How to Cook a Duck Breast – Greeting AutumnIt’s Monsieur’s favourite, duck breast, and although I am sure of his infinite love and affection for me I secretly suspect him of being perfectly capable of choosing a perfectly cooked duck breast over my precious company. Magret de canard, such a French classic, and thus a regular on my table whenever we have something nice worth celebrating. Small successes, snug anniversaries or a change of the seasons. It’s Monsieur’s favourite, duck breast, and although I am sure of his infinite love and affection for me I secretly suspect him of being perfectly capable of choosing a perfectly cooked duck breast over my precious company. Magret de canard, such a French classic, and thus a regular on my table whenever we have something nice worth celebrating. Small successes, snug anniversaries or a change of the seasons. The fields harvested and so the grapes, golden yellow and burgundy patches colouring the vast forests, I chose a seasonal arrangement for cooking the duck breast. Vine leaves and juicy red grapes, runner beans from my garden and potatoes baked crispy in the oven. The occasion: greeting autumn. It is this life out here, where a change in the weather is so deeply felt, that you can’t help but be conscious of nature. And especially in these unsettling times, a world drawn into a torrent of fear and misgivings, it is the constancy of rituals, small feasts, small celebrations I believe that root us to the ground, the soil that we thrive on, this our earth. And remember, this our earth, the world, it is a globe, and no one can possibly upturn that. Now then, this is how to cook a duck breast:
What you’ll need:
- One nice, fresh and sustainably farmed duck breast
- Pink peppercorns, grinded
- Half a decilitre of white vinegar
- A large spoonful of sugar
- One clove of garlic, halved
- Grapevine leaves
- A branch of grapes
- Good potatoes
- Fresh butter
- Runner beans
How to cook it:Start on the potatoes by peeling and halving them. Cut into fine slices but don’t cut fully through, so that the halves stay put. Lay out on a well greased baking tray and add a bit of butter on top. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 40min at 180°C (no fan on). In a small pan, gently caramelise the sugar and deglaze with the vinegar. Let sit in a warm spot until the caramel fully dissolves. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take an ovenproof dish and rub the inside with the garlic. Lay out with the wine leaves and cover with grapes. Toast for a couple of minutes in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C, no fan. Remove the blue skin on the fleshy side of the duck breast with a sharp knife. This will prevent it from getting chewy. In a second step, cut a diamond pattern into the greasy skin, however be careful not to cut into the meat. In a medium sized pan, cover the runner beans in water and bring to boil. Immediately reduce temperature and let simmer for 10min. Drain but leave a little water in, add a nut of butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Let sit in a warm spot. Transfer the duck breast to a cast iron pan, skin down, and brown at low temperature for 6-8 minutes. Occasionally, sprinkle it with the fat that melts during cooking. For the last two minutes, increase temperature to maximum and caramelise both sides for 30 seconds to a minute each. Transfer to the ovenproof form, skin up, and add the grease, as well as the caramel by pouring both over the duck breast. Season with sea salt and pink pepper and cook in the oven for another 4-6 minutes. Overall preparation time for the magret de canard varies thus from 11 to 16 minutes in total, depending on whether you prefer it rosé or well done. When cooked, cover the dish with tinfoil and let sit in a warm spot while you start arranging the plates. Cut the duck breast into thin slices and serve with some potatoes, runner beans and baked grapes. Sprinkle with the juice that’s left in the ovenproof form.
How to eat it:With reverence, of course, because this dish is a model of refinement. Otherwise with a nice glass of burgundy (we love volnay to go along) and a slice of fresh bread to finish off the sauce.
In fact I had planned on giving you the recipe of my Fameuse Pintade à la Marengo, but then it’s the year of plans overthrown, hence, today it shall be a Saumonette Feuilletée for you*.
A very delicate fish, wonderfully buttery, which needs to come absolutely fresh. In case you won’t have one at hand, any other type of fleshy white fish will work too though.
What you’ll need
- One packet (300g) of very good puff pastry
- One saumonette
- 300g of fresh ricotta
- 3 midsized Swiss chard leaves
- Half a lemon
- Half a handful of tarragon leaves
- Pink peppercorns, ground
- Fleur de sel
How to cook it
Cut the green leaves from the Swiss chard and set them aside. Finely chop the stems and in a separate bowl mix them with the ricotta, the salt and pink pepper, the chopped tarragon and the juice of half the lemon. If you have a good organic lemon, grate the zest too. Roll out the puff pastry dough so as to fit and wrap the saumonette.
Lay the Swiss chard leaves on the dough and add half the bowl of the ricotta mixture. Put the saumonette on top and add the rest of the ricotta.
Preheat the oven to 200°C with fan.
Then cut the dough into parallel stripes, so as to be able to braid it over the saumonette.
Wrap one ending and form into a fish tail. Tuck in the remaining dough at the other ending to form the head. Brush with egg yolk and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180° and finish baking for another 15 minutes.
How to eat it
Dress on a nice fish plate and serve warm as a starter or as a light main for a summer déjeuner in the garden.
* Now I really made that Fameuse Pintade à la Marengo for the 14 Juillet but then we ate it before I could take any photographs.
Asperges en Chemise – In the Pace of the Seasons
As asparagus season slowly comes to a turn in our corner and we slide into the exquisitely languid summer months (hopefully, currently we’re all down to wet and cold), this year, with all that happened during the past months, the change perhaps is a little more marked. Now I am my mother’s daughter, and seasonal cooking is a prerogative, never would I buy strawberries in winter or oranges in summer. I have been raised in the pace of the seasons, its produce, its particular vibes and moods, the philosophy of my cuisine, the one that I was taught by my mother and my grandmother. I have learnt to feel and appreciate change through cooking.
It’s going to be the first potatoes and tomatoes soon, baby runner beans and courgette flowers are out and peas tumbling over our salad. Before finally bidding the fresh spring evenings farewell, I made a last batch of asparagus, Asperges en Chemise, asparagus in a shirt, which is a combination of pasta and a fluffy garlic and cream infusion. Very tasty.
What you’ll need
I often serve this as a light main. In case you’d like to serve this as a starter, just halve the quantities.
3-5 white or purple asparagus per person
A clove of garlic
1dl of cream (crème fraîche if you can get a hold on it)
0.5dl Noilly Prat or Sherry
Salt and pepper
Fresh pasta dough (see here for the recipe if you’d like to make it yourself)
How to do it
Peel the garlic and halve, let simmer in the cream and Noilly Prat. Season with pepper and salt.
Generously peel the asparagus and cook them in water, adding one to two teaspoons of sugar. Strain but keep a sip of asparagus cooking water, add a nut of butter, season with salt and pepper and let sit on a warm spot for a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 100°C and roll out the pasta dough to thin layers about 40 cm long and 10 cm wide. Cook the layers for 3 minutes.
Sprinkle a wide plate with olive oil and place a layer of pasta in it. Place 3-5 asparagus on it and gently wrap the pasta around it. Continue with the rest of the pasta and asparagus. Whisk the asparagus water and butter until it amalgamates and pour over the asparagus wraps. Finally add the garlic infusion and bake for 15 minutes.
How to eat it
With a glass of mineral burgundy white and don’t forget the baguette bread to dip into the sauce.
Rindsvoresse mit Ribel
Rindsvoresse mit Ribel. The former being a sumptuous stew of beef and pork and a Sunday classic on my grandmother Nani’s table. She’d serve it in a huge bowl and I vividly remember the merry brouhaha around the big round table when she handed out generous helpings to everyone.
The trick is to cook it forever at a low temperature, until the beef falls apart. Cook it fast and hot and you’ll end up with what we use to call shoe soles.
Nani would often cook Hörpfelstock as a side, mashed potatoes, but this time I made some Rheintaler Ribelmais to accompany the stew. You’ll find the recipe in my blog archives. Ribel is THE signature dish of where I come from and nourished generations of farmers and workers. It’s ground maize, a little like Italian polenta, and is traditionally cooked with milk over the open fire. I prefer a more modern version and cook it like an Italian risotto, it’s really delicious.
What you’ll need
500g beef (ideally a mix of chuck, flank, shank), one big carrot, 3dl of dry apple cider, two generous tablespoons of tomato puree, two teaspoons of flour, one big onion, bay leaves, celery leaves, a little bouquet of fresh parsley, cloves, salt, pepper, good fat for frying, patience
How to cook it
Fix 2 bay leaves with cloves on the onion. Cut the meat into even cubes and dust with flour. In a cast iron pan fry the meat cubes at very high temperature in pork belly fat for about 3minutes, season with salt and pepper, deglaze with apple cider and reduce to low temperature. Add onion, carrot, celery leaves, parsley and tomato puree. Cover and let simmer for a minimum two hours at a very low temperature on the stove or at 100°C in the oven (no fan). The stew is cooked when the meat is soft and can easily be pulled apart.
How to enjoy it
Our Sunday dishes regularly included Hörpfelstock, mashed potatoes. Pile them on the plate, press a hole and scoop the Rindsvoresse into it. That’s the equivalent of a „Mountain Landscape with Lake“. Or you may go for something a bit more savvy and make a Ribel, the recipe is here in the blog archives. Oh and don’t forget the wine, any bouncing young Pinot Noir will do perfectly well, tchin tchin.
In Nani’s Kitchen – Swiss Mac and Cheese
I’m working on a little something for you, and this dish absolutely fits with its theme: the Swiss Weeks! Throughout the month of March I will post daily treats and musings on my Instagram account @lespoissonchats, all related to where I come from at the Eastern border of Switzerland. There’s going to be many sumptuous meals with unpronounceable names and glimpses at the landscapes of my childhood.
The dish I present you with today, as a sort of a pre-announcement, is called Chäsmagrone mit Öpfelmues. It’s a regular in Swiss farmhouse cuisine, and was the absolute favourite dish of my grandfather Neni and me. We would have easily lived on this weren’t it for mother and grandmother Nani who imposed variety upon our modest palates.
It basically comprises pasta and cheese, but the secret lies in copious butter, eggs and cream. And the little side treats. We always ate it with apple compote, the acidity of the apples balancing the round taste of the buttery dish and Bölleschweissi, glazed onion slices that add the right dose of temperament.
What you’ll need for Chäsmagrone for about four persons
Four medium sized potatoes, 250g of Hörnli pasta, four apples, 2 onions, one egg, 250g of cheese, 1dl of cream, muscat, cinnamon, butter, salt and a little sugar
We start with the Öpfelmues
Halve the apples and remove the cores, cut into wedges and transfer to sauce pan. Gently heat and reduce to low temperature as soon as it cooks. Add a teaspoon of sugar and let simmer. It shall be cooked by the time the Chäsmagrone are finished. Before serving, add a nut of butter and a whiff of cinnamon. Oh, and I may or may not have added a sip of calvados but don’t tell the Swiss.
How to make the Chäsmagrone
Peel and quarter the potatoes and cook in salted water for about 15 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until soft. You may have to adjust the cooking time so that both potatoes and pasta are done at the same time. Alternatively, you may cook them in separate pans in order to avoid under/over cooking.
Preheat the oven to 100°C.
Take a large terrine and butter well. Scoop a layer of pasta, some potato quarters and a whiff of muscat into the terrine. Generously cover the layer with grated cheese. Of course it tastes best with Swiss alp cheese, but for some of us that’s rather hard to get. In the end, any yellow cheese will work, as long as the cheese isn’t too old yet strong and tangy, so as to make you sit straight. Continue layering the terrine and finish with another layer of cheese. Pour the cream over the mass and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, start on the Bölleschweissi. Peel the onions and halve them. Cut into half circles about 2mm thick. In a cast iron pan, melt a generous nut of butter and slowly caramelise the onion half circles until golden. Be careful not to burn them if you want them to taste sweet and savvy.
Take the Chäsmagrone from the oven when cooked, add the egg and gently mix. Put the Bölleschweissi on top and serve the apple compote in a separate bowl.
Enjoy with a glass of rustic apple cider.
Be careful not to overeat yourself.
Orange Peel on Green Tiles – A Fish Recipe
An orange to me is a luxury, it doesn’t matter that they are to be had everywhere and at the most ridiculous prices, an orange to me has an aura of exquisiteness. Perhaps it’s my mother’s stories, when they shared one orange for the entire family come Saint Nicholas Day, one orange for eight heads plus farmhands, one orange, or two maybe if it was a good year. And how grandmother would put the orange peel on the oven to dry and weave its succulent southern flavour into the rustic air of woodsmoke and roasted apples. Orange peel on a green tiled oven. Scraps of sun on emerald moss in midwinter.
But then I seldom buy oranges, those heaps of cheap oranges, picked before they had a chance to thoroughly soak up the sun, frostbitten fruit traveled for hundreds of miles in morgues on wheels, disturb my sense of propriety.
Now fortunately, I’m in France. Where my apple man who went into fruit and groceries as of late has a friend down South who grows citrus fruit, citrus fruit with a taste, and this friend sends an occasional box up North to our forgotten land, where thick fog covers the fields for months on end in winter, so that by January, we all looked rather grey and dull, wouldn’t it be for his oranges. Recently there was a basket full of bitter oranges, very interesting for food experimenting. And this is the January dreariness dinner I have cooked with a couple of beautiful shiny oranges: Pike Façon Poissonchat.
For the fish:
Take a big white fish, gutted and scaled but head on. I took a pike this time, but a sea bass or a big trout for example work well too. Orange flavour is delicate, thus for the flesh to imbibe the full aroma, the fish is cured overnight. Please click here to read the how to on curing fish. I changed the recipe slightly for the cure to contain the following ingredients:
- 50g of sea salt
- 100g of honey
- 0.5dl of freshly pressed bitter orange juice
- 0.5dl of triple sec (I still had some homemade, but Cointreau or Grand Marnier do as well)
- Peel of one bitter orange
- A couple of pink pepper berries
The next day rinse the fish well and put the residue liquid from the cure through a strainer and set aside. Fill the fish it with orange slices and fennel leaves and put some orange slices on top. Bake in the oven at 190°C (no fan). The pike was about 1kg and needed 18 minutes of cooking time. After half of the cooking time, pour some of the residue liquid over the fish, repeat when the fish is done and keep it covered for 10 minutes in a warm spot.
For the orange sauce:
Bring 1dl of freshly pressed orange juice and 1/2dl of broth to boil (fish broth is perfect, vegetable broth will do as well), add the peel of a quarter of an orange and five pink peppercorns (be careful to remove the white parts in case you are using bitter oranges because they might taste too bitter). Let it simmer until it’s reduced by 1/3. Take off the heat, strain, put back into the pan and add a sip of triple sec. Season with salt if needed. Vigourously whisk about 75g of icy cold butter into the sauce until it’s creamy and thick, keep the sauce warm but not hot.
Debone the fish and serve the fillets with the orange sauce. I made a mousseline of potatoes and horseraddish and some honey glazed root vegetable as sides. Fennel would be lovely, but I’ll have to be patient until it’s in season again. Enjoy with a glass of pinot gris.
Nouilles à la George
We finally have fixed the workshop dates for 2020, adding two theme workshops to the existing line up! Like this year’s workshops, it’s going to be all about great food and great wine and great company, a little Italy, a bit of France, and some Swissness to round it all up. Please go to the workshop tab for the details, we’re thrilled to hear what you think of the programme!
Now halfway through the 2019 season, we have been pondering over what we would like to give our workshop guests, what it is we’d really like to share with you. And how to do things right, eventually.
And this is what we’ve come up with:
There are people who do things well, in general. And there are people, who do things less well, in general. And exceptionally, there are those people to take things a tiny notch higher, a tiny bit to the extreme. While doing things extremely less well perhaps is not exactly desirable but alas to be counted amongst the very encumbrances of life (and an occasional Zen exercise), doing things extremely well in turn means sending the average receptive individual straight into that state commonly referred to as paradisiacal. So, my friends, as to this rough lump of kitchen wisdom, let me give you a proper example. This is: you can do pasta well and you can do pasta less well. And then, you can do pasta with cognac. What a lark is this! What a subtle mind it takes, what heavenly graceful inspiration to add a sip of cognac to make that noodle dough smooth and puffy. But let’s take one step after another.
The twist goes back to a recipe book of George Sand, you know, the French lady writer who hosted the entire Paris avantgarde of the early 19th century in her beautiful French country house. She had a thing for the cuisine, apparently, and a penchant for epicurean feasts contrasting her otherwise sober and rather modest approach towards living. Perhaps that’s the exact amount of perplexity required to make a person a really interesting human being.
The thing is rather simple, and this is how it goes:
Take one egg on about a good 100g of flour. This will yield a nice portion for two persons, or about four sides. Instead of water, add a sip of cognac before mixing and kneading. A sip of cognac is the quantity that an average grown up may gulp down in two gulps without making them awkward in the head. Or 2-4cl, if measured. The liquid-flour relation is perfect when your dough is silky and soft. Form three portions and let them sleep for at least four hours. Then knead again, roll out and evenly cut noodles according to your purpose. Cook for 7 minutes.
We’ve had ours with scallops fried in olive oil and parsley. And a lady squeeze of lemon before serving. A perfect summer evening treat. And the way to do pasta henceforward.
Where I Come From
Where I come from, the sky is a vast stage for clouds devising mad plays with light. It’s a theatre for giants, the steep rocks of the mountains lining the valley. Imitating the frills and laces of the ladies’ dresses. You can tell the weather by its holes, by the way.
Where I come from, there is a singular dish. It’s said to be had only in the Rhine valley. Made from ground maize, very similar to Italian polenta, but not the same. Ribel we call it (or chicken feed, as my grandmother would say). Türggeribel. Turkish corn. Maize flour cooked for hours on end with milk and water, in an immense cauldron over the fire. Food for the poor it was. Almost lost in oblivion when the post war boom hit even our back then still very rural plains. Neglected patrimony when people endeavoured to seem well off, scorning the past, eagerly embracing progress and toast Hawaii.
I went to France for the unkempt landscapes of my past. To rediscover the particular mood of cultivated land seemingly untouched by the iron grip of optimisation and efficiency. I sought simplicity and quiet. And stumbled across Ribel in my new home. In a casual chat with the former village teacher. Gaudes, they call the ground maize in their local French patois. Or blé Turc, Turkish corn. It’s said to be had only in the Franche-Comté. Cooked for hours on end with milk and water, in an immense cauldron over the fire. A silky thread linking my origin to my chosen place of home. Defying me to pay it attention, transforming it into a (decent) dish, bearing in mind my grandmother’s somewhat accurate verdict. A dish that flatters the palate instead of making you choke on a seeming handful of sand. I relied on the well established risotto principle, using the bramata version of Ribel, which is of a bigger grain, less sandy. It worked out remarkably well, even earning me a surprised nod by my mother.And this is how it goes:
Pour a generous puddle of sunflower seed oil into a large, wide pan, add 1-2 cloves of garlic and a laurel leave. Heat up slowly, you would not want to burn either of the ingredients. Pour a good handful of grossly ground maize per person and glaze gently for a couple of minutes and then add a sip off white wine. Enjoy the hiss and the steam. Throw in a piece of (very) old cheese rind if available, it will add flavour and savour. Cook and stir, clockwise, adding an occasional scoop of vegetable stock (homemade, I say you owe this to yourself), keeping the grains covered and nonchalantly simmering. It is the risotto principle, meaning that this isn’t a dish that tolerates negligence (or showing off your fabulous multitasking skills). It calls for your steady attention. Meditation in the steaming copper pan will do just perfectly. Thing with the Ribel bramata is that theoretically you can cook it forever, it won’t go over the point of being al dente. I find this very practical when we are having guests. Generally, it’s done after about 30 mins of cooking.
When the grains are cooked, add a helping of cream and some grated stout aged cheese. I took a Methusalem of a sheep cheese for the purpose. A nut of butter and cover and let it rest for a couple of minutes. You may have to taste whether it needs another bit of salt, depending on the seasoning of your stock.
Now top it with whatever your heart desires. I fancied some cooked chiccorino rosso and blue cheese. A dash of fiery black pepper. There you go.
I’m sure grandmother would have granted her approval. Chicken feed refined.
January Comfort Food
Warm lentil salad. Comfort food. It’s January, dreariness raw wind and heavy clouds. The cold sneaks into your bones, it’s hard to shake it off your skin. Incredibly short days, the world seen through a sleepy foggy filter. January calls for some food remedy, an easy one, no exaggeration, simplicity instead. This is a fairly plain recipe but take your time nevertheless, don’t rush things. Winter food is of a slow cooking type.
In line with my philosophy, I use a local variety for the salad, called lentilles des Vosges. Green, flat and savoury. But any other variety should do too, feel free to make your choice. I like the green lentilles des Vosges for their buttery taste but after all because I usually get them from the decidedly most charming Fromager, the cheese maker, in the county. Sure he makes excellent cheese and sure he has a range of best quality products from the surrounding farms in stock. But to be honest, he is just such a flattering man, I can’t help it, I always feel a bit elated and very buttered up when I leave his little shop. To put my senses straight, I grab some carrots, leek and eggs from the farmer’s on my way home. That’s almost all the ingredients you will need to prepare a lentil salad for about four to six persons (depending on whether you’ll serve the salad as a starter or as a main course):
2 Picardie glasses of lentils (the organic green lentilles des Vosges usually need a little sorting out before put to use. A bit like Cinderella. So not to risk any broken teeth.)
1-2 nice carrots
A bit of oil (sunflower seed is a good choice because it stands the heat)
3 Picardie glasses of red wine (I like to cook with red in winter, while in summer I’d rather use white, as it’s lighter.)
3 Picardie glasses of water
Herbs to your taste (laurel, thyme and sage, and anything else your heart is telling you)
A bit of chilli
A few parsley leaves for the finish
Cut leek and carrots à la paysanne (meaning small little carrot cubes and finely sliced leek). Fry them 2-3 minutes in oil, medium heat only. We want them glazed and not burnt. Add the lentils and fry another 2-3 minutes, so that they shine and sparkle. Increase the heat in the last minute and add the liquids, wine and water, a noisy hiss and steam is capital!
Add some herbs of your preference. I always use 1-2 laurel leaves, a twig of thyme and 4-6 leaves of sage: Laurel to keep you strong and healthy, thyme to make your tread light and feathery, sage to make you speak wisely and truthfully. And a little chilli to make your heart beat warm in your chest. I leave it up to you how much you’ll need. I usually use half a chilli and add more in the end in case it’s not enough. And salt.
Cook it over low fire, covered, for a good hour at least. Stir occasionally, breathe the steam, smell. Taste. The lentils are done whenever they feel soft and buttery on your tongue. Season with Xerez vinegar while still hot and let them cool gently in a quiet spot.
For the poached eggs, fill a large pan with water, add a little vinegar and bring it to boil, gently. The tricky bit: crack the first egg and slip it carefully into the softly boiling water. Don’t worry if it gets jellyfishy. You may wrap the egg white around the yolk with a large spoon. Crack the rest of the eggs with equal care. In order for the eggs not to stick to the pan or to each other, it is important that the pan really is large and wide enough. And that the water boils happily while not overflowing. Poach them for 1-2 minutes, so that the yolk is creamy and smooth.
Arrange the warm lentil salad on the plates with a poached egg on top each, a whiff of pepper and salt and a couple of grossly chopped parsley leaves. Serve with a light glass of white, an elegant Pouilly-Fuissé for example. Enjoy!