Pretty Dishes

French Thanksgiving Menu
December 15, 2010, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Recipes

At last, here are the details of what turned out to be an exceptional French-inspired Thanksgiving. As is too often the case with a single cook, not everything was ready all at the same time (and thus had to be reheated), and I didn’t eat until everyone else had been served, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying once I finally sat down.

I selected this menu for the flavors, for the challenge, and for the opportunity to impress. I had never prepared a duck before, and once I determined that it would be the star of the evening, the rest of the dinner theme came together from there. I compared a few Duck a l’Orange recipes and settled on one from Gourmet originally published in 1943 and slightly modified to bring it into the twenty-first century.

I reserved my duck at Bob’s Quality Meats, and when we went to pick it up, my husband convinced me we should get second duck since there wouldn’t be much in the way of leftovers as they were only about five pounds each. (With the second one, I made Jacques’s Skillet Duck with Parsnips and Shallots, which was also quite good, but next time I think I’d like to try Roast Duck with Port-Garlic Sauce.)

Duck a l’Orange

For the duck:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
One 5- to 6-pound Long Island (Pekin) duck
1 orange, halved
4 fresh thyme sprigs
4 fresh marjoram sprigs
2 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 small onion, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup duck stock, duck and veal stock, or chicken stock [I used my homemade chicken stock]
1/2 carrot
1/2 celery rib

For the sauce:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 to 2 oranges)
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons duck or chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fine julienne of fresh orange zest

To roast the duck, put an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Stir together the salt, coriander, cumin, and pepper. Pat the duck dry and sprinkle it inside and out with the spice mixture. Cut 1 half of the orange into quarters and place in the duck cavity with the thyme, marjoram, parsley, and 4 of the onion wedges.

Squeeze the juice from the remaining half orange and stir together with the wine and stock. Set aside.

Spread the remaining onion wedges in a roasting pan with the  carrot and celery, then place the duck on top of the vegetables and roast for 30 minutes.

Pour the wine mixture into the roasting pan and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Continue to roast the duck until a thermometer inserted into a thigh (close to but not touching bone) registers 170 degrees F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours more.

When the duck has finished cooking, turn on the broiler and broil the duck 3 to 4 inches from heat until top is golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Tilt the duck to drain the juices from its cavity into the pan and transfer duck to a cutting board. Let the duck rest for 15 minutes while you make the sauce.

Cook the sugar in a dry 1-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt, about 10 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until the sugar melts into a deep golden caramel. Add the orange juice, vinegar, and salt (use caution: mixture will bubble and steam vigorously) and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat.

Discard the vegetables from the roasting pan and pour the pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-quart glass measure or bowl, then skim off and discard fat. Add enough stock to the pan juices to total 1 cup liquid.

Stir together the butter and flour to form a beurre manié. Bring the pan juices to a simmer in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then add the beurre manié, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the orange syrup and zest and simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is thickened slightly and zest is tender, about 5 minutes. Serve with the duck.

While the duck was roasting, I made the onion soup. I really wanted it to shine, so I took special care with all aspects of its preparation, but I was still a little worried about whether or not my homemade chicken stock would be good enough. It turned out my panic was for naught—the flavor was exceptional. I do not say this lightly. I couldn’t believe how great the soup tasted, and more specifically, how great the broth tasted. I was very proud, and even though everything else I made was wonderful, the soup was the highlight of the night for me.

Onion Soup Les Halles

As evidenced in the photo above, I don’t own a kitchen torch or broiler-safe bowls/ramekins large enough for a decent portion of soup, so I put the baguette croutons on a baking sheet and piled them high with grated Gruyère to melt under the broiler, then transfer to the individual bowls. Unfortunately this meant a lack of delicious, gooey, golden cheese layering the whole top of the soup, so I highly encourage a more traditional treatment when possible. This recipe serves eight, so I cut it in half.

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
8 large (or 12 small) onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup port [I used ruby port]
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 quarts dark chicken stock (preferably homemade)
4 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 baguette croutons (toasted in the oven with a little olive oil)
12 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter over medium heat until it is melted and begins to brown. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and browned, about 20 minutes. (Anthony’s note: It’s all about the onions, so make sure they are a nice, dark, even brown color.)

Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the port and balsamic, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken stock, bacon, and bouquet garni. Bring the soup to a boil.

Reduce the soup to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, skimming any foam off the top. Discard the bouquet garni.

Preheat the broiler.

Ladle the soup into individual crocks. Float 2 croutons side by side on each. Spread a generous, heaping amount of cheese over the entire top of the soup.

Place the soup crocks under the broiler until the cheese melts, bubbles, browns, and even scorches in places. Serve immediately and very carefully. The crock and soup will be extremely hot.

Since the onion soup and duck preparations were so involved, I decided to stick with pretty quick and simple accompaniments that would complement without stealing the show: mashed sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. The sweet potatoes were very flavorful but a little too starchy for the duck, which was slightly overwhelmed by them. I felt the brussels sprouts were an excellent match, though if I had realized I’d need to reheat them I would have undercooked them by a few minutes so they were more crisp upon serving. Both recipes came from the November issue of Cooking Light.

Rosemary Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Shallots

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 2 large)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add the shallots to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with the sugar, then cook for 20 minutes or until the shallots are golden, stirring occasionally.

Place the diced potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 8 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add the rosemary, salt, and pepper, and beat until blended. Spoon into a bowl, top with the shallots, and drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

2 hickory-smoked bacon slices
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
One 2-ounce baguette slice [I used store-bought breadcrumbs]
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the broiler.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, reserving drippings; crumble and set aside. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the shallots to the drippings and sauté for 2 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the brussels sprouts and water; bring to a boil. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and cook for 6 minutes, or until brussels sprouts are almost tender. Uncover and remove from the heat. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper; toss to combine. Spoon the mixture into a 2-quart broiler-safe glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place the bread slice in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to the pan, and sauté for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Add the crumbled bacon to the breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle over the brussels sprouts. Broil for 3 minutes, or until thoroughly heated.

Finally, to cap off the meal (several hours later, as we were all stuffed), I prepared a very traditional crème brûlée and topped each serving with luscious fresh raspberries. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? Sadly, the custard didn’t set up correctly. I’m not sure if it was because the ramekins were submerged too deeply in water or if they were just a bit too full and therefore needed a longer cooking time. When I checked them after 45 minutes they seemed to be setting up, so I removed them from the oven, but once we cracked into the sugar they were more a custard cream than a pudding. Not that this was a problem—it still tasted wonderful. The berries were absolutely perfect, and using a real vanilla bean rather than cheating with extract makes a huge difference in flavor. All in all a lovely end to a lovely evening.

Crème Brûlée (Les Halles)

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
6 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large saucepan, combine the heavy cream, vanilla bean (split lengthwise and seeds scraped), and half of the sugar. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil.

Place the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the remaining sugar, continuing to whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and slightly foamy. Remove the cream from the heat, and working in small batches and very slowly, gradually whisk it into the yolk mixture. Whisk constantly to temper the yolks and prevent curdling. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Place six 8-ounce ramekins in a baking pan and fill the pan with water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the top is set but still jiggly. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. (They can be held overnight, covered with plastic in the refrigerator.)

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon brown sugar over the top of each custard. Carefully run a propane torch over each custard to caramelize the sugar. Wait a minute for it to harden, then serve.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I love the name of your blog and all of the recipes sound delish

Comment by Babygirl

Thanks very much!

Comment by prettydishes

um … YUM.

Comment by meosima

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