium to high heat and have the lemon, Marsala, chorizo and scallops near to you as the dish really does cook in a flash…

8. Place the chorizo slices in the dry pan and cook them until they are nicely browned on each side. They should release plenty of spicy orange oil which you will use to cook the scallops – don’t throw it away.

9. Take the chorizo out of the pan with a slotted spoon or fish slice and put in a bowl.

10. Put the scallops in the hot chorizo oil pan and fry for about 1 minute each side – avoid overcooking! The oil will really spit when the cold scallops hit it, so take care.

11. Take the scallops out and with a few chorizo rounds, place three on top of each pea purée.

12. Keep the pan on the heat and place Marsala wine in with what’s left of the scallop chorizo oil. Mix it around briefly to deglaze the pan and then pour a little of this liquor over each of the scallop & chorizo plates. Give a season of salt and pepper, a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to each plate and serve immediately.

Accompany this with a nice, really cold bottle of new Zealand Pinot Gris or dry riesling.