Foreign Holidays = Good excuses for dinner parties.
We started with Gregor Mendel cocktails, French-ified with a splash of Chartreuse. Nicks and Christina brought anchoïade (spread of anchovies, garlic, cilantro) which we broiled for a few minutes on toasts. Then out came the Mousse de Foiles de Volailles (chicken liver mousse) and Cerise à l’Aigre-Doux (Sweet and Sour Cherries). The recipes came from a recent New York Times Magazine article.
1 lb chicken livers
1 cup thinly sliced sweet white onions
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tb thyme leaves
1 star anise
1 tsp sherry vinegar (and more to taste)
1 Tb congac
1/4 lb butter, slightly cool, in chunks (1 stick)
Trim livers, wash and pat them dry. Heat 2 Tb olive oil in frying pan until very hot – Be sure it is very hot. You want the livers to carmelize on the outside, and not overcook. Put the larger livers in first, then add the smaller ones. Cook for ~4 minutes until medium rare. I cooked them to medium, and all was fine, but the final mousse didn’t have the rosy color I was hoping for. Remove the livers from the pan into a food processor.
There might be a lot of liquid in the pan at this point. I poured much of it out. If your pan is hot enough, there won’t be. Add more oil if necessary, and add the onions, shallots, garlic, thyme, and star anise. Low heat, make them sweat covered for 10 minutes. Raise heat, add vinegar and cognac and deglaze the pan until liquid is gone. Remove the star anise and add to the processor. Add the butter, salt and pepper, and purée. Taste. It will probably need salt and more vinegar. Add a little at a time, mix, and taste again. The vinegar will be important to pull the flavors together, give the mousse a tang that it would lack otherwise.
Transfer mousse to jars (we used some ramekins as well) and cover with olive oil. This is useful to protect from oxidation, but a piece of plastic wrap might do the job. I would not do the olive oil again. Makes it hard to admire the color of the mousse when you serve. Put it into the refrigerator. Serve with pickled sweet-and-sour cherries:
1/2 lb sour cherries (not sweet cherries, that you can readily buy at market. These cherries are a different species and have a short East Coast growing period – which is just about over now).
2 bay leaves
20 crushed black peppercorns
1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Wash the cherries. Poke 3 holes in each cherries with a needle. The recipe calls for cutting off the ends of the stems. I did. I can’t imagine it makes a difference. Put into canning jars (I split them into two jars) with bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring vinegar, sugar, and 1/3 cup water to boil. Add to cherries and close lid. Allow to cool and then refrigerate. The recipe says they won’t be ready for 3 days, but I ate them the next day and they tasted just like 3 days later. So if you don’t have the time, don’t worry.
Serve togeher with mousse, whole grain mustard, and a few cornichons for fun.
This recipe is fantastic. I order liver mousse whenever available, and this was on par with any I’ve had (the duck liver mousse at Harvest is only slightly better). Nick declared it the best liver mousse he’d ever had. He then proceeded to eat more than I think is healthy. It lacked the mineral flavor of some mousses that make them unpleasant, but still had the caramel-meat flavors that we love. The thyme and anise were subtle, but added a freshness and herbalness that gave the mousse a depth of flavor. To be repeated!
The French pride themselves that the only part of a duck not used in the kitchen is the quack. (Ben asked me what part the quack is. It’s the noise a duck makes. Yeah.) I was determined to do the same. I started with a whole Long Island (Pekin) duck:
And I broke it down to all its parts:
Took 24 minutes. And was wicked fun.
The legs (top left), neck, wings were set aside to be confited later. We would eat the breasts (bottom left) later. I wasn’t interested in making stock, so what to do with the carcass (right) also called the demoiselle. “The Cooking of Southwestern France” by Paula Wolfert was immensely helpful during this dinner. And she mentioned that the French would cook the carcass over a fire and pick off the leftover flesh and eat with bread and wine. And so became the second course. We went to the roof, put the carcass (seasoned with salt and pepper) over a hot grill, cooked only for a few minutes. There wasn’t as much meat as I thought (I did a nice job cutting it off, I guess) and ate it with bread and wine, sitting under the sunset in the perfect Bastille Dat weather.
Back to the kitchen to cook the Ris de Veau (Calf sweetbreads):
Maybe a close-up wasn’t needed. This was about 2 lbs of fresh veal sweetbreads from Savenor’s market in Cambridge. They were already well cleaned, free of any of the membrane and most sinews. But how to prepare them. I read many versions. Some said to soak them in acidified water in the fridge for many hours. Others skipped that and went straight to boiling. When there appears to be a dispute, I almost always rely on Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”. He’s not led me astray thus far. He skipped the initial soaking. I brought a pot to boil with a Tb of vinegar and a tsp Salt. In went the sweetbreads for 10 minutes. They came out gray and much firmer. Then they are plaed between two plates (I found glass baking dishes useful) and under weights in the refrigerator for several hours.
When we were done pulling apart the demoiselle, I sliced the sweetbreads into equal pieces (about 1 inch thick) and floured and added to a frying pan with melted butter. Again, pan should be quite hot. Cook for a few minutes per side, remove and put on warm platter to wait. Add 1/2 cup white wine to pan, reduce to a couple Tbs, add splash of lemon juice, check for salt and pepper and pour over sweetbreads. Serve. Mine were a touch overcooked, but I like them especially rare. Everyone else enjoyed them.
The breasts had been curing since early in the morning. All recipes say they should cure overnight. I hadn’t planned well enough, and 10 hours would have to do. I mixed:
1 Tb kosher salt
1.5 tsp minced shallots
1 tsp chopped parsley
1 crumbled bay leaf
1/4 tsp thyme leaves
12 black peppercorns, crushed
1 clove garlic, sliced
This was rubbed all over the breasts. Yep…
Cover and refrigerate.
About an hour before cooking them, I took them out, washed them of the salt and herbs, and dried them. Then I made several cross-hatches into the fat of each breast, but not into the flesh. This is important so that when you cook the breasts, as the skin cooks it doesn’t shrink awkwardly and cause the entire breast to bunch into a ball.
Heat a pan over moderate heat. Add breasts, skin side down and cook for 10 minutes until skin is a beautiful caramel color. As you cook, occasionally tip the pan and remove some of the fat. Remove and cover with foil for up to 30 minutes before continuing. Then heat pan again and cook breasts flesh side down 3-5 minutes. Do not overcook. You will not be welcome in France ever again. And you’ve spent all day preparing this duck. Don’t screw it up now! Have a drink, relax. You’ll be fine. But if you screw this up, don’t talk to me again.
Remove the duck from the pan. Let it rest for a few minutes. Then slice at a 45 degree angle and observe how beautifully the duck has been cooked. (It was beautiful, a deep red color in the center, juicy, but not too rare. I was too drunk to remember to take a picture. Such was Bastille Day). They were dressed with a shallot vinaigrette (2 shallots sliced thinly, added to 1.5 Tbs sherry vinegar for 10 minutes, then added to 1/4 cup olive oil, chives, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar). Christina declared this the best duck she’d ever eaten. Then she mistakenly insulted Nick’s cooking. Nick was sad. Ben followed suit by saying that I was successful because this was all so simple. I was too drunk to be sad. Sara tried to insult her husband John, but he wasn’t around to be sad.
The salad was inspired by the Central Square farmers market, where I picked up mizuna, a green that is a member of the mustard family, fennel, and fava beans. After shelling the favas, then blaching them, then picking off their waxy shell, I realized that fava beans are not worth it. But I did it anyway. To prepare, I heated a frying pan with a little duck fat (rendered from the skin of the duck), and added small cubes of jambon (ham) and fried them. Then I added the fava beans, and sliced fennel bulb. I cooked for 2-3 minutes until the ham was browned and the fennel was more aromatic, but still crispy. I threw this on top of a bowl of washed mizuna and sliced radishes. Then, of course, I added the Canard Graisserons (Duck skin crackling). After rendering the fat, I reserved the skin, and then cooked until crisp and brown. They are perfect snacks. The salad was dressed with a simple red-wine vinaigrette. Again, too drunk to photo, but it was lovely, well balanced with the piquant mizuna and radishes, the more mild favas, the ham and crunchy duck skin, and the bolder fennel. A nice finish to the main courses.
Two cheeses: Comté Petite Fort Saint-Antoine; Cow; Jura, France and Lingot de Quercy; Goat; Quercy, France.
Christina had prepared Crème Brulées ahead of time, which we finished with sugar under the broiler to carmelize. We could barely wait to eat them, though we should have waited longer as they were quite firm enough after the cooking. But they were still delicious, creamy and light, the caramel layer sticking to our teeth. Sara treated us to a fresh fruit salad which made us all feel a little healthier. I mixed up a Last Word to help us all pass out. (Equal parts gin, chartreuse, lime juice, and maraschino liquer, shaken with ice, strained into a cold glass).
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.