In the early years of my marriage, which corresponded to the beginning of my life as a cook, I was drawn to French cooking. It seemed glamorous, I suppose, and very different from the humble Italian food on which I was raised.
Back in the early 1970s, French restaurants were very popular and considered the best places to find “gourmet food” or “haute cuisine.” With Julia Child, the famous French chef, as my guide, I tried my hand at many French favorites including:
- Coquilles St. Jacques (tiny bay scallops bathed in a rich cream sauce)
- Sole Meniere (crispy white fish filets cooked with lemon and butter)
- Onion Soup (served in special crocks and smothered on top with melted Gruyere cheese)
- Soufflés (puffy savory or sweet concoctions made with whole eggs and beaten egg whites—I tried lemon and cheese.)
- Cassoulet (hearty casserole of sausages, beans and often duck)
- Ratatouille (a tasty vegetable stew, not the movie!)
- Coq a Vin (a slow cooked stew of chicken on the bone with white or red wine, mushrooms and bacon)
- Quiche Lorraine (egg and bacon pie)
- Boeuf Bourguignon (beef and red wine stew with carrots and potatoes)
- Steak au Poivre (strip steak with crushed peppercorns, brandy and cream)
My husband loved snails (or escargot—and still does), but I refrained from trying those at home.
My favorite French food usually involved duck, especially “Duckling a l’Orange,” one of the best-loved dishes of French cuisine. It is duck roasted with butter, oranges and Grand Marnier, the wonderful cognac and orange liqueur.
I have been finding fresh duckling with increasing frequency at my local farmers’ market, both whole birds and breasts. And some of our favorite Harrisburg restaurants are currently offering several delectable duck entrees:
- Mangia Qui: grilled Moulard duck breast with tawny port cherry sauce and saffron
- Note Bistro and Wine Bar: pan-seared duck breast with spice butternut squash puree and pecan barley
- Home 231: pan-seared duck breast with root vegetables and pickled apple
So, I decided it was time to re-visit “duck cooking” in my own kitchen. I searched through my stash of cookbooks and found one of my favorite old recipes: “Roast Duck with Sour Cherries,” a perfect choice to brighten a cold February night. It is from a 1968 version of The New York Times Cookbook and is worth a try (maybe to celebrate Valentine’s Day?). Cooking duck is no harder than roasting a chicken, but you just might find a new love.
Roast Duck with Sour Cherries
- 1 duck (5-6 pounds)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of thyme (dried)
- 2 small onions, sliced
- I medium carrot, sliced
- 1 can pitted sour cherries (not drained)
- ½ cup port wine (ruby port is best)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Season the inside of the duck with salt, pepper and half the onion slices. Remove the giblets if still in the bird.
- Prick skin with a small knife or fork (this will allow some of the fat to drain from the bird).
- Place the duck, breast-side up, in a heavy roasting pan and place the remaining sliced onion and carrot around it.
- Roast for 15 to 20 minutes at this higher heat to brown the duck. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
- Roast for 1 to 1½ hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast registers 140 degrees (timing will depend on the size on the duck). Remove duck to a warm platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. You can use a spoon or pour all the pan juices into a fat-separator measuring cup. The sauce can be made right in the roasting pan or in a little saucepan.
- Drain the juice from the canned cherries. Add it, along with the port wine, to the pan juices and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add the cornstarch, dissolved into a little cold water, and heat until thickened. Finally, add the cherries to the sauce and heat through.
Slice the duck just as you would a roast chicken and serve with the sauce. Duck is so good paired with wild or brown rice and a bright green vegetable like broccoli or broccoli rabe. And while you might be used to drinking white wine with “fowl,” you will find that, because duck is fatty, red wine such as pinot noir, merlot or Barolo are a much better match.
I remain a devotee of Italian cooking. But, every once in a while, I love to wander into the wonderful world of French cooking. Besides, Italians cook duck too!