Duck, and more chicken. We were supposed to do two duck recipes, roast one whole, and sautÃ© magret (breasts) on the burner. But they didn't have magrets, so instead we broke down our whole ducks, braised the legs, and sautÃ©ed the breasts. The sauce - classic a l'orange - was the same.
Breaking down a duck is no different than a chicken, or not much different. One difference is that you don't leave any part of the wing attached to the duck breast, like you do for chicken. Also, the bones are tougher, and for such a large bird, there is surprisingly less meat. There is also a lot more fat. A lot. Some of that you can trim off as you debone. The rest you have to render out as you cook.
All the fat that you trim away can be melted on low heat with a little water and then stored and used for cooking later - for instance, for duck confit, but also for other recipes. The school always does this because they always have use for it (they always have use for everything). We also gave all our bones to the restaurant, which needs them for duck stock.
Then we seasoned (no pepper on the skin side, as it would leave marks) and browned the legs in a sautoir with a little duck fat. You need that initial fat to get the cooking started and to ensure that the legs don't stick. But fairly quickly, they started to render out their subcutaneous fat. This has to be spooned out with some regularity, or else the duck will literally fry and not sautÃ©. If you time everything correctly, you will have the color you want just as most of the fat has been rendered and discarded. You also need to brown the flesh side.
We also browned the duck neck, which was kept in the liquid to help flavor the sauce.
Then we set aside as we browned mirepoix (no celery) in the same pan. Once browned, we added veal stock, a bouquet garni, and returned the legs, skin side up. It went into the oven, covered, where it cooked for a good 45 minutes to an hour. Duck legs take forever to cook. When cooked in liquid, they are hard to overcook, but not impossible, so you have to watch them. Every once in a while, take them out and poke around in the flesh side with your knife. If you see no red, they are done.
The breasts are done only in a pan. It's strange, but duck is cooked in a bifurcated way. You want the legs well done, thoroughly cooked, and the breast medium rare at most (some say rare simply).
Anyway, first cut some lines in the skin (this is called scoring) to help the fat grain as the breast cooks. Put a little fat in the pan, again just to get the process started and to ensure no stickage, then cook the breasts skin side down on low to medium low heat for a long time, spooning out the fat as it renders. When the skin is nice and brown and the fat is gone or mostly gone, turn over the breasts and cook the flesh side on medium heat for two or three minutes.
For the sauce: when the legs are done, take them out and set them on a rack. Cook the liquid, with all the elements still in it, for a while on the burner. It should reduce a lot, so it can take a while. Meanwhile, make your gastrique. This is sugar and white vinegar, cooked until the sugar caramelizes into a syrup. Then strain the sauce through a fine chinois, add the juice from one orange, a shot of orange liqueur, and the gastrique and reduce some more. Season with salt and pepper and strain again. It should have, as ever, a nappe consistency.
For a garnish, we made pommes gaufrettes (fried waffle cut wafers). When we learned this, I had a hell of a time on the mandoline cutting them, but this time I did fine, no blood even. We also made cherry tomatoes, cooked very slowly immersed in olive oil. We also made salsify. This is a root vegetable that looks like a stick. You have to peel it, and then there are many ways to cook it. We sliced it on the bias and sautÃ©ed it.
Additional garnish was supremes of orange, and a nifty little trick using the zest. You peel it off into strips, then julienne the strips, then blanch three times in plain water, then cook in sugared water until the liquid becomes syrupy. Then let dry and coat the strips in sugar. Little pieces of candy for the plate.
That's a little more done than I prefer, actually, but it was still tasty. The sauce was excellent.
Actually, had we done the magrets we would have done them the same way as we did the butchered breasts, so we did not miss anything there.
The chicken was butterflied and grilled, though Chef (and the book) did not use the term butterfly. But that's what we did. We deboned the chicken entirely except for the drumstick bones and the bones from the wing joint closest to the breast. Then the chicken was seasoned (no pepper on the skin side) and rubbed lightly with oil and grilled flat.
Once again, the grill was an inferno, painful too stand near, agonizing when you held your hand over it to move any food. We grilled the chicken skin side down just long enough to get quadriallage marks on the skin, then it was finished in the oven, resting on a bed of chicken bones, which apparently enhance the flavor. When it was nearly cooked we brushed it with mustard and gave it a light sprinkling of bread crumbs and put it back in the oven.
For a sauce, we reduced some veal stock, then sweated shallots (no color), added mignonette (cracked peppercorns, vinegar, white wine, water and the stock. That reduced for a long time. It was super spicy, but before serving we added salt. butter, and chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon, chervil, and thyme), which tempered it quite a bit. This is called Sauce Diablo.
Other garnish was tomato (halved and seeded), mushrooms (stemmed and peeled) and bacon slices tossed with oil and chopped herbs and grilled then finished in the oven. Finally, watercress, raw.