giant duck salad

When Matt and I went to France last fall, we rented a tiny apartment in Montmartre for the week so we could pretend to be locals. Montmartre seems like the Carroll Gardens of Paris: the place where regular folks can actually afford to live, and though it’s not quite in the center of things, there are cheese stores and nicer apartments and perfect neighborhood restaurants to brag about. Each day we took the subway to the more central parts of the city to see museums and markets, and while we enjoyed some fancy meals there, our favorite dinner was in a casual place a few blocks from the apartment.

It was at Le Relais Gascon that I had my first French Cassoulet. It was eye-rollingly delicious with creamy beans and meltingly rich meats. But sharing the spotlight was the salad of my dreams. These are serious salads—the menu warns that they are “Salades Géantes”. I think we laughed out loud when it arrived in its hulking bowl. Each salad is topped with a mountain of freshly fried, fragrantly garlicy potato slices. Inside, lardons and warm goat cheese, crisp greens and perfect vinagrette. You could order it with tomatoes and green beans, foie gras or sausage, ham, smoked salmon, duck, etc, etc. I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.

A trip to Essex market provided the excuse. I picked up three beautiful bits of cheese at Formaggio, and while we could make a whole meal out of that unbelievable cheese, a salad would serve as a good foil. I chose a loaf of bread and some bitter frisée, some cheap red peppers and endive. I added some potatoes for the essential salad topping. To gild the lily, my new best friend Jeffrey the Butcher sold me the duck.

I probably should have sprung for the breast. The magret duck breasts were huge, more expensive than Shiv’s entire Long Island duckling. I chickened out (ducked out?), saving my money for our fancy cheese plate, and just chose a leg. I think I’ve learned tonight that duck legs are good for braising, and for making confit, but really nothing special roasted. Nothing special, except for one thing—the fat. One duck leg provided the perfect amount of amazing, fragrant, musky fat to crisp up our potato slice topping. Divine. But when I try this again, it won’t be with the leg.

Not much meat is needed for this recipe, especially if you’re serving it with a cheese plate. But go with your own appetite. And feel free to riff on the vegetables—kirby cucumbers are a good addition, or tomatoes if they’re in season. Corn cut off the cob would be great. I experimented with a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, a touch of soft goat cheese, and a few blackberries, but your favorite simple vinagrette may work better.

Giant Duck Salad
Inspired by Le Relais Gascon

1 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 dried chipotle
1 duck leg (or try a breast, cooking time will vary)
2-3 medium waxy potatoes
1 head frisee and 2 heads endive (or substitute greens of your liking)
vegetables for salad: red peppers, cucumber, etc, sliced
vinaigrette (your favorite recipe)

1-2 hours before cooking, break chipotle in to three pieces or so in a small bowl. Pour a half cup of warm (not boiling) water over, let sit five minutes. Rub duck leg with Five Spice and garlic. Place in a sealable plastic bag, add orange juice, soy sauce, balsamic, and honey. Add chipotle with its soaking liquid, seal bag and shake a bit to mix ingredients and distribute the marinade. Marinate an hour or two, turning to coat the duck leg if you remember. Preheat oven to 350. Remove leg from marinade, let excess drip off. Heat an ovenproof skillet (I used cast iron) to low-medium heat, and place leg, skin side down, in it. No grease is needed since the duck will give off fat. Let brown for 10 minutes, then turn and cook five minutes more. Meanwhile, slice potatoes about 1/8″ thick, leaving skin on. Add potatoes to pan when browning is complete, turn duck leg skin side down, move skillet to oven. Cook 40 minutes, flip potatoes and turn duck, then cook another 40 minutes or until duck is cooked. Meanwhile place salad and salad vegetables in a bowl, and make the vinagrette. When duck is cooked, let rest a minute. Remove skin and cut meat from the bone into small pieces. Add to salad and toss with vinagrette. Place crispy potatoes on top and serve.

In other P&C news
Thanks to the magic of Craigslist, I have acquired a digital SLR of my very own! Perfect to celebrate the hundredth post of Pithy and Cleaver (and the recent birth of my baby neice!) Please bear with me as I learn how to use it.

In cheese, ducks, photos, potatoes, poultry, salad

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