While thinking about an appropriate dish to serve for Valentine’s Day, I came upon a wonderful recipe with the soul of a rose in its sauce. It comes from one of the earliest cookbooks, The Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de Paris) from 1393 that was written by an older husband for his young wife. In it are remarkably thorough lessons on keeping house, being a good wife and hostess, gardening and even sexual advice as well as fine recipes (more like suggestions since ingredients and instructions are loosely provided). Janet Hinson translates the passage:
"Item: partridge must be plucked dry, and cut off the claws and head, put in boiling water, then stick with venison if you have any, or bacon, and eat with fine salt, or in cold water and rose water and a little wine, or in three parts rose water, orange juice and wine, the forth part."
I thought about this for a spell and decided to mix it up a little and use duck, another fowl with an affinity for oranges.
Both Delmonico's chef Ranhoffer (I wrote about him here) and Antoine Careme use Sauce Bigarade for their duck, a bitter orange sauce that was traditionally made with a floury espangnole sauce to thicken it. I decided I wanted it a little brighter and then added a bit of rose absolute to honor Le Menagier recipe and Valentine's Day. Think of it as distilling 500 years of cooking!
James Auduban, 1821-34
And then we come to the duck. While researching antique American menus, I found canvasback duck appeared frequently as the sine qua non of duck… often costing twice as much as other things on a menu (that and terrapin). I really wanted to use this duck. Further digging found some interesting facts.
The name of the lovely creature in Latin, Aythya valisineria, is based on its eating habits… it loves wild celery, Vallisneria Americana which is what gave it its extraordinary flavor (perhaps Heston Blumenthal thought of this when he was feeding his Christmas goose fennel pollen!). What I also didn’t know is that its popularity nearly drove it to extinction.
An article from an 1890 NYT tells the story of the dilemma and the efforts of sportsmen to reverse the trend and save them for future generations. I was amazed that such thinking goes back so far. Thanks to them, however, sportsmen today can still bring a few of them home from hunts and taste their delicious meat… not as delicious as before however since the wild celery is nearly gone… a victim of encroaching civilization on its habitats.
Hank at Honest Food has tasted a west coast canvasback and raves about its flavor in his wonderful blog. I have never had the pleasure but hope one day to have a morsel -- just not this time.
I decided to use a lovely magret du canard from a moulard duck, at the suggestion of Hank via the lovely purveyors D’Artagnan (that also happen to be neighbors of mine!)
I do not have words to describe the dish... it was that good... swoon good, to die for good. The caramel with the reduced orange and madeira and the rose... you will think you have entered sauce heaven!!!
Duck with Orange Rose Madeira Sauce and Gingered Sweet Potatoes on Radicchio
2 duck breasts
salt & Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
With a sharp knife score the fat of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Warm a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in the skillet to render the fat, about 6 minutes. Turn the duck breasts over and sear for 1 minute. Turn the fat side down again and place the skillet into the oven to roast for 7 minutes, until breasts are medium rare. Rest them for 5 minutes then slice.
**This recipe for the duck breast comes from the food network. It had been in my files and I did not know who to attribute it to. now I do. Thanks Kate!
Blood Orange Rose Madeira Sauce
2 Blood Oranges ( you can of course use regular oranges)
1/4 c sugar ( I use Whole Food's Organic)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1T 1922 D'Oliveira Bual (optional)
2 Drops Rose Absolute or 2 t. rosewater or to taste
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 sprig of marjoram if you have it, thyme if you do not
1 c chicken stock
2 T unsalted chilled butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest one orange. Blanch for 5 minutes in boiling water, drain and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the oranges and set aside. Dissolve the sugar in a heavy pan over moderate heat and cook to a deep caramel. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour in the vinegar.
Stir in the madeira and return the pan to the heat. Dissolve the sugar, add the shallots and marjoram, then bring the madeira to a good simmer. Reduce to about 1/2 of what it was, then pour in the stock and 3/4 of the orange juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and reduce by half. Strain through a fine sieve and discard the shallots and marjoram.
Start whisking in the butter, a piece at a time, then stir in the orange zest. Simmer for a few minutes. Add the lemon and reserved orange juice to taste (the sauce is sweet and the juices will brighten it). Add the rose absolute (or rosewater) and old madeira at this point... do not overheat. Slice your duck and pour the sauce over the slices.
Thanks to Gordon for inspiration for this!
Sweet Potatoes with ginger and lime
1 large sweet potato
1 t. grated ginger
zest of 1 lime and juice of 1/2 the lime
4 T cream
1/4 t salt
Cook the sweet potatoes till tender then rice them. Add the rest of the ingredients then whip.
For those of you who want to try it old school:
Sauce bigarade: Antonin Careme's recipe:
1 bigarade orange (or a bitter orange).
1.5 dl of finished espagnole sauce*.
a pinch of cracked pepper.
Cut the zest of the orange making sure that there are no white bits on it. Blanch them briefly. Press the orange.
In a thick bottom pot, place the orange zests and the juice and reduce by half.
Just before serving, whisk in the butter