Thursday, September 16, 2010

Babette’s Quail in Puff Pastry (made with Duck Fat!)

Cailles en Sarcophage

Not long ago Saveur Magazine had an online article featuring great recipes from famous movies inspired by the opening of Julia Robert’s in Eat, Pray Love. The article had dishes from Big Night, Without Reservations, Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, Ratatouille, Vatel, Julie and Julia and others.

Most especially it had my favorite dish, Cailles en Sarcophage, from probably my favorite food movie, the 1988 Babette’s Feast based on an Isak Dinesen story. For those of you that do not know it…you must see it (see a YouTube version of some of the film HERE to whet your appetite -- but you miss the rich photography with the poor quality of YouTube—do try to rent it).

The film is about a legendary French chef (played with crystalline brilliance by Stephane Audran) of Dugléré's fabled Paris restaurant Café Anglais,  who has been marooned by civil war to a small Danish village as a cook for 2 kind but ascetic sisters that eschew the pleasures of the table and of life. Babette has seen her beloved Paris fall into chaos, lost her husband and child to the war and has barely escaped with her own life. Here she toils, unspeaking, as a servant for 14 years, until one day….

a winning lottery ticket sends Babette into a triumph of food preparation as she makes classics of high French cuisine at the deliberate, and at times, nearly worshipful pace of a pavane, full of reverence for the task and the celestial raw materials. With each precise, masterful movement we see her spirit renewed. She makes this meal of the gods for a small, equally ascetic group from the sister’s church and one surprise guest who is the only soul aware of the quality of the food they are privileged to eat, having eaten at Babette’s restaurant in Paris, Café Anglais, as a young man.

The meal has remained fixed in his memory and he still can taste every bite and swallow in his mind. No wonder he compares her food to a love affair that “made no distinction between spiritual and other appetites!!” He even remembers that his old General told him that the chef of Café Anglais was the only woman in Paris worth fighting a duel for. He said she was considered the greatest culinary genius.

The reaction of the staid congregation (who had determined at the meal’s start to rise above the heathen pleasures of the table) go from initial disdain to shock to bliss… their faces changing from pale and pinched to flushed with pleasure and delight. It is intensely moving and oddly spiritual and reveals the transformative power of culinary art through the spirit of an artist. The scenes of food preparation and the ceremonies of taste are unbearably, chillingly sensual. Every detail of the film’s design is perfect.

The recipe Saveur chose from Babette’s Feast was for her masterpiece ‘Cailles en Sarcophage’, quails in puff pastry with foie gras, truffles and figs. Eating it seemed a dream that would never cross my lips.

Cailles en Sarcophage

I had wanted to make this show-stopping dish for years but was daunted by the freight of the ingredients and the difficulty of the task. Then, through a miraculous confluence of events, I found myself delightfully if improbably stocked with all the ingredients thanks to a lucky visit to a D’Artagnan video shoot (for a soon-to-appear-online instructional video) that reaped a bag of left-over goodies (including the remnants of a truffle!!) and having tackled quail before, I was sure I could pull this dish off.

Once I decided to storm the lofty walls of this recipe, I was determined to try to make puff pastry using butter and duck fat after reading that lard was sometimes used in the dough portion of the pastry 100 years ago and after seeing a duck fat crust on a winning pie in the Brooklyn Pie Contest. Why not duck fat puff pastry??? The taste would be amazing. My last puff pastry attempt was a disaster (think flat glue slab). I was determined to make it work this time.—boy, did it ever!  The dough is positively velvety and rises like mad.

Quail in Puff Pastry with Truffles and Foie Gras

The recipe for this came from Molly O’Neill from the NY Times in 1997. The puff pastry recipe is based on one I found on White on Rice Couple (with lots of nice how-to pictures) with necessary changes. I must tell you, the bread flour addition flies in the face of everything you read… bread flour has extra gluten… every other recipe (and Julia Child) says pastry flour with low gluten… but it works. When you think about it, rising is what it needs to do!

The recipe is not simple but it is very doable and the result will send your guests into paroxysms of pleasured adulation for your efforts, no fooling. All of the special ingredients can be purchased from D'Artagnan and are linked in the recipe AND quail is on sale till October so no excuses!

Babette's Cailles en Sarcophage
4 servings

1 recipe for or 1 pound puff pastry
4 quails boned (by that I mean remove the backbone and rib cage bones leaving the legs and wings still on—this makes eating the tiny birds much easier)
2 T Cognac
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
5 ounces foie gras, cut into 8 slices
1 1-ounce black truffle, sliced as thinly as possible, 8-12 slices
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon Duck Fat
½ cup white wine
1 cup Madeira (Rare Wine Company, Boston Bual)
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup demi-glace
16 black figs, quartered
1 sprig of marjoram
Marinate the quail in ½ c of Madeira and cognac for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425º. Cut 4 5-inch rounds from the pastry. Make a 3-inch circle in the center of each round, being careful not to cut to the bottom of the dough.
Do not twist and turn the dough. If you do you will lose your loft on the pastry. The cleaner the movement, the higher the pastry will rise. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 10 minutes with a piece of parchment on top of the pastries—this helps them rise straight… don’t ask me how. Remove the top parchment and continue to bake 7- 10 more minutes after turning the heat down to 375º or until puffed and golden. Carefully lift out the 3-inch round from the center (you may need to cut a little) to create a nest with a top. Set aside to cool.

Raise the oven to 450 degrees. Season the inside of the quails with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Lay 1 slice of foie gras in each quail cavity followed by truffle slices and top with the remaining foie gras. Truss the quails. Season the outsides with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear the quails, 30 seconds or so per side. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the quails and roast for 5 minutes more. Remove and keep warm in a covered dish.

Place the skillet over high heat on top of the stove. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour in the stock, ½ c madeira and demi-glace and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the figs and marjoram and simmer for 1 minute. Continue to simmer, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup and has a thickened appearance. If you have extra foie gras you can add it to the sauce, I preferred not to. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, put each quail in a pastry nest. Drizzle with sauce and surround with the figs.
Garnish with truffle slices and marjoram leaves.

Puff Paste with Duck Fat

Butter layer

1 lb + 3 ½ T (510g) cold unsalted butter (I love Irish butter for this)
2 t (10 ml Lemon juice
1 c (130g) bread flour
pinch of salt


3 c (400 g) bread flour (freeze it)
3 ½ T (55g) duck fat, frozen)
2 t Salt
1 c cold water (start with 3/4 and add as needed, you may not need a whole cup)

Mix the butter and the flour and lemon and salt into a paste, make a 6” square and chill on wax paper till firm

Make the dough as you would pasta, knead very sparingly and refrigerate.

Make the dough into a rectangle and put the butter in the center in a diamond... fold the dough around it like an envelope, bringing the 4 outer points to the center of the butter.   If it’s hot, chill. Otherwise roll it to a rectangle and fold it like a brochure and chill ½ an hour. Roll it out to a rectangle again and do it again 5 times, resting for 45 minutes to an hour in the fridge each time.

I left mine overnight after the last turn and rolled it out the next day. After cutting my rounds, I put it back in the fridge for an hour

Then you are ready to go!!!

Go over to Slate for a great article (HERE)..  The author used my recipe to make this dish!


alison said...

such a great gourmet dish!

lequan@luvtoeat said...

Wow! I love the wonderful combination of ingredients! Using duck fat in the puff pastry was such a genius idea. I can imagine how much more flavorful the puff pastry tasted. This is such a well put together dish in both taste and presentation. Thank you for sharing.

L Vanel said...

Holy cow! That's wonderful. Great job!

Diane said...

I love quail. Interesting the pastry made with duck fat. I have some in the fridge so must give this a try. Diane

Moira said...

Hi Deana,
This is a perfect dish for me ;)
I didn't see Babettes Feast and now I'm so curious about it.
Wonderful work!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, this is quite a feat! You have truly done this dish justice and then some with your beautifully masterful creation :) You deserve a standing ovation! :D

La Table De Nana said...

This would be such a wonderful Thanksgiving meal..Love the idea..I wonder if the butcher can remove all the backbone etc..

Your puff pastry w/ duck fat must be decadent.
Great job!

Linda said...

Wow are truly amazing!
Babette's Feast is one of my favorite films...
Your dish is stunning...
The puff pastry? Perfection!

Stella said...

Oh Deana, I'm so glad you're puff pastry worked this time-it looks perfect! And I used to love quail. I can see why such a wonderful dish is your favorite!
Oh, and I've never seen 'Babette's Feast'. I've noticed there are no good movies lately-me thinks at least. I'll see if I can get it...

Barbara said...

Well Deana! I am soooo impressed you made your own puff pastry, something I'm not certain I will ever make. And with duck fat yet.
I'm a big fan of D'Artagnan...and how lovely you went to a video shoot there and came away with some goodies. I am envious! What a magnificent job you did with this extraordinary recipe. I adore quail (used to go with my dad on quail hunts in central Florida) and have eaten it since I was a child.
This was SUCH a fun post!

andrew1860 said...

WOW!!! I love savory dishes with puff pastry! Will have to try this!!!

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

Hi Deana - what lovely homage to a jewel of a movie! I love the use of duck fat for the pastry, which looks perfect. I can only imagine how it must have added to the flavour!! The dish is beautiful and so very tempting....

Karen said...

Wow how beautiful and decadent! And tackling puff pastry-- not easy-- kudos to you!

Marjie said...

Those little puff pastry shells are beautiful! Would that I had the patience to make them!

Anonymous said...

Your puff pastry shells look picture perfect and the whole dish is amazing!!!

~Lisa~ said...

Beautiful dish! I love all the ingredients used.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Babette's Feast is one of my ALL TIME favorite movies! Being Danish didn't hinder the attraction to the movie but the characters are so well played. I remember this dish well, also the turtle soup and the lovely wines she chose for each course.

Bravo, Deana! What an amazing duplication of the recipe.

Lazaro Cooks said...

Lovely post. Another interesting read. Over the top pleasure from this wonderful course. Some of my favorite ingredients, elevated to new heights.

Two thumbs way up!

Carolyn Jung said...

One of my all-time favorite food movies. I've watched it over and over. And it always leaves me hungry. ;)

Sarah said...

Babette's Feast is one of my favourite foodie movies. I must watch it again. I have a lot of duck fat on hand so I should make this puff pastry. I could never understand using pastry flour for puff pastry. You want flaky and you don't get that with the tender, pastry flour. Bread flour is the way to go.

pierre said...

i remember to have seen that movie just before diner and I was dying !!Pierre

Joanne said...

This sounds like such a good movie and what a decadent dish to cook from it! I love the sound of the fig/truffle combination.

Cathy said...

Simply decadent, starting with the amazing pastry made with duck fat. I saw the movie years ago and am now eager to see it again. Your presentation is beautiful.

funkiefoodie said...

Deanna ... this post has me capernoited.

Becky said...

That looks ridiculously delicious. Gorgeous!

Unknown said...

Okay, I'm feeling kinda bad that I never saw that movie. Its on my list now :). Beautiful dish, elegant as usual my dear, you never fail to impress.
*kisses* HH
p.s. I'm going to check that issue of Saveur out, I'll download it onto my ipad :)

Faith said...

I'm definitely going to hunt for that movie! This dish is really stunning and I'm in love with fig paired with quail!

Chef Dennis Littley said...

what an outstanding tribute to a great movie! You have truly captured the spirit of the movie, showing how much of a role food can play in our lives.....leave it to the French! Thanks for such an outstanding recipe as well, duck fat, that recipe is not for the faint of heart!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Great movie, and what a FANTASTIC production on your part! The quail is incredible, and I am applauding! said...

What a beautiful quail dish, a lot of work looks like you have put into it, and the presentation is lovely.

Clarity said...

Dear Lady,

As I write and eat my own delicious lunch, stopping only to read this meditation on one of MY favourite food films... Merci, you very, very clever girl.

Magic of Spice said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous... beautiful presented and prepared, this is quite lovely :)

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

What an elegant looking dish. Beautiful presentation.

Ana Powell said...

Outstanding and delicious recipe.
Lovely clicks ♥

My Little Space said...

Oh my goodness, this is absolutely marvellous! Such well presented and the pastry puff looks perfect. I am drooling! Though, I seldom use animals fat in my food. I know... they smell great! Thanks so much for sharing and have a great weekend.

Lisa said...

I stumbled upon this post after seeing and falling in love with Babette's Feast, and I have to express my admiration - not just for this entry, but for your blog as a whole, which is truly exceptional.

Bien cordialement,

Lily said...

What a beautiful post and a yummy recipe. The pictures are enough to drool on, actually.
Babette’s Feast is one of those movies for foodies that you never forget, whether you are a foodie or not.

Karina A. Fogliani said...

I just rented this movie following your suggestion and... I'm speechless. This is good cinema at its best. How the cooking techniques are shown is simply masterful. I've never seen anything like it before.

I love how she transforms a bare kitchen with copper utensils, fresh ingredients laid here and there, and how she is afraid of... nothing. She kills the quails, the giant tortoise (much to your chagrin, I know).

In any case, I will try the "cailles en sarcophage" soon. And I keep watching the film, which I believe will buy in Blu-Ray version as I can't stop watching it.

Thanks so much for recommending this film - and providing the recipe!

Monsoonclerk said...

Wonderful post!! We made this recipe this weekend (with store-bought puff pastry, didn't have time to make it from scratch), and it was a crowd pleaser. Everyone was reverently silent when eating it, it was so good. The only change I would make if we were ever to do it again would be to cook the quail and the puff pastry together in the oven at the same time. I found the puff pastry to be at its best right out of the oven, and it got heavier as it cooled. I figure that if we added the quails to the puff pastry shells while they were in the oven (like Babette did in the movie), the shells could curve more around the birds, and everything would be piping hot when serving. Yum!

Deana Sidney said...

Monsoonclerk- so glad you liked it. You can pop the pastry back in the oven for a moment if you would like- If you cooked them together you would loose the flavor of the quail in the sauce and I doubt the pastry would raise properly. One trick for the pastry to keep it light is to let the moisture out... a small slit in the side should do it. It really shouldn't get heavy as it cools though. Makes me think it wasn't cooked enough and that the layers were soggy.

Unknown said...

Hi there.
I would like to use your recipe for a tv food competition in the UK. I have been asked to contact you for copyright reasons. Please could you contact me privately at to discuss this further.
Thank you!
Nikki Daniel

RedBelle said...

Saw this at age eleven and even now at thirty six it remains one of my favorite movies. A feast for the eyes and mind. Thank you for posting this recipe. Been trying to locate all the dishes of this movie for the longest