30 November 2012

Boiled beef?

Did you know that you can cook beef in boiling liquid and not cook it to death? In other words, the beef comes out rare — and it's delicious cooked and served that way.

Does this look like boiled beef to you? Well, it is...

In France, one traditional way of cooking lean beef in simmering water or stock is called « bœuf à la ficelle » — beef on a string. It requires a piece of very lean, tender beef that is rolled and tied with string into a neat round roast. And then the roast is hung by a string so that it cooks in simmering liquid without sinking to the bottom of the cooking pot. The idea is that it doesn't stick to the pot or cook in liquid that is too hot because it's too close to the heat source.

A very lean rolled beef roast, French-style

It's just the amount of time the beef roast stays in the simmering liquid — about 15 minutes per pound of meat for rare — that determines the degree of doneness. Of course.

Here's the beef roast after cooking for 20-minutes and resting for 10 minutes.

Yesterday I made the functional equivalent of bœuf à la ficelle, even though I didn't suspend the beef roast in the cooking liquid using a string. I just put a wire rack in the bottom of a pot of simmering stock so that the beef couldn't touch the hot bottom and cook too fast. The wire rack has feet on it, if you see what I mean.

And this wasn't a bœuf à la ficelle French-style. The broth was highly flavored and Asian-style, with soy sauce, ginger, onions, garlic, and hot red peppers, among other ingredients. I adapted a recipe that I saw a woman named Louise Denisot demonstrate on French Cuisine+ TV.

Here's an ingredient list for the cooking liquid:

1 liter beef broth
2 liters water
25 cl rice wine or sherry
25 cl dark (sweet) soy sauce
25 cl light (salty) soy sauce
1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 "finger" of fresh ginger
2 onions (or 4 shallots)
6 star anise "fruits"
2 cinnamon sticks
the zest of half an orange
3 dried hot red peppers

Cook all those ingredients together in a big pot for at least 30 minutes or as long as two hours, to make sure all the flavors blend. I have left the liquid measures in metric sizes — a liter is a quart, and 25 cl is a cup, so you end up with nearly 4 quarts (3.75 liters) of cooking liquid. All the quantities are approximate and adaptable to your taste.

Bœuf à la ficelle (sort of) with Asian spices and sauces

The important thing is to drop the lean beef roast into the simmering liquid and let it cook for 15 minutes a pound if you want it fairly rare. The roast I had weighed 650 grams, or about 1½ lbs. It cooked for 20 minutes, and then rested under aluminum foil and a kitchen towel for 10 minutes before I sliced and served it.

Stir-fried Swiss chard with soba noodles

If you over-cook this kind of extra lean beef from grass-fed cattle, it will get tough. So be careful. We made stir-fried Swiss chard and soba noodles as a side dish. Cook the noodles in boiling water, stir-fry the chard, combine them, and just flavor them with some of the liquid the beef cooked in. Serve sesame oil, soy sauce, and other condiments at the table.

29 November 2012

Using U.S. credit/debit cards in France

We got a delivery of heating oil yesterday. I've ordered oil from the same company almost every year since 2003 (once or twice I went to a competitor). Usually, I pay for the fuel oil using my U.S. Visa card, taking the money out of an account over there. It's a magnetic-stripe card, not a chip-and-PIN card like the ones we have in France. You have to "swipe" it.

Looking around on my computer at old photos yesterday, I found these three. They are wall art.
You might be surprised to learn where I took the photos.

Well, for the first time, I wasn't able to pay with the American magnetic-stripe card. The company has new card readers, and they are no longer equipped with a slot you can swipe a U.S. card through. If you're an American traveling in France, be aware that your cards might not work everywhere. This is the second time since September that I've run into this situation — the first time was in a restaurant. We ended up having to pay cash.

Already, self-service gas pumps in France, for example, make no provision for U.S.-style chipless cards. Nor do toll booths on the autoroutes, as far as I know. If you are driving a rental car in France, you have to be careful not to let your tank go empty in the evening or on Sunday afternoon, when all the gas stations are self-service only, with no attendant on duty. When there's an attendant, you can usually pay with an American chipless card, but that might be changing now.

Sometimes — and I might say "often" — even businesses that do have machines capable of reading the magnetic stripe on your U.S. card (which doesn't have a computer chip on it the way cards issued by French banks do) can be a problem. Store clerks and waiters in restaurants are often just convinced that the cards won't work, and they are incapable of making them work. Sometimes I resort to asking if I can slide the card myself, and that almost invariably works fine. It's as if you have to have the right attitude and technique to get the U.S.-style cards to work.

It's always an adventure.

28 November 2012

Raclette, a melted-cheese dinner

 Raclette is both the name of a cheese and a way to serve and eat it. It's a Swiss cheese (literally) and eating a raclette [rah-KLEHT] is a cold-weather event. I suppose you could call it a kind of fondue. We decided to have raclette for lunch yesterday. (Here's a link to an earlier post about raclette cheeses.

Our two-person appareil à raclette

Raclette cheese from Switzerland
One reason for this is that the weather has turned chillier. Another is that last August, we acquired a little two-person "raclette apparatus" — un appareil à raclette (look at all these) — at the big annual fleamarket in Saint-Aignan. A friend was selling it, and it was still new in the box. We hadn't tried it out until now. Appareils à raclette come in various sizes, for serving a couple or a crowd.

This time of year you can find raclette cheese anywhere cheeses are sold. Around here that means at the supermarket, since we don't have a local cheese shop. There are pasteurized-milk raclette cheeses and raw milk raclette cheeses to choose from. The benefit of buying real raclette cheese for this kind of preparation is that it melts into a smooth, molten mass, unlike some cheeses you might try.

Sliced chorizo, chicken, and Canadian bacon
Each person melts a slice of cheese in the little raclette grill. The accompaniments almost always include boiled potatoes, ham of one kind or another, and cornichons (pickled gherkins). To those you can add what you want: thin-sliced roast chicken, steamed broccoli or cauliflower fleurets, salami or chorizo, cooked artichoke bottoms, sliced mushrooms, and so on — anything that would be easy to serve and not messy to eat, and would go well with melted cheese.=

Two kinds of pickles
The original raclette utensil was a stand on which you could mount a half-round of raclette cheese and set in front of the fire in the fireplace. You used a "raclette knife" (un couteau à raclette) to scrape the melting cheese off the cut side of the cheese round onto a plate — the verb racler [rah-KLAY] means "to scrape." Nowadays, all kinds of raclette grills are self-contained, with built-in heating elements.

This is the most common type of raclette grill these days, and it comes in many sizes.
You melt cheese in the little non-stick trays under a heating element, and
you can grill or heat up meats and vegetable on top as you go. 

A lot of the raclette grills now have a non-stick grilling surface on top — ours does — so that you can grill slices of ham, bacon (Canadian is best here), chicken, or mushrooms, for example, as you go. The warm melted cheese is better with warm meat than with cold meat, I think — the same is true of the boiled potatoes, which you can bring warm to the table.

 Raclette and Cantal cheeses for melting

You can also try different cheeses and see what you like. I don't know how easy it would be to find actual raclette cheese in the U.S. Yesterday, we had a little piece of Cantal cheese left over, and we sliced and melted it. It was very good. I also trimmed up some the soft blue cheese called Bresse Bleu and melted that in the raclette dish under the heating element. Very delicious....

27 November 2012

The back corner

Here are some recent pictures taken in the back corner of our yard. It's the northwest corner, and there are no houses over on that side, just woods and vines. Now a big patch of the woods has been cut down. Back in July, we started working on this ourselves, to make sure the brambles didn't pull our lightweight fence down. Maybe we wasted our time and effort.

The electric company's crew cut a wide swath under their wires right next to our property.

As I mentioned yesterday, the electric company (ERDF) sent out a crew to clear the brush under the wires that come up the hill from the river valley to supply the nine houses in our hamlet with current. The wires run around our yard — along the north side and then around the west end. The land on the north side of our property doesn't belong to us, and it is not tended at all by its owner.

Callie of course needs to explore and sniff around anything that changes in her environment.

I think I've noticed a pattern. I believe EFDF sends out a crew every five years to cut down the trees that might be growing up into the wires. I believe the last time was in 2007, but I haven't yet been able to find any photos of it from that time. I can't remember what month it was when they did the job.

Looking through the bare branches of the plum tree out into the vineyard

The back corner of the yard has always been a problem. We can't quite figure out what to do with it. A few years ago we planted a good crop of potatoes on a little plot of land back there that was the previous owners' compost pile. And one year I successfully planted greens (collards, mustard, and chard) on the same plot. Then I planted a plum tree back there, and it has grown tall but hasn't yet produced much fruit.

This year's greens, slightly slug-infested because of mild temperatures and abundant rains

Today is a shopping day. The Carrefour Market over in Montrichard has fattened ducks (canards gras) on sale — whole ducks or parts — at really tempting prices, but it's too late for us because we cooked a canard last week. SuperU in Saint-Aignan has extra-lean beef roasts on sale, and I have an idea for bœuf à la ficelle cooked with ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, and Asian spices. More on that later.

26 November 2012

Sunday sunrise, quiet days

Sunrise yesterday was beautiful. A wet-weather system was going by to the north of Saint-Aignan (have you heard about all the terrible weather they've been having up in England?). Being on the calm edge of the turbulent weather, we had just enough clouds to make for beautiful morning skies as the sun came up.

Our house, called Les Bouleaux, seen yesterday morning
from the far corner of the back yard

I went out with the dog just before 8 a.m. That's the normal time, but on Sundays it's important not to be late because the hunters show up at nine o'clock sharp. There are only two or three of them who hunt in and around the vineyard these days, and they know what they are going, but still... I don't want to be out there with the dog when they are shooting guns.

November sunrise over the Renaudière vineyard

La Renaudière, our hamlet outside Saint-Aignan, is very quiet these days. Five of the nine houses are empty at this time of year. Summertime neighbors have decamped to their wintertime stomping grounds — one couple to Blois and two others to the Paris region. One house in the hamlet is for sale.

You can see three houses in this photo, one of which is empty for the winter.

One house in the hamlet is occupied by a single man whose health is shaky. The woman across the street is now 92, and we never see her any more. Her daughter, along with the mayor and her husband who live next door to her, are the only neighbors we see, and usually just when they drive by on their way down to the village or into town.

Callie is hunting some critter in a pile of leaves that we raked and swept up over the
weekend. Lucky for us, the leaves didn't fly away in Saturday night's high winds.

It's quiet and peaceful. We see vineyard workers nearly every day, and hunters on Sundays. A crew hired by the electric company (ERDF) came out last week and cut down a lot of brambles, bushes, and saplings that were growing up under the wires just outside our property. I'm not sure who pays for such work to be done — ERDF or the property owner. Either way, we're happy to have the brush cut back.

25 November 2012

Le balai-ramasseur

One of the most interesting and useful pieces of equipment we acquired when we bought this house  nearly 10 years ago is something that is apparently called « un balai-ramasseur » — a lawn sweeper used for picking up autumn leaves. (A balai is a broom, and ramasseur derives from the verb ramasser meaning "to pick up" or "gather.")

It works on the principle of an old-style carpet sweeper. It doesn't have a motor — you just push it. There's a brush on the axle between the wheels that sweeps up leaves (in this case) or dust (in the case of a carpet sweeper). The lawn sweeper has a canvas bag that collects the leaves as you roll the apparatus around your yard.

Progress on the leaf front at La Renaudière

And it works really well. It's quiet. It doesn't burn gas or diesel fuel. It doesn't require a power cord. After trying to use the lawn mower to pick up the leaves, Walt pulled the old push sweeper out of the garden shed yesterday morning and made quick work of sweeping up a lot of leaves that had fallen out of our apple and linden trees this week. The grass catcher on the lawn mower was just too small for the job.

The balai-ramasseur we found in the garden shed when we arrived here in 2003

It's a heck of a lot easier than raking — which is what I was doing yesterday morning out front on the driveway, where another ton of maple leaves had fallen. At this point, there are no more maple leaves on the two trees out there — heureusement ! The lawn sweeper is also a lot less annoying and less polluting than those gas-powered leaf blowers that everybody uses these days.

Walt trying the leaf sweeper on the gravel path — the leaves there
were too wet and mashed down for sweeping, though

We had high winds overnight. In a few minutes, I'll go out and see if all the leaves we swept up and raked up — which we piled neatly on the vegetable garden plots — have just blown all over the yard again.

24 November 2012

An ad, some news, and a photo or two

Have you seen this ad for the new Apple iPad Mini? I got it off the Apple web site. Click the play button (the triangle) in the lower left corner of the image to play the video — it's short. Turn on your sound if you can.

I can't really tell you why I enjoy the commercial more than most others. (Hint: you might recognize one of the photographs in it.) I'm wondering whether Walt and I should invest in an iPad Mini. Has anybody reading this post used or tried one? Any recommendations?

Sunrise from the kitchen window a couple of days ago

Second subject: we finally got notification yesterday that our French national health insurance has been renewed for 2013. The papers we turned in a the Saint-Aignan office made it to Blois and satisfied the requirements. We'll have a modest quarterly "contribution" to pay into the system for the year.

Closeup of the same sunrise — sorry for the blurry photos. 'Tis the season.

So things are rolling along. For us, this is going to be a weekend of delicious leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner. Hope your weekend is pleasant too.

23 November 2012

Terrine de canard : eating it

The verdict: the terrine was good. Maybe it was better than good. I'm glad I undertook and completed the project, and I'll do it again. I'll make a different kind of terrine next time. Maybe rabbit. Maybe just a plain pâté de campagne. That's not a negative comment about the duck terrine, which was quand même delicious.

A closeup of the top surface of the terrine when I took the cover off

As I've said, you serve the terrine in slices. The first one is hard to get out of the dish, but the others are easier. I cut the slices a couple of centimeters thick, and then I cut each one in half to make two servings. The fat you can scrape off or spread on bread. It's mostly duck fat, which is good for you (in moderation). And it tastes good.

A full slice of terrine de canard forestière, before I cut it into two servings

 A few minutes ago I sliced up the rest of the terrine. Here it is.

We served the terrine with four other "condiments" — cornichons (pickled gherkins), a confiture d'oignons that Walt made (sliced onions cooked slowly with honey, wine, vinegar, and spices), slices of  toasted pain de campagne, and a 2009 Vouvray moelleux (sweet) white wine, which is locally produced. We have a lot of leftovers for the weekend, of course. Of terrine, not of onion "jam" or that 2009 Vouvray.

I took the bay leaves off the surface of the terrine before I sliced it.

The confiture d'oignons was amazingly good, and it was perfect with the terrine. I'll have to get the recipe from Walt, or ask him to post it. The pain de campagne (rustic country-style bread) was just right, and having it piqued my curiosity. After eating such bread for forty years, I suddenly wondered why it's call that and how it's different from other breads. It turns out that pain de campagne is basically bread made with 90% white wheat flour and 10% rye flour (farine de seigle). Maybe you already knew that.

Un gigot d'agneau désossé ready for the oven

The rest of our meal was a traditional French gigot d'agneau with flageolet and haricot vert beans. Walt made pumpkin pie — well, butternut squash pie — for dessert, and that was delicious too. We had ordered a boned and tied leg of lamb from the butcher, and he delivered it on Tuesday. I basted it with half a cup of olive oil that had sat overnight with crushed garlic (two big cloves), a teaspoon of thyme, a tiny bit of chopped onion, and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes in it for flavor.

These are French flageolet beans that have been soaked for 12 hours in cold water.

I roasted it as per the butcher's recommendations: one hour and 15 minutes in a 350ºF (180ºC) oven. I let if rest for 30 minutes with the oven off and the door slightly open before we carved it. We all agreed it was an excellent leg of lamb. It sort of outshone the terrine, I think, but that was okay. The main course is supposed to be the highlight.

This is Part 5 of the Terrine de canard series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

22 November 2012

Terrine de canard : baking & pressing

Julia Child used to say that you should never apologize for your cooking when you are serving dinner to guests, even if the dishes didn't end up resembling what you had intended. I might say the same thing about blogs: never apologize. At the same time, I'll say that I'm sorry that I can't finish the terrine series today.

This is the terrine I cooked the duck pâté in. I've had it for so long —
25 or 30 years — that I don't remember where I got it.

Why? Because I'm not yet ready to slice the terrine de canard up for serving. That won't happen for another few hours. It will be part of our afternoon Thanksgiving Dinner later today, which will be a very meaty one: with the terrine as a first course, we'll move on to a boned gigot d'agneau that we bought from the butcher-who-delivers. More about all that tomorrow too.

The last step before baking is to pour over the top of the meat mixture
the half-cup of the wine in which the dried mushrooms soaked.

Where's our Thanksgiving turkey? What will we tell our American friends who are coming for dinner? Well, as I've said, I put ground turkey into the terrine mixture. The terrine, by the way, cooks in a water bath, called a bain-marie in French, in a medium oven for just over two hours. I checked mine at that point with an instant-read thermometer and it was up to 75ºC (nearly 170ºF) in the center.

The brick we used to press the pâté fit our terrine just about perfectly. If you don't
have a brick, you can use two heavy cans of beans or tomatoes or whatever.

When the terrine comes out of the oven and has cooled down slightly, it needs to be pressed. In other words, you cover it and put a heavy weight on top of it. We cut two pieces of cardboard into oval shapes to match the size of the baking dish and put them inside a plastic bag. That got laid on top of the cooked meat mixture as a lid, and on top of it we put a brick that was also inside a plastic bag.

Then we put the cooked terrine into the refrigerator to be pressed down by the weight of the brick for 24 hours. And it stays in the fridge for another 48 hours after that, before you're ready to slice and serve it.

So there you have it — except for the pictures of the finished product that I plan to take later this morning. Here is the recipe in English:

Terrine de canard forestière

2 boneless duck breast filets (about one pound in all)
2 duck livers (or 3 chicken or rabbit livers)
10 oz. ground turkey (or veal)
10 oz. lean ground pork
1 tsp. corn or potato starch
3 whole eggs
1 tsp. allspice
salt and pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 oz. shelled pistachios
1 oz. dried boletus and/or shiitake mushrooms
½ cup white wine
4 thin slices fatback or blanched bacon
2 peeled shallots (or small onions)
3 bay leaves

Day 1: Take the skin off the duck breast filets and save them in the refrigerator. Cut one of the breast filets into small cubes and cut the other one into strips between ¼ and ½ inches wide. Season the meat and put it in the refrigerator.

Put the dried mushrooms to soak in the white wine. De-vein the livers and chop them (or put them through the meat grinder).

Put the ground turkey and the ground pork into a big bowl. Add the livers, allspice, salt, pepper, starch, eggs, and thyme. Add the cubed duck liver and the shelled pistachios. Place the strips of duck breast meat over the top. Cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours (overnight).

Day 2: Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Lift the rehydrated mushrooms out of the white wine and chop them finely. Strain the wine through a fine sieve or a paper coffee filter to remove any sand or grit.

Line the bottom and sides of a 2 qt. (2 liter) baking dish with the duck skin and/or thin strips of fatback/bacon. Take the duck breast strips off the top of the mixture and reserve them. Then put  half of the ground meat mixture into the bottom of the baking dish.

Arrange the strips of duck breast on top of the first layer of ground meat mixture. Top them with the rest of the ground meat mixture.

On the top of the meat mixture as decoration and for flavor, place two or three shallots (or onions) cut into slices and two or three bay leaves. Strain the half cup of mushroom soaking wine over the top of the meat mixture. Put the lid on the baking dish or cover it with foil and bake it in a water bath in the oven for two hours and fifteen minutes.

Remove the terrine from the oven and let it cool down slightly. Take the lid off the dish, cover it with a piece of thick cardboard (or wood) that is cut to fit inside the dish and put inside a waterproof plastic bag. Weight that cover down with a brick or a couple of big, heavy cans of vegetables. When the terrine has completely cooled, put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours with the weight still on it.

Day 3: Take the weight off the terrine, put the lid back on the dish, and leave it in the refrigerator for 48 hours longer before you slice and serve it so that all the flavors can develop and blend together.

Serve slices of  the terrine, cold, with an onion chutney and/or pickled gherkins, toasted bread, and a demi-sec or sweet white wine (Vouvray, Monbazillac, Sauternes) or other wine of your choice.

This is Part 4 of the Terrine de canard series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 5.

21 November 2012

Terrine de canard : assembly

It's now day two of the terrine-making process. The seasoned meat mixture has been marinating in the refrigerator overnight. It's time to take it out and layer it with the duck breast strips in the actual terrine for cooking.

While the meat marinated in the fridge, a couple of ounces of dried mushrooms have been soaking in white wine overnight. At this point, they need to come out of the wine — save it! — and get finely chopped.

I used about half boletus (cèpes) and half shiitake mushrooms. The finely chopped mushrooms are mixed into the meat farce before it's all put into the terrine. Lift them out of the liquid with your fingers — don't pour them out. There may be some sand or grit in the bottom of the container.

When I cut the breast filets off the duck carcass, I tried to be careful to save big pieces of skin that I could use to line the baking dish. Here it is all spread out and ready to be trimmed into the shapes that I need.
I also bought some thinly sliced lard gras (fatback) from the butcher when he came by last week. It was good that I did, because there wasn't enough duck skin to completely line the terrine. The skin and lard (which is not lard in the American sense) serve two purposes: they keep the meat mixture from sticking to the baking dish, and they render fat that flavors the meat and keeps it from drying out.

Half of the seasoned meat mixture goes into the bottom of the lined terrine.

The strips of duck breast meat form the next layer of meat in the dish.

The rest of the meat mixture goes in. Any strips of fat or duck skin that stick up above the top of the mixture just get folded over. I had three strips of duck skin left over, so I stretched them over the top.

Finally, Walt and I topped the terrine with some bay leaves from our back yard tree. We slid them under the strips of duck skin. Then we sliced up a few shallots and arranged them on top as well. The terrine is almost ready to go into the oven.

This post is Part 3 of the Terrine de canard series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4, and Part 5.

20 November 2012

Terrine de canard : making the meat mixture

The meat, fish, or vegetable mixture that becomes a pâté or a terrine is called a farce in French, or a stuffing. That's because pâté originally meant what is now called pâté en croûte, or a meat stuffing in a crust — a meat pie (like a Cornish pasty). Pâté was the name for the "paste" or dough the meat was cooked in, and for the whole preparation.

The same kind of filling cooked in a baking dish, without the pastry crust, is properly called a terrine. Another difference between a pâté and a terrine is that a pâté can be served hot, while a terrine is always eaten cold. That's what the Larousse Gastronomique says. The fact is, the terms are used almost interchangeably in France today, with the redundant phrase en croûte added to distinguish one way of cooking and serving a pâté from the other.

The mixture for the terrine de canard forestière that I'm making is composed of 10 oz. of lean ground pork and an equal quantity of ground turkey (or veal), along with some chopped liver and one duck breast cut into little cubes.

I used turkey instead of veal and I'm hoping it will be good. I also used rabbit liver rather than duck, chicken, or turkey liver because that's what I found at the supermarket.
The other duck breast (the two filets weighed in at about a pound) is cut into strips that also go into the pâté mixture, but as a middle layer (more about that later). Oh, and about an ounce of shelled pistachios go in also, along with allspice, salt, pepper, and dried thyme.

A terrine needs to be fairly heavily salted because it will be eaten cold. You could certainly put in other herbs and spices, and in fact I added a pinch of cayenne pepper to my mixture.
Finally, three eggs and a tablespoon of starch (corn or potato) get mixed in. That and the ground or chopped liver give the mixture a fairly liquid texture and will give it the right texture after it's cooked. It's cooked now, but I can't try it for another couple of days...

Also, at this point it's time to put two ounces of dried mushrooms in half a cup of dry white wine to soak (separately) overnight.
The pâté mixture, including the strips of duck breast, goes into the refrigerator for 12 hours before it gets cooked in the oven. I just laid the strips of meat over the top of the mixture so that I could lift them off the next day and put them into the terrine as a middle layer.

We'll see how that looks when I slice the terrine on Thursday. The recipe says to put it into the refrigerator for three days after it's cooked to let all the flavors blend, and that's what I'm doing.

By the way, there's another word, pâtée, which is grammatically feminine, not masculine. Une pâtée is a gruel or slop of ground meat, cereals, and vegetables that is fed to farm or domestic animals. Pâtée pour chien is dog food. Isn't that funny?

This is Part 2 of the Terrine de canard series. Here are links to Part 1Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

19 November 2012

Terrine de canard : preparing the duck

What is a terrine? Well, it's a cooking dish — a baking dish, or what we might call a casserole dish in the U.S. A terrine is called that because it is usually made of earthenware — and terre means earth. By the rhetorical figure of speech called metonymy, a terrine is also the food that you cook in such a dish. Terrines (the contents, not the container) are most often meat, fish, or vegetable pâtés.

Before deciding to make a terrine de canard, my idea was just to make a very simple kind of pâté pâté de campagne, for example, which is the most ordinary kind of potted French meat, made with just pork and liver. It's a kind of meatloaf, in face. Soon, though,my research turned up a recipe for terrine de canard forestière on a French web site. Coincidentally, I noticed that the supermarket had a special on the ducklings or young ducks called canettes. It all came together.

The first step was to carve the duck up, because the recipe called for just the breast meat, the filets. It's a lot less expensive (per kilo) to buy a whole duck than just the filets — and cutting up a duck is just like cutting up a chicken. I figured I could cook the wings and leg/thigh pieces separately, maybe as confit, and then make a good broth or stock out of the rest of the carcass.

The next step is to take the filets off the carcass. All you need is a sharp knife. Cut an incision along one side of the breast bone. Cut against the bone to remove the breast filet. If there's some meat left on the bones, scrape it off and add it to the pâté mixture, which includes ground pork and ground turkey (or veal), along with some ground or chopped raw duck, turkey, or chicken liver.

The duck breasts don't just get ground up with the rest of the meat. Instead, one of them gets cut into small dice and added to the meat mixture. The other one gets cut into strips that go into the middle of the terrine, between two layers of pâté mixture.

Before dicing and slicing the breast meat, you need to remove the skin, which you can use to line the baking dish (terrine) that the meat mixture will cook in and keep the pâté from sticking to the dish. Put the breast filet skin-side down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to scrape the lean meat off the skin. I hope that's clear. It works.

What you end up with is two nice boneless and skinless duck breasts. They will give the pâté its taste, and the strips and chunks of whole duck meat will make it fancier than just plain pâté or meatloaf. More about the meat mixture tomorrow.

Here's the French recipe I am adapting to make a Terrine de canard forestière. By the way, as applied to French food, (à la) forestière means the dish (terrine, pâté, pizza, etc.) has mushrooms in it  — from the forest. My major adaptation of the recipe so far is to substitute ground turkey meat for ground veal.

Terrine de canard forestière

2 filets de canard (400 g)
2 foies de canard (ou 3 de poulet ou de lapin)
30 gr de cèpes secs
10 cl de vin blanc
300 g de veau haché chair de dinde hachée
300 g de porc maigre haché
4 tranches fines de lard gras
2 échalotes épluchées
10 g de fécule
3 œufs entiers
1 c. à café de quatre-épices
sel et poivre du moulin
fleur de thym et laurier
20 g de pistaches décortiquées

La veille : Retirez (et gardez) la peau des filets de canard. Coupez un des filets en petits carrés et l'autre en lanières d'un centimètre d'épaisseur. Assaisonnez et réservez le tout au frais.

Mettez les cèpes à mariner dans le vin blanc. Déveinez les foies et hachez-les.

Mettez le veau et le porc dans un grand saladier. Ajoutez les foies, le quatre-épices, le sel, le poivre, la fécule, les oeufs, et une pincée de fleur de thym. Ajoutez alors le filet de canard coupé en dés et les pistaches. Bien mélangez le tout Couvrez et laissez toute une nuit au frigo.

Le lendemain : Allumez le four a 180°C. A la main égouttez les cèpes et passez le vin blanc dans une étamine (ou un filtre a café). Coupez les cèpes en tout petits carrés (mirepoix) et incorporez-les à la farce.

Dans une terrine en porcelaine ou en terre cuite installez au fond vos bandelettes de lard dans la largeur de manière à ce qu'elles arrivent jusqu'en haut de la terrine, puis remplissez la terrine à moitié de farce.

Allongez sur la longueur les lanières de canard et puis ajoutez le reste de farce. S'ils dépassent, repliez sur le dessus les suppléments de longueur de lard. (Si vous êtes plus riche vous pouvez aussi mettre au centre, avec les lanières de filet de canard, un beau lobe de foie gras sans avoir à modifier autrement la recette.)

Sur le dessus de votre pâté mettez 2 échalotes coupées en 2 dans la longueur et une feuille de laurier. Ajoutez le vin blanc passé. Couvrez et faire cuire au four au bain marie 2 h 15.

Sortez alors la terrine de canard. Retirez le couvercle et mettez-la "sous presse" (un morceau de gros carton ou une planchette) avec un poids d'1 kg.

Lorsque la terrine a refroidi, mettez-la au froid – vous ne retirerez le poids que le lendemain. Veillez à ce qu'elle reste au moins 3 jours au frigo afin que tous les parfums se fondent ensemble.

Servir cette terrine de canard forestière avec une confiture d'oignons et de grandes tranches de pain grillé (style Poilâne), accompagné d’un vin blanc demi-sec ou moelleux.

This post is Part 1 of the Terrine de canard series. Here are links to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.