Diving Into Duck
One of the best things about this part of France is that it’s Duck Central. Well, perhaps a little further west and we’d really be in the palmiped epicenter of France, but we’re surrounded by duck as it is. Everything that can be made of duck, or parts of duck, including some parts of duck that you might never have thought about eating, is in the markets here. So naturally when we had the opportunity to have some guests for lunch, all I wanted to make was duck, duck, duck.
The main course was as you see it. A beautiful duck breast served with aillade, that garlicky walnut sauce that complements it so beautifully and is the perfect thing to make right now when the new crop of walnuts has just been harvested. Fresh walnuts are really different, soft and slightly sticky, with a more delicate flavor than they will have when they dry. I’ll give you a recipe, which you can make even if you only have dried walnuts and it will still be delicious.
But first we had foie gras served with a fig and ginger chutney. I’ll give you the fig recipe as well, that way you’ll have a good excuse to spend a rainy weekend in the kitchen. It’s pouring here right now, which is why rainy weekends in the kitchen are on my mind. I even hauled a heap of chicken bones out of the freezer to make soup for our lunch today, which means that Fall has definitively arrived.
Foie gras is everywhere here too, and its presence will intensify between now and the winter holidays, when every French table will be graced with it. As for all the rabid discussion about it that goes on in the US, well, let’s just say you don’t hear any of that hereabouts.
And just to be excessively ducky, as a second course there was a duck paté and a slice of cou farci, a deboned stuffed duck neck, which is more or less a paté in its own right. Drizzled with a walnut vinaigrette it made a rich and satisfying little salad.
And then, after the cheese, because even I am not brave enough to serve duck for dessert, for those whose constitutions permitted it there was apple tart. And there you have a French autumn lunch par excellence, one that you can easily recreate at home, should you be so inclined. And if you have any friends who are card-carrying members of Protect the Palmipeds, it’d be best not to invite them for this meal.
There are lots of recipes for this delight, but I’ve finally settled on a ratio that suits me. Take 1 dozen whole walnuts and remove the meat, placing it in your food processor. Peel three cloves of garlic, slice them up a bit, and toss them in too. Add some salt and pepper, then grind the whole thing together until you have a coarse paste. With the food processor running, start drizzling in some walnut oil, and continue this until you have a nice purée. In the picture above I made it pretty thick, because the food processor I was using has really dull blades, but normally it should be spoonable and smooth. It’s best to make this the night before you want to serve it, to tame the ferocity of the garlic. Right before serving you can stir in some chopped parsley, or not. It’s good both ways. You can easily double or triple this recipe, and you probably should, if you really love garlic.
Fig and Ginger Chutney
This is a real treat, inspired by this recipe. It’s wonderful with foie gras, and would be great with chicken or pork tenderloin as well.
1 kilo of ripe figs, stemmed and quartered
2 small onions, diced
700 grams sugar
6 decilitres vinegar – I used a mix of red wine, walnut, and blueberry balsamic vinegars
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger
salt and pepper
In a large pot, simmer the diced onions for a few minutes with a little bit of water, just until they’re translucent. Add the figs and the sugar and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add all of the remaining ingredients and let simmer for an hour to an hour and a quarter, stirring often and skimming off as many of the floating seeds as is possible. Don’t knock yourself out with the skimming, a few seeds are part of what makes it figgy, but it’s amazing how many seeds there are in a kilo of figs. When it’s the consistency of jam, place while still very hot in clean jars and seal them immediately.