by Susan Herrmann Loomis
from French Farmhouse Cookbook
Marie-Claude Gracia is the chef and owner of La Belle Gasconne, a sybaritic auberge in the tiny Gascon village of Poudenas. Mme. Gracia is considered by many to be one of the best chefs in France, an honor she regards with a certain insouciance. “I cook what I learned from my grandmother, changing things here and there, and I do it because I love it—it’s that simple,” she says with a smile.
I spent several days with her in the kitchen at La Belle Gasconne and came away with this method of roasting duck, which is unique to Gascony. It fits with Gascon cuisine, however, which is based on the notion that fat gives flavor to food, but shouldn’t be a part of it. That is why, throughout the roasting, Mme. Gracia removes the fat that comes from the duck so that the roasting pan is nearly dry by the time the duck is cooked. The duck itself is tender and succulent.
The stuffing here is based on the one used by Mme. Gracia, though I have adapted it slightly.
If you can find only a 3- to 4-pound (1 1/2 to 2 kg) duck, roast it for 10 minutes per side as described in step 8; then test it to see if it is cooked to your liking. Though ducks may differ in size by as much as a pound, surprisingly, the cooking time is often not that much different.
To test for doneness, press gently on the breast meat; it should spring back when touched. Also, pierce the leg and thigh joint with a sharp knife or skewer; the juices should run clear and golden (a thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of the thigh should register 180°F (82°C). Try an excellent quality red Burgundy with this dish.—Susan Herrmann Loomis
1 duck (3 1/2 to 5 pounds; 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 kg), wing tips trimmed, with the liver
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (180 g) fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon rendered duck fat or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1/2 cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) crème fraîche, or heavy (or whipping) cream
1. Preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C). Measure out a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap around the duck, and set it aside.
2. Trim away any excess fat from the duck. Season the cavity of the duck with salt and pepper.
3. While the oven is preheating, place the bread crumbs on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until golden, about 10 minutes, stirring them once or twice so they are evenly toasted. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
4. Melt the fat in a medium-size heavy saucepan and over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook, stirring, until they are softened and beginning to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
5. Mince the parsley. Mince the duck liver.
6. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg and the crème fraîche. Add the liver, the garlic and shallot, and the parsley. Using your hands, add the bread crumbs, breaking up any clumps as you do; Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Place the stuffing in the cavity of the duck, gently Pressing if necessary to fit it all in. Close the duck, skewering the flaps of skin over the opening. You may truss the duck if you like, though it is not necessary.
8. Place the duck, breast side down, in a roasting pan and roast just until golden on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn it on one side and roast for 10 minutes; then remove and discard any fat that has melted from the duck, using a bulb baster or a large spoon. Repeat on the other side for 10 minutes, and then turn the duck on its back (breast side up) and continue roasting until the duck is cooked to your liking, an additional 20 to 35 minutes. You can test the duck by pressing on the breast meat — if it is firm with just a bit of spring, it is cooked through. If it is still rather springy, it will be quite rare. If you like the breast meat rare, remove it from the oven immediately. If you like the meat more cooked but still pink, roast it an additional 10 minutes. The duck will take 1 to 1 1/4 hours to roast (a thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of the thigh should register 180°F (80°C).
9. Transfer the duck to the reserved aluminum foil, back side down, and season it generously with salt and pepper. Turn it over and season the other side. Then enclose it loosely in the aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
10. To serve, carve the duck and transfer the pieces to a warmed serving platter. Scoop the stuffing from the cavity, and arrange it nicely on the platter.
Recipe © 1996 Susan Herrmann Loomis. All rights reserved.