Erin and I knew we had to share our experience in France with as many people as possible. Of course, we wanted to brag about our experience and show off our newly acquired skills, but more importantly, we wanted to thank all the people that helped us pull off our trip. Our parents in-law, sisters and brothers-in-law, mom friends, regular friends, and our husbands all helped cover the bases while we were gone. They were good at their job that I'm pretty sure our kids didn't miss us much at all. So, we wanted to throw a beautiful French dinner party reminiscent of the ones we experienced nightly in France. And boy, did we have fun planning it. First, we bought and sampled many different champagnes and wines, tasting them nightly in search of the perfect pairing for the oysters, French onion soup, and ducks breasts we planned to pair them with. In the end, we drank all of our sample bottles, and ended up buying wines for the party that we had never tried before. As usual, we were really just looking for an excuse to drink a lot of French wine.
Then, we pored over e-mails from our workshop friends detailing the lunches and dinners we had prepared in the hopes of planning the perfect menu. We quickly settled on oysters to start, both raw and cooked. We had both in Bordeaux. We both love raw oysters, but the cooked ones are really something special. They are baked with sancerre wine and foie gras.
For the main course we knew we wanted to serve either duck or guinea fowl because we ate so much of it in France, but we didn't want to cook whole birds and spend too much time carving them in the middle of a dinner party. Luckily, we found whole Magret duck breasts from D'Artagnan. We ordered the breasts in bulk and got a pretty good deal.
We decided a decadent flourless chocolate cake served alongside whipped cream and ricotta and topped with a dollop of chestnut cream for dessert. Delicious.
Once we ordered the duck breasts and oysters we had surprisingly little to do. The night before the party we met at Erin's house to go over last-minute details and to bake the cake. The moment I walked into Erin's house she started to chatter non-stop about how not-stressed she was about the party. And then chattered about the cake and how it would be fine of course, but that she had found another more complicated recipe online. Should we try that? She melted the butter as instructed, but should she had simply softened it? Maybe if she wrapped her cold hands around the container holding the melted butter it would cool to the correct temperature? This was all quite entertaining to witness as I sat at her kitchen island offering no helpful advice while sipping wine. in the end, the cake was absolutely perfect and delicious.
Later, after the kids had been put to bed, we decided we should cook one duck breast to get an idea of timing and temperature and then watch a movie. We had just eaten copious amounts of chips and guacamole and so thought we would just have a taste of the finished duck and save the rest for a snack the next day. We seared that fat-laden ducks breast until perfectly crispy and carmamelized on top, then popped it in the oven for about 8 more minutes for medium-rare. We used the rendered duck fat for the base of a decadent pan sauce. After pulling the duck out of the oven and pouring the sauce on top, we realized were were starving. We devoured the whole breast while finishing a bottle of Bordeaux and discussing our lives and loves. We never did watch that movie.
Magically, the party turned out the exact same way. Nineteen people were in attendance at the party, and somehow we were never stressed. We were too busy having a great time with all these great people in our lives. It really felt like we were in France again, but this time, we got to share it with the best of New Jersey. It doesn't get any better.
Magret Duck Breasts:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove duck breasts from fridge 30 minutes before you plan to cook them. Score them with a sharp knife, making sure to cut through the fat but not through the underlying meat. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a pan (cast iron will work wonderfully), and lay breast fat-side down and sear until a great deal of fat has rendered the the remaining fat is deep brown and caramelized. Siphon off rendered fat into a saucepan or bowl.
Flip the breast when fast is caramelized and cook an additional two minutes. Then, pop into the oven and cook for an additional 6-10 minutes, checking the internal temperature after 6 minutes. When it reaches 130 degrees it is done. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then slice and serve.
While it is baking in the oven make the duck sauce.
Duck Sauce (or "duck juice" as our guest, Brian Hughes, would say):
Take several tablespoons of rendered duck fat and heat in saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots. Allow to cook for a minute until shallots are translucent and soft, but not brown. Add 1 cup of duck stock, chicken stock (or french onion soup stock, as we did). Allow to cook and boil. After it has reduced a bit, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Add 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to taste. Pour over duck after serving.