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Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

Early June brings two important dates for Tom and me, snugged around each side of D-Day. The 5th is my birthday, and the 7th is our wedding anniversary. Last year we celebrated them with a splendid week in Venice; this year, of course, we were confined to home. Accordingly, we indulged ourselves with two elegant dinners for those days.

 

The Birthday Dinner

The main dish at this meal was based on a long-time favorite recipe for casserole-roasted pheasant – Fagiano ai sapori veneziani – from our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It has done great things for guinea hen, as well as for pheasant, so I thought I’d see what it would do for a chicken. The “Venetian flavors” here are celery, carrot, onion, pancetta, prosciutto, sage, rosemary, and white wine. The savory combination contributed an intriguing hint of wildness to half an excellent free-range chicken.
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Our first course was two little parmesan cheese custards, sformati di parmigiano. It’s a clipped recipe I’ve had for years and keep forgetting about, then happily rediscovering. It’s rich, easy, and good. Essentially just eggs, grated cheese, and heavy cream, baked briefly in a bain marie, unmolded and served with optional tomato sauce on the side. Makes a lovely light appetizer for company, if one could only have company again!
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The Anniversary Dinner

All through May, the season for fresh morel mushrooms, we searched markets for them, with no success. At last we acquired a single batch of big, beautiful ones.
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After cooking them all and eating half immediately, we froze the rest to save for this celebratory first course: feuilletés aux morilles à la crème. The puff pastry dough was not homemade, but I did cut and shape it into bouchée cases, which became crisp, buttery, flaky containers for the morels.
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Our main course – extravagant, elegant, and utterly simple – was one big, rare, rib of beef, cooked in an open pan on top of the stove in a way that makes it taste like a classic standing rib roast. I’ve written here about this recipe from Roger Vergé’s Cuisine of the South of France. We chose it for this evening specifically to partner with a very special bottle of red wine, which it did to perfection. (See below.) This is a fabulous preparation for the very best beef.
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The Dessert

I saw a luscious-looking raspberry ricotta cake on someone else’s blog and fell in love with it. Google found the recipe for me on the Bon Appétit website, and I made the cake to serve for both our festive dinners. The 1½ cups of fresh ricotta that went into the rich, sweet batter produced a cake as light and cushiony as a cloud. In the mix I substituted fresh raspberries for frozen, which wasn’t entirely wise: fewer fresh berries fill a measuring cup than frozen ones. Fortunately, I had extra berries to serve alongside, with big dollops of whipped crème fraiche. Heavenly! The cake held up perfectly for the second dinner, as well.
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And to Drink . . .

Both days, we started with glasses of Champagne, of course. For my birthday, even though the food was Italianate, it went beautifully with a French wine: a 1990 Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin. The anniversary meal, as I mentioned above, was chosen deliberately to match a wine: one long-cherished bottle of the extraordinary 2006 Ridge California Montebello, which we’d been waiting for just the right special occasion to drink. And, for digestifs both days, snifters of a fine Spanish brandy called 1866.
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Tom has written about the wines in his own blog, for those who’d like to know more about them.

 

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The quotation marks in my title above are an acknowledgement that only the tiniest fraction of the ancestry of the duck legs I used for this recipe was wild. They were from moulards, a hybrid of Muscovy and Pekin ducks. Muscovies are native to South America, and some have become feral in the US, but I think their hybrid offspring are all born in barnyards.

I wish we could have gotten hold of a truly wild duck for the dish, but that’s never easy. Moulards are very tasty ducks, though, and rich enough in flavor to suggest game birds. Big ones, too: Each of these legs weighed three-quarters of a pound.
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This Cajun recipe, which I noticed for the first time in my copy of The New Orleans Cookbook, by Rima and Richard Collin, is very time-consuming, but that’s not a problem in these days of sheltering at home. For much of that time, the dish just cooks along all by itself. I’ll also mention that, despite the recipe’s racy name and New Orleans’ bibulous reputation, essentially none of the alcohol persists into the finished dish.
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In the late morning of duck dinner day, I made up a marinade for the legs, using red wine, brandy, onions, parsley, thyme, marjoram, allspice, and bay leaf.
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I trimmed the legs of as much excess fat as possible, then salted and peppered them and plopped them into the marinade for five hours in the refrigerator. They needed to be turned over in the shallow liquid once every hour.
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Then the legs were to be browned thoroughly in butter and olive oil. They took the opportunity of this step to release a huge amount of fat from under their skin and did their best to spatter it all over my apron and the stove.
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Since wild ducks wouldn’t have had all that fat, I drew off most of it before continuing the cooking. The next step was to add minced garlic, thinly sliced mushrooms, some of the strained marinade, and a little beef broth from a bouillon cube.
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Finally, it was just to cover the pot and simmer gently until the duck was tender. The recipe suggested that would take 1¼ to 1½ hours. Mine took all of 2 hours, and I had to add some hot water to keep the sauce from reducing down to nothing but fat. Good thing I’d started very early in the day!

To serve alongside the duck I had a big bunch of the year’s first local asparagus, which I roasted in the oven, and some end-of-season local fingerling potatoes, which I just boiled.
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This was a very rich and unctuous dinner plate. The duck was intensely flavorful (though I must admit, still not quite as tender as we’d have preferred), the mushrooms almost meaty, the potatoes happy to soak up the sauce, and the excellent, really fresh asparagus hearty and glistening from having been tossed with olive oil for the roasting. It all needed an assertive red wine to cut through the fats, and Tom gave it one: a nice, earthy, five-year-old Pommard.

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I’m writing today about the second excellent recipe I made recently from Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, which is pollo in umido con cipolla. The English name given is chicken and onion stew, but it’s really what we call now a braise.

My regular readers know that I’m inordinately fond of chicken – any kind of chicken – in which I’m indulged by my long-suffering husband, who isn’t. It was the pairing with onions that particularly attracted me to this recipe. Of my 22 previous blog posts about chicken recipes, only one of them uses onions as anything more than a small amount of aromatic vegetable. (And that one didn’t come out so well.) Also, we both love onions.

The first step in Pezzini’s recipe is to simmer sliced onions in butter and oil in a saute pan.

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Next is to take out the onions and brown pieces of chicken in the onion-flavored fat. Nice idea!
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I salted and peppered my chicken legs, returned the onions to the pan along with a tiny dried hot red pepper, and poured on half a cup of white wine.
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After 10 minutes of gentle cooking with the pan uncovered, I covered it, simmered for 5 more minutes, then stirred in half a tablespoon of tomato paste dissolved in a quarter cup of hot water. I’d also been turning the chicken legs every so often, though the recipe doesn’t say to.
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The chicken was done after another 15 minutes of almost effortless cooking, by which time the sauce had smoothed out and thickened slightly.
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Then I had to uncover the pan and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until the sauce achieved “a jam-like consistency.” Frankly, I don’t see why some of those interim steps couldn’t have been combined, but I followed the recipe’s directions for them – at least for this first time around. And they worked very well.
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What a good dish this was! The sauce tasted surprisingly complex, considering how few ingredients it contained. The meltingly soft onions played a low-key supporting role, and the chicken legs had picked up some rich overtones of flavor from their long simmering. Even Tom agreed it was good. One more feather in this poultry fancier’s cap!

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At a restaurant recently I had the best simple duck breast I’ve ever eaten. The rich, rosy meat was beautifully tender. I’d given up on cooking duck breasts, delicious as they are, because mine were always uncomfortably chewy. That restaurant dish induced me to try them once more.

I often buy duck legs from Quattro’s, an excellent poultry farm with a stand at my local Greenmarket, which has continued to be active all through the winter, so this week I went there for a pair of breasts instead.
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Now to find a recipe that I couldn’t mess up! My cookbook collection didn’t offer much in the way of uncomplicated duck breast preparations, but the index of Alfred Portale’s Simple Pleasures sent me to a recipe for squab that had duck breast as a recommended variation.

A simple dish indeed it was: Its lengthy title, Pan-roasted Squab with Butter-braised Savoy Cabbage and Green Apples, names all its ingredients except salt, pepper, caraway seeds, and olive oil. I especially liked the idea of combining the duck with cabbage and apples, since they’re among the few kinds of local produce available at this time of year.

So, on to the great attempt, with hope springing anew in my breast. To start, I shredded four cups’ worth of Savoy cabbage, put it in a large sauté pan with two tablespoons of melted butter, and sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and half a teaspoon of crushed caraway seeds.
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While the cabbage cooked gently for 15 minutes, I peeled, cored, and diced a large apple. The recipe called for a Granny Smith, but I had Winesaps in my fruit bowl, which are equally good for holding their shape in cooking – and once the fruit is peeled, who can tell whether the apple was green or red? I added the apple cubes to the sauté pan and cooked it for another five minutes.
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At this point the recipe wanted me to stir in one more tablespoon of butter, transfer the mixture to a serving platter, and cover it to keep warm while I cooked the duck breasts. That seemed impractical to me, and certainly not what a restaurant chef like Portale would do. So, after adding the butter I just covered the pan and moved it to the back of the stove, for brief reheating before serving. Worked just fine.

I salted, peppered, and cooked the duck breasts the way the recipe said to cook squabs: in another sauté pan over low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil; first, skin side down for six minutes, then on the other side for four minutes. That time turned out to be just right for rare meat, though not long enough to render out all the fat under the skin.
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When the duck was done, I spread a bed of the reheated cabbage and apple on each dinner plate and topped it with a breast, partially sliced open.
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The flavor combination was wonderful, all I could have wished for: a rich, intriguing mélange of meat, fruit, and vegetable sweetnesses. But – you can probably guess it – the duck itself was still pretty chewy – not tough, but definitely chewy. Curses, foiled again!

But the combined flavors were so good we didn’t care. We both have good teeth, and this time the reward fully repaid the extra jaw exercise. I’ll have to try this recipe again, leaving the duck longer over extremely gentle heat, to try to persuade its fat to rend more completely and its muscle not to clench. Whether I succeed or not – tender duck breasts, like moist pork chops, may be my Waterloo – I can be sure the result will taste just fine.

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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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Tom and I are just back from a week’s cruise on Portugal’s Douro river. We traveled upriver from Porto, on the Atlantic coast, about halfway to the Spanish border and back. The scenery was picturesque: vineyards, forests, vineyards, olive groves, vineyards, villages, and yet more vineyards. Above all, the Douro valley is Port wine country, but it also makes an abundance of red and white table wines.

Our ship, the Infante Don Henrique, carried 86 passengers from 8 countries, of which only we were from the USA. This was our third river cruise with the Croisieurope line. (See the others here and here.) It serves only one menu for each meal: three or four courses, at both lunch and dinner. Happily, this cruise included many Portuguese specialties, peppered among the line’s good standard hotel-style fare.

The wines – both simple ones poured generously for free and an array of better bottles to buy at modest prices – were almost all Portuguese. Accordingly, we ate and drank very interestingly (not to say excessively) throughout the trip. Here are some of the dishes we particularly liked..

Appetizers

The Portuguese influence on the ship’s cuisine was most prominent among the first courses. Here were cured ham from the prized Iberico black pig; sweet, tender melon from the Azores; a flavorful ricotta-like cheese on toasted whole-grain bread; a locally traditional meat-filled puff pastry tart; three kinds of luscious spicy sausages – chouriço, linguiça, and morcela; and a taste of the nation’s excellent olive-oil preserved sardines.
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Presunto ham and Portuguese melon

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Requeijao cheese tartine

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Pastel de Chaves

 

Grilled sausages, sardine toast

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Main Courses

For the principal lunch and dinner dishes, our chef turned mostly to international hotel-style preparations: everything meticulously designed on the plates and perfectly good, if not very exciting. There was one exception to that pattern, which I’m saving for last..
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Filet of sole with spiny lobster

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Chicken breast stuffed with linguiça

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Braised lamb

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Duck leg with fig and port wine sauce

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The Pièce de Résistance: Bacalhau com Nata
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This big dish of salt cod with cream sauce was presented to our five-person dinner table. My heart sank when I saw it. I knew that salt cod – baccalà – was practically the Portuguese national food, but I’d disliked every version of it that I’d ever tasted, in Europe or America. Nevertheless, I had to try it. Wow! It was terrific. Absolutely delicious.

The cod tasted like fresh fish. It was mingled with potatoes and swathed in a rich bechamel, probably seasoned with onions and wine. It went beautifully with the salad of baby greens and black olives. One of the first things I did when I got home was look up recipes for this dish. There are many online, and I’m going to try one very soon. Only, I’ll make it with fresh cod, not baccalà. That can’t hurt, surely? I’ll let you know.

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Before the cruise, we’d spent two days in Lisbon, where we also ate interestingly and very well. My next week’s post will be about that gastronomical adventure. Tom will also be doing a post on his blog about at least some of the wines we drank on the cruise and in Lisbon.

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Julia Child has let me down! Always before, her recipes have unfolded for me in smooth, sensible stages, the ingredients behaving exactly as described, and the results – if not as perfect as hers – totally satisfying. But I’ve just spent an exasperating afternoon with one of the so-called master recipes in Julia’s The Way to Cook.

That morning, I was looking for something new to make with a chicken that I’d just taken out of the freezer. The book’s Ragout of Chicken and Onions in Red Wine had an encouraging list of ingredients, and the dish looked very attractive in the photograph:
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The recipe calls for three pounds of chicken parts for four servings, but there’d be only two of us for dinner. To avoid having to defrost the whole chicken in order to cut it up, I used my ever-reliable rubber mallet and Chinese cleaver to whomp the bird neatly in two.
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One half went straight back into the freezer. When the other half had defrosted, I cut it up and proceeded to the cooking.

The first step was to brown the chicken pieces in butter and oil. Now, I’ve been browning chicken all my adult life, including for many previous Julia Child recipes, so imagine my surprise to find that what I do is apparently no longer The Way to Cook.

I was to dry the chicken well (OK), get butter and oil very hot in a sauté pan (OK), add the chicken pieces, leaving air space between each of them (Huh?), and turn them every 20 seconds (What?) for about 5 minutes, when they’d be colored “a fairly even walnut brown.” (Oh yeah?) My chicken pieces, which required two batches when spaced, tried to come apart under so much handling and barely browned at all, even after 10 minutes.
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But all right, let’s go on with the recipe. I removed the chicken to a dish, added 1½ cups of chopped onion to the pan, and sautéed it until it softened and browned a bit. (A mistake here: the onion was supposed to be sliced. As things turned out, it made no difference at all.)
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Next was to transfer the onions to a sieve set over a bowl to drain off “excess fat.” Then – leaving the rest of the fat in the pan – put back the chicken pieces and the onions. Since I’d be defatting the whole sauce later, that onion treatment made no sense to me: It seemed a totally unnecessary step. But I did it.

Other ingredients went into the pan at the same time as the chicken and onions. A large garlic clove, “puréed.” (Purée one single clove? I used a garlic press.) Salt, pepper, and a pinch of thyme. Half a large tomato, chopped. 1½ cups of red wine; and enough chicken broth to barely cover the chicken pieces.
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It all had to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes “or until the chicken is tender when pressed.” I guess testing with the tines of a fork is not The Way to Cook any more, either.

Again, I took the chicken pieces out of the pan. I tasted the cooking liquid for strength and seasoning. It seemed fine to me, so I strained it into a pot, pressing hard on the solids to preserve their juices.
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I was reluctant to see them go. I often like a little texture in my sauces, and the book’s picture does show onions scattered among the chicken pieces.

Now I had to thoroughly degrease the strained liquid. That’s a task I hate, particularly when the layer of fat is so shallow that it can’t be spooned off without taking good liquid with it. This time I was reduced to drawing pieces of paper towel across the surface to absorb the fat – an expedient I suspect may also not qualify as The Way to Cook. Also, that was well-flavored fat, which I was sorry to lose.

Next was to thicken the sauce with beurre manié. Julia is precise about the technique: Off heat, you must whisk, not stir, the butter-flour paste into the sauce and bring it to a boil, whereupon it will thicken. Not for me, it didn’t. I repeated the process with a little more beurre manié. Still hardly any change.
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Well, I said to myself, it’s still early in the day. The sauce will sit at the back of the stove for a while and then be reheated with the chicken at dinner time. Maybe it’ll thicken by then.

Actually, it did, to some degree, but less than I would have liked. Not being a fan of curly parsley, I skipped the recipe’s serving decoration.
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So, how was it? The best I can say is Acceptable. The sauce tasted good, if a little acidic from the large quantity of wine. But the chicken itself hadn’t acquired any flavor from the other ingredients, which seemed a pity given all that effort. Fortunately, it was a tasty free-range bird to begin with. But I’ll never make the dish again: It’s too fussy for a family meal and not good enough for guests.

One last cavil about this recipe. Notice the color of my sauce: It’s purplish. That’s what happens when you cook with a lot of red wine. (Think coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon.) It does not produce the glowing golden brown of the book’s photo. Caveat coquus.

Given how I revere Julia Child, I do wonder how closely she herself was involved in creating the content of this book.

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As I mentioned in last week’s post, Tom and I had carefully chosen restaurants for the three dinners we’d be having in Lyon after our Rhône cruise. We wanted simple brasseries or bouchons devoted to traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Our selection was somewhat limited by our days’ including a Sunday and a Monday, when many restaurants there are closed. But we did very well with the ones we found.

 

Brasserie Georges

Brasserie Georges, huge, bustling, and immoderately lively, has been an institution in Lyon since 1836. We discovered it on our first visit to the city in 2008 and have ever since remembered the fabulous first course of roasted marrow bones we ate there. So of course we both had them again this time around.

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The menu called the dish Os à moelle à la croque au sel de Guérande, pain grillé. We called it heaven. The prized crunchy sea salt of the Guerande area gave a special zest to the soft, lush marrow as it melted onto the warm toasted bread. But each portion was enormous: We would have been wiser to split a single order instead of gluttonously plowing through the two.

For our second courses, Tom had steak tartare of Charolais beef, expertly prepared at our table with the condiments of his choice and served with a green salad and fried potatoes. I had tête de veau – calf’s head – with ravigote sauce and steamed vegetables. Both were fine of their kind.
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Needing a break from the multiple-course menus we’d been eating on shipboard, we simply stopped there: Georges’ food was very good, but not quite as magical as memory had painted it. Nonetheless contentedly stuffed, we strolled home and finished our evening with cognacs from the bar at our hotel.

 

Le Petit Léon de Lyon

Though it still calls itself a bistro, Léon de Lyon has become a double restaurant: the original establishment, dating from 1904, now features elegant, upscale cuisine, while a small new adjacent space, dubbed Le Petit Léon de Lyon, offers simpler, traditional fare. The little place was perfect for us.

We both started with the house’s pâté en croûte.
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The thick slices of buttery pastry enclosed a filling made from foie gras, veal sweetbreads, and vin jaune, a sherry-like white wine from France’s Jura region. Not so simple at that! It was marvelous, and so filling we could almost have stopped right there.

But we didn’t. For the main course, we’d both ordered Lyon’s signature tripe dish, gras double à la lyonnaise. Here the Petit Léon surprised us: What we received wasn’t the typical version, where the tripe is essentially stewed in onions and wine, but instead was cooked in a sauce with quite a lot of tomato and then gratinéed for serving. Very good, but not what we were expecting.
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The gras double tripe, so different from the honeycomb tripe that is all we get in the US, was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, but so unutterably rich in its sauce that neither of us could finish our portion. The fresh green salad that came alongside made a welcome brisk counterpoint, but it could only help so far. Once again, we didn’t go on to cheese or dessert.

 

Brasserie Le Nord

In addition to the original Michelin three-star Paul Bocuse restaurant just north of Lyon, there are seven less glittering Paul Bocuse restaurants in the city itself, including four brasseries named for the cardinal points of the compass. Each of those has a different culinary emphasis. Le Nord is devoted to “les grands classiques de la Cuisine de Tradition Lyonnaise.” We dined there on our last night in Lyon.

Our meal was indeed classic, in both simplicity and excellence. We both started with fresh foie gras, among the best we’ve ever had.
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Served with it was a cooked condiment made (I was told) from red onion, apple, pineapple, and celery. It was fascinating – sweet but sharp, a wonderful foil for the goose liver’s richness. I’ve since discovered that similar fruit garnishes are very popular now, and I’m going to try making one like this for the foie gras that we brought home from this trip.

Next, Tom had lamb sweetbreads braised in a velvety brown sauce, and I had a leg of Bresse chicken cooked with cream and mushrooms, both very fine.
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Capable at last of going on to a light dessert, we both had dishes of delicious raspberries and strawberries in crème Chantilly. They were immensely refreshing after the richness of Le Nord’s cuisine.
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Every dish we had this evening was as near to perfection of its kind as I can imagine. The meal was a grandly memorable conclusion to our dining in Lyon.

 

Lest I forget: I should also mention that with each of these three dinners we drank remarkable wines, which you can read about in Tom’s blog.

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Last week Tom and I were in France, cruising the Rhône on the 110-meter MS Camargue. Starting from Lyon, we traveled up the river to Mâcon, then down to Avignon and Arles, and back again to Lyon. It was an interesting trip, though the weather was unseasonably chilly and the notorious Mistral wind blew strongly much of the time. Those conditions encouraged hearty appetites, which the ship’s chef was only too ready to indulge.

There were three or four courses at both lunch and dinner, with modest wines of the region generously poured at no cost and a short list of better wines for purchase. (Tom has written about the wines on his blog.) Here are some of the meals we enjoyed.
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Cured ham.  Baked chicken rolls, potato croquettes, broccoli.  Crepes with orange sorbet.

That chicken should be our first dinner was an auspicious start for me, the poultry lover. Not so much for Tom, but he admitted it was a very flavorful bird.

 

Mozzarella and tomato. Red mullet fillet, spelt risotto, asparagus tips. Cafe Liegeois.

I’ve rarely eaten mullet and never, to my recollection, tasted spelt before. This dish made me want to look for more of both. The sauce was particularly good too.

 

Fresh pea soup. Pork tenderloin with duchesse potatoes, green beans. Cabosse.

St. Germain: a velvety purée of the freshest green peas. A cabosse is a mold of chocolate in the shape of a cacao bean. This one was filled with chocolate mousse.

 

Salade lyonnaise. Roasted rabbit, gnocchi, carrots. Lemon tart.

A poached egg (barely visible here) makes a marvelous dressing for Lyon’s signature entrée salad. The rabbit was one of the best I’ve ever had.

 

At the end of the cruise Tom and I spent three more days on our own in Lyon. That city is a gastronome’s paradise, and we’d carefully chosen the restaurants where we wanted to eat: no modern, elegant, Michelin-starred establishments but the deeply traditional brasseries and bouchons beloved by the Lyonnais. I’ll devote my next post to those dinners.

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Whenever I cook duck legs for dinner, Tom and I remark that we should have them more often. These small, neat packets of succulence are far easier to prepare – and have a higher proportion of meat to bone and fat – than a whole duck. Legs aren’t always available in stores, however, so on our occasional day trips out to eastern Long Island I always try to get some from a poultry farm that we patronize.

That part of Long Island has long been famous for raising Pekin ducks. Back in the 1930s it’s said that there were as many as 90 duck farms in the area. One that I remember fondly from family summer vacations in my youth was this one, known to all and sundry as The Big Duck.
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This 30-foot long, 20-foot high creature was originally the duck farm’s retail store. Now a tourist center and gift shop, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back now to my kitchen, where I looked through my books for something luscious to do with a pair of my recently acquired legs. I found it in an unexpected place: Venetian Cooking, by H.F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo. The authors frankly say “in the Venetian diet poultry comes a bad third after seafood and meat,” but they provide a handful of recipes for it, including one for Anatra in Umido, braised duckling. (Maybe, since ducks are waterfowl, Venetians think of them as feathered fish?)

Italian duck breeds being much less fatty than Pekins, I did have to scrape some fat from my legs, but they didn’t have the gobs and layers of it that other parts of a duck’s anatomy have. I suppose that’s because legs do all the work in the water, which keeps them muscular, while the rest of the body just floats along on top, fat keeping it warm.
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As often is the case, I was scaling down a recipe for a whole cut-up duck, so my faithful knife man did the initial job of chopping two stalks of celery, a third of a large onion, and a third of a carrot. While he was doing that, I heated a flameproof casserole and lightly browned the legs in butter and olive oil.
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The legs came out to a plate and the vegetables went in, to cook gently over low heat.
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When the onions were translucent, I stirred in salt, pepper, and just a little liquid – 4 teaspoons of tomato sauce and 2½ tablespoons of water – returned the legs to the pot, and brought the liquid to a simmer.
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From this point on, all the dish requires is patience: It took two hours of simmering, but the result was well worth the time. The legs were fork-tender and luscious, and the nubbly sauce was a rich melange of vegetable flavors. Crisp sautéed potatoes and good Italian frozen peas made excellent foils for both meat and sauce.
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“Rich” and “luscious” are unquestionably overworked words in the food vocabulary, but they’re unavoidably accurate to describe a fine duck dish like this one.

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