Peking Duck

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The last time I made Peking duck was 35 years ago.I know this because I did some serious cooking between getting married in early 1982, to when my baby arrived in late 1983.

During this time I dove head first into cooking, making my way through The Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook set. I wanted to learn how to cook, and those cookbooks were the only ones I owned, gifted to me by my mother when I got married!

There were 27 cookbooks in that set, with both International and regional American cuisine represented. The first was published in 1968. I still treasure them today.


Growing up, my mother, who was a passionate and crazily talented cook, whipped up International dishes from her set of Foods of the World cookbooks, so I was familiar with a lot of “exotic” ingredients, and fortunately not intimidated by the recipes when I began cooking seriously.

My favorite dish from the Chinese cookbook was Peking duck, served with Mandarin pancakes, hoisin sauce, and green onion “brushes!”

Preparing all of the elements, including the duck and the Mandarin pancakes, was not difficult, but it was time consuming. And I loved it.

Until the baby was born. At that point I continued to cook a lot, but I couldn’t make recipes that took hours of preparation. No more Peking duck!

Fast forward to 2019. Peking duck popped into my head. I have no idea why. So, it’s been so many years since I’d made it, or enjoyed it. Time to fix that!

Peking Duck
Pei-ching-k’ao-ya

1 – 5 pound duck
6 cups water
1/4 cup honey
4 slices peeled fresh ginger root, 1″ by 1/8″ each
2 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths

The sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sugar

12 scallions
Mandarin pancakes, recipe below

Wash the duck under cold water, then pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Tie one end of a 20″ length of cord around the neck skin. If the skin has been cut away, loop the cord under the wings. Suspend the bird from the string in a cool, airy place for 3 hours to dry the skin.

In a 12″ wok or large flameproof casserole, combine 6 cups water, 1/4 cup honey, ginger root and cut scallions, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Holding the duck by its string, lower it into the boiling liquid. With string in one hand and a spoon in the other turn the duck from side to side until all of its skin is moistened with liquid.


Remove the duck and hang it again in the cool place, setting a bowl beneath it to catch any drippings; the duck will dry in 2 to 3 hours. Discard the liquid in the wok.

Make the sauce by combining hoisin sauce, water, sesame seed oil and sugar in a small pan, and stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to its lowest point and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes. Pour into a small bowl, cool and reserve.

To make the scallion brushes, cut scallions down to 3″ lengths and trim off roots. Standing each scallion on end, make four intersecting cuts 1″ deep into its stalk. Repeat at other end. Place scallions in ice water and refrigerate until cut parts curl into brush-like fans.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Untie the duck and cut off any loose neck skin. Place duck, breast side up, on a rack and set in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the bird.

Roast the duck in the middle of the oven for one hour. Then lower the heat to 300 degrees, turn the duck on its breast and roast for 30 minutes longer. Now raise the heat to 375 degrees, return the duck to its original position and roast for a final half hour. Transfer the duck to a carving board.


With a small, sharp knife and your fingers, remove the crisp skin from the breast, sides and back of duck. Cut skin into 2 by 3″ rectangles and arrange them in a single layer on a heated platter.

Cut the wings and drumsticks from the duck, and cut all the meat away from breast and carcass. Slice meat into pieces 2 1/2″ long and 1/2″ wide, and arrange them with the wings and drumsticks on another heated platter.

To serve, place the platters of duck, the heated pancakes, the bowl of sauce, and the scallion brushes in the center of the table.

Traditionally, each guest spreads a pancake flat on his plate, dips a scallion in the sauce and brushes the pancake with it. The scallion is placed in the middle of the pancake with a piece of duck skin and a piece of meat on top. The pancake is folded over the scallion and duck, and tucked under.

One end of the package is then folded over about 1″ to enclose the filling, and the whole rolled into a cylinder that can be picked up with the fingers and eaten.

Mandarin Pancakes
Po-ping

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
1-2 tablespoons sesame seed oil

Sift flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the center and pour into it 3/4 cup of boiling water. With a wooden spoon, gradually mix flour and water together until a soft dough is formed; on a lightly floured surface, knead it gently for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle about 14″ thick. With a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter cut as many circles of dough as you can.

Knead scraps together, roll out again, and cut more circles.
Arrange circles side by side, brush half of them lightly with sesame seed oil and, sandwich wise, place the unoiled ones on top.

With a rolling pin, flatten each pair into a 6″ circle, rotating the sandwich an inch or so in a clockwise direction as you roll so that the circle keeps its shape, and turning it once to roll both sides. Cover the pancakes with a dry towel.

Set a heavy 8″ skillet over high heat for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to moderate and cook the pancakes, one at a time, in the ungreased pan, turning them over as they puff up and little bubbles appear on the surface.

Regulate the heat so that the pancakes become specked with brown after cooking about 1 minute on each side. As each pancake is finished, gently separate the halves and stack them on a plate.

Serve them at once or wrap them in foil and refrigerate for later use.

Foie Gras

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If I were ever asked what my last meal would be, it wouldn’t be a difficult answer. Foie gras, seared gently and cooked medium-rare, served with a compote of sorts and some toasts. It’s heaven on a plate to me.

Sadly, I can count the number of people I know who love liver as much as I do on one finger. So as a result, I’ve rarely prepared it.


Fortunately, I am able to buy beef liver where I live, and do enjoy it on occasion, typically with eggs and lots of browned onions.

And, I am able to purchase chicken liver in order to make chicken liver paté.

But there is just no comparing a slice of beef liver, or puréed chicken livers to the wonderfulness that is foie gras, and it was high time I purchased it.

My source for foie gras is the wonderful store and website D’Artagnan. The founder of D’Artagnan is Ariane Daguin, and her story is inspirational.

I purchased two lobes from D’Artagnan – one to cook sliced, and the other to make a paté for the holidays.

I chose to serve the foie gras with beet pancakes, which I made simply with grated beets, chopped shallots, egg, and flour.

Because fruit pairs so well with foie gras, I poached apple slices in a combination of apple nectar and maple syrup until soft, then reduced the liquid until syrupy.

Sometimes there is confusion, as one can make paté from liver, or one can make paté from foie gras, as my friend Stéphane did when I visited him at his home five long years ago. I got to help a little!

To prepare the foie gras, slice the lobe gently but firmly. Place the slices on a plate, and season with salt and pepper.

I like to cook foie gras in browned butter. I prefer a lighter sear, so I immediately turned down the fire after turning over the foie gras slices.

It only takes a few minutes per side, depending on the thickness. As I mentioned, I love foie gras medium rare. To the plate with 2 slices of foie gras I added a beet pancake, some of the nectar-poached apples, and then poured on a little syrup.


The combination was perfection, if I may say so myself!

I included the beet pancake for color, but one could place the foie gras slices on bread slices optionally.

If all you’ve heard about foie gras is the inhumane treatment of ducks and geese, please read this article by my favorite Serious Eats writer J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT. The article is well-researched, educational, and also based on personal experience.

Je ne sais quoi

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I’m sure you’ve heard the French expression “je ne sais quoi,” that something you just can’t put your finger on, that something not easily described. That is the country of France to me – my favorite European country.

Experiencing French culture requires an open-mind and adventurous spirit. And if you need help to embrace everything French, you need to visit Stéphane Gabart of My French Heaven, who lives in Libourne, outside of Bordeaux. His business is customizing culinary tours in France. And that includes him cooking for you in his lovely home!

I have two posts on my blog about visiting Stéphane with my daughter in 2014, here and here. Because of my wonderful experience last year, I knew I would be visiting Stéphane again. And I did.

Last month, my girlfriend Gabriella and I visited Stéphane for 8 fun-filled days. My friend had been to Paris, but she’d never experienced French villages, which is to me quintessential France. The hamlets with the cobble-stoned alleyways, the little bakeries, tucked-away restaurants, and the farmers’ markets. Oh, and also the vineyards and the chateaux and the castles.


What I love about having Stéphane as a personal guide and chef is that you can plan exactly what you want to do and eat. Days spent with Stéphane are called his foodie days. You plan what you want to eat, go to the market with him, and then watch him do all the work! You can choose half days as well, but if you did, you’d miss out on Stéphane’s great humor and joie de vivre.

But your visit doesn’t have to only be about food. For one thing, there are Stéphane’s artistic photography skills. Whether you’re passionate about photography, or only own an iPhone, I can attest that his expertise is inspirational. Look at his blog and you’ll see what I mean.

And, there is sightseeing, of course. You can travel with him to any area of your choice. My husband and I have already booked a trip with Stéphane to Provence. My husband is my favorite traveling partner, but he has hesitated coming with me to visit Stéphane because he thought Stéphane and I would force him to eat foie gras and snails! But the trips are custom-designed for exactly what you want to experience!

Gabriella and I spent a day in Cap Ferret and Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, and also a few days in the Dordogne region. To show you the variety of our daily activities, check out our travel itinerary here!

So why do I love France, you ask? Je ne sais quoi!

I mean, we have doors in the USA also.


And we have roses.


We have cheese.

There’s produce at our stores and markets.

And of course we have food…

Obviously I’m being tongue-in-cheek here. I’m not trying to compare what we have in the states to France, because there is no comparison. It’s not that only good food and wine is available in France. But to walk into an abbey from 4 A.D., to visit a village built in the 14th century, and to gaze upon a chateau from the 15th century – such as Chateau Filolie in the featured photo – is to experience what I love about Europe. The food and wine only add to the experience!

Merci, Stéphane! (that is obviously my look of pure bliss!)
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Sautéed Apple Slices

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These apple slices were sautéed to top a savory dish, namely the chicken breasts served with a bacon cream sauce I made yesterday, shown in the photo above.

Sautéed apples aren’t something you have to have in your repertoire, but once you learn this simple technique, you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be tempted to do this! Think pork, duck, turkey, foie gras and pheasant.

There are two approaches to sautéed apples. One is savory, which I’m doing today, and the other is sweet, such as for a topping for ice cream.

Any apples will work for this recipe; I used a Rome apple because that’s what I had on hand.

Have everything ready to go at the point you peel and slice the apple. You don’t want the apple to brown before the sautéing step.

Here’s what you need for slices of 1/2 medium apple:

Butter, about 2 tablespoons
Calvados*

ap1

Add the butter to a skillet that is large enough to hold the slices in one layer. Let the butter brown slightly for extra flavor.

Add the apple slices. Salt and pepper is optional.
ap

Turn over the apple slices carefully and let them brown on the other side.

apfeature

Add a generous splash of Calvados to the hot skillet. If the Calvados doesn’t light on fire immediately, shake the skillet a little, and it will.
ap2
Let the Calvados burn down, and cook until the apple slices soften. Then they’re ready to serve.

ap3

* You don’t have to use Calvados to flambé apple slices, but it is a wonderful booze to have on hand. It’s an apple brandy, very potent, and has a lovely apple flavor. It’s from the Normandie region of France.
vivelaNengw

If you don’t have it on hand, use a brandy, cognac, Armagnac, or even a dry vermouth.

note: If you want sautéed apples for dessert purposes, simply add some brown sugar to the butter in the first step. Let the sugar dissolve, then sauté the fruit. This will work really well with apples and pears, as well as with bananas, such as in bananas foster. For the flambé step, use a liqueur instead that will compliment your recipe. You can also add cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, if that works with the recipe you’re using.

Dried Fruit Sauce

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In yesterday’s post on fruited duck breasts, I mentioned that I served them with a “fruited” sauce. After completing the duck breasts and the sauce, there was just too much information and too many photos for a single post. So here is the sauce I made for the duck breasts, using dried fruit.

This sauce would be just as good with poultry, pork, or lamb. Plus, you can really mix and match the ingredients to suit your tastes. This is your sauce, make it yours!

Fruit Sauce

1/4 cup dried pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
Chambord
1 cup chicken broth or other
1 tablespoon veal or chicken demi-glace
Oil left in a skillet after searing meat
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon ancho chile paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sherry vinegar

First, place the pomegranate and raisins in a small bowl. Cover them with the chambord and set aside.
ducksauce6
Pour the stock into a measuring cup and add the tablespoon of demi-glace. Heat the stock in the microwave until you can dissolve the demi-glace in it.
ducksauce7

If there’s a lot of oil in the skillet you’re going to use, pour some off. You will have quite a bit if you’ve just cooked duck breasts with the skin. Keep about one tablespoon in the skillet.

Heat the fat over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 4-5 minutes, then stir in the garlic.
ducksauce5

As soon as you can smell the garlic, add the stock with the demi-glace, plus the wine.
ducksauce4

Then add all of the juices that have run off from the duck or whatever meat you seared and cooked.
ducksauce3

Heat the liquid gently and let it reduce. If you’re unsure about reducing liquid, read my post on it here.

Meanwhile, strain the raisins and pomegranates over a bowl. Keep the Chambord, but not for this recipe. I didn’t want the sauce too sweet. You can always use it in another reduction or marinade.

When the liquid has reduced by at least half, add the ancho chile paste and salt. Stir well.
ducksauce1

Then stir in the fruits and keep cooking over low heat.
ducksauce

When there’s barely any liquid in the skillet, pour in the vinegar. This will brighten the sauce a bit, and offset the sweetness from the fruit. Continue to cook until there’s barely any liquid in the skillet again. Then it’s ready to serve.

duck

Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and pass around with the duck breasts or lamb chops.
lastduck

note: If you’re limited on time, reduce all of the liquids except the vinegar first, until just 1/4 or so remains in the saucepan. Then the sauce-making time will be cut back significantly.

another note: The ingredients that you can make your own include:
1. your choice of dried fruits (try apples and apricots instead of pomegranates and raisins)
2. your choice of liqueur (try port instead of Chambord)
3. your choice of liquids (try home-made stock, red wine, port, vermouth, madera, marsala, whatever you like and have on hand)
4. your choice of seasoning (try a little thyme or even a little curry powder instead of the ancho chile paste)