Lo Magret goes to Paris!

Lo Magret goes to Paris!

André Daguin, chef/owner of the Hôtel de France in Auch (Gers) until 1997, tells how he gave a new life to the tasty magret de canard — and made it famous in the process:

magret“The magret was served only as “confit” in soups, cassoulets and everyone would find it dry. The only way to avoid that was to cook it less, but no one dared. I had arguments with my customers; they couldn’t believe it was duck meat! Bob Daley, the New York Times journalist, reported on the discovery of this ‘new’ meat.”

In Occitan-Gascon the word magret —from the latin magre, literally means “lean”. It is definitely the leanest piece of the canard gras — that is the fattened moulard duck raised for foie gras. To make moulard ducks fat, force-feeding is required for a few weeks.


A bas relief depiction of overfeeding geese

This ancient technique seems to be referenced as far back as the 5th century BC. The Moulard duck is a hybrid cross of Pekin and Muscovy duck. Do not confuse Moulard with the very lean wild Mallard duck.


The magret is the breast that is detached from the carcass once the liver had carefully being extracted. In the canard gras nothing goes to waste. The skin is rendered for fat; the fat is then used to simmer the legs and manchons (wings). Once cooked this meat is known as le confit. Le confit is then stored in earthenware pots, covered with fat to seal it, and used throughout the winter in various preparations. The hearts (look here), livers, gizzards are pan fried with garlic and parsley, the carcasses (called “demoiselles” —or the misses) & tongues are grilled in the fireplace for snacks.

Speaking of carcasses: in 1990, while  doing an internship at the Daguin’s restaurant I witnessed a “concours de demoiselles” organized by the Château St. Mont in Plaimont (Gers). The goal of the “carcass eating/cleaning contest” is to eat as many demoiselles as possible in the least amount of time while leaving the bones clean as a whistle. The winner then stepped on a Roman scale and the opposite pan was filled with cases of Château St. Mont wine until it balanced!

carte tour Eiffel

Another anecdote related to magret took place at the top floor restaurant of the Eiffel Tower in December of 1967. Jean & Renée Peyrafitte, my parents, & André & Jo Daguin, Ariane’s parents, were handed over the restaurant for La Quinzaine Midi-Pyrénées à la Tour Eiffel —two weeks of French Southwest fare in the skies of Paris — kind of the birth/ recognition of Cuisine du Terroir. I didn’t get to go, but I was 8 years old and I still remember all the excitement. The opening event was a banquet for the food writers and VIP’s. One of the most exciting items on the menu was the newly ‘dressed’ magret de canard. The magrets had been shipped from the Gers to arrive just on time, but on the morning of the event they had not yet arrived. The magrets were replaced with lamb and as in the Vatel story —though unlike Vatel my dad & André Daguin kept their calm and didn’t need to end their lifes over the problem— the magrets arrived during the luncheon. André Daguin, who like his daughter is never short of a creative idea when it comes to p.r., announced to the press that the magrets had just arrived; he showed them what they looked like, explained how to prepare them and one their way out all the diners were handed a magret wrapped in foil.  They got many write-ups, lot of word of mouth publicity and the restaurant was packed for the two full weeks!

Today you can purchase magret through the d’Artagnan website. Some specialty store have duck breast but most of the time there are Muscovy Duck breast, which are good but smaller.  One of my favorite recipe that I used to make often at the family restaurant is Magret with walnut and honey glaze. I made it the other night and yum! it is tasty.

Recipe for Magret aux Noix et au Miel:

magret sauteed

2 Moulard magrets can serve 4
1 Shallot finely chopped
½ cup of Armagnac or Brandy
1 cup of stock or 2 tablespoon of demi-glace
2 teaspoons of honey
2 Tbsp shelled walnuts
1 tbsp of unsalted butter

Score the skin of the duck magret. Do not cut into the meat, only the skin.
Salt and pepper both side.
Place in a warm skillet on the skin side — no need to add  fat, the skin will render plenty.
Cook for about 8 minutes or so on the skin side —if you like it pink. More for well done.
Flip it over on the meat side for about 4 minutes.
Remove from the pan keep the magret between two plates to avoid loss of heat.
Drain the fat from the pan except for about 1 tablespoon—keep fat to sauté potatoes.
Sauté ½ cup of shallots until translucent.
Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of Armagnac and flambé —I alway turn off the fan when I do it.
Add 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 cup of broth or better, some demi-glace.
Let reduce, then add 2 Tbsp shelled walnuts —do not let the walnuts sit too long in the pan as they will give a bitter taste to your sauce.
Cut you magret in slices horizontally, pour all the juice in the sauce pan.
At the last minute finish your sauce with a dollop of soft butter, salt & pepper to taste.
Serve with your favorite starch.
Thanks again and again to Renée Peyrafitte for saving & scanning the original documents.
Merci à André Daguin de répondre à mes questions.
And taben mercès pla ta l’amic Marc per l’ajude dab los mots en Gascon!


From Salad to Memories

From Salad to Memories


It takes 3 people to make a good salad:
A miser to pour the vinegar
A wise woman to add the spices/condiments
A genius to dispense the oil

At my family hotel salad was never served as a main course, rarely as a first course, occasionally as an appetizer. The “traditional” salad course came after the entree and before the cheese course. It was mostly Boston lettuce dressed with a vinaigrette prepared with mustard, wine vinegar, peanut oil, salt & pepper, sometimes adorned with a few walnuts. Though once a week the crudités cart was on the menu as an appetizer course. The double deck cart carried a dozen of brown rectangular, low rimmed glazed earthenware individual dishes. They were filled with sliced tomatoes, grated carrots, celery remoulade, potato salad, slices of salamis, sardines, herring, artichoke hearts, champignons à la grèque, asparagus, hearts of palm, just to name a few. The cart was brought to the table were the waitress/waiter would neatly arrange the customer’s choice on a plate. I have fond memories of the cart because it was my first job helping out in the dining room.
I was around 6 years old, when Cecile, the sweet, wonderful and ever so caring head waitress —who had been working for my family since my father was a child—
took me under her wing. I begged for the full waitress outfit and she gave it to me:  the apron, the collard, the cuffs, and even the headdress! I was so excited; I wish I had a picture. Anyhow, Cecile sent me with the cart to the tables to present diners with their choices, she would show up few minutes later to  plate. Very soon Cecile let me handle the cart all by myself. I loved it and so did the guests. I could count it has my first food performance.
So buying large the cart was a rolling version of today’s salad bar and at the same time a salade composée or mixed salad.
The first mixed salad I recall seeing on the menu is Salade Niçoise -tomatoes, black olives, tuna, onions and hard-boiled eggs. Here I should specify that I am talking about the pensionnaires’ menu (the residents’) as we called them. The family hotel was in the spa town of Luchon where people came to treat respiratory and rheumatism problems. La cure, the cure, lasted 3 weeks and clients price included breakfast, lunch, dinner and lodging called pension complete. At that time the hotel was registered 4 starts and the menus were always 5 to 6 courses meal: hors d’oeuvres (appetizer), entrée (first course), plat de résitance (main course or entree),salad , cheese, dessert. The plateau de fromages, the cheese tray, was usually on the lunch menu and the salad on the dinner menu.

Hotel Poste et Golf around 1965
Hotel Poste et Golf circa 1965

My grandfather was the menu master, but once a while my mother would get to work on them and that’s when the salade Niçoise appeared on the menu! Neither my father nor my grandfather cared much for salad. In their mind the crudités cart was already a stretch and salade composée had no place on the menu. I can still hear my grand-father telling my mother:
(that is my mother) our customers are not rabbits! Why in hell do you want to give them so much salad? “
She would shrug her shoulders and wait for the next opportunity to sneak one on the menu!  I called her to check how close my memories matched hers —frequently they don’t!— but in this case it did. She added that she was the one who had the carts built. Family memories will be continued another time; meanwhile there is my salad!

I roasted 2 big chicken breasts with bone in. I basted the breast with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper and roasted them slowly so they stayed juicy.  Chicken can be served warm or cold, I prefer it cold on my greens. I dressed read lettuce with my usual simple salad dressing using rice vinegar -I would have used apple cider vinegar but I was out. Then the picture is pretty explicit: I sliced ½ a Mutsu apple (I ate the other half), cut up a few ribs of celery, sprinkled the whole thing with extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh ground pepper. Voilà! I debated weather of not adding cheese, and I didn’t, though fresh goat cheese would have been nice. Enjoy the refreshing and palatable combination of the textures and make your own combination.

Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème

Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème

Sunday morning I made Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème. This is another dish that was often served at my family hotel-restaurant and below is the scan of a menu from my grand father Joseph Peyrafitte’s menu notebook.

On Thursday May 2nd 1968 Oeufs Cocotte were served as the first course of the traditional five courses lunch menu. As you can see this lunch did not lack proteins!
Jambon de Pays (Prosciutto type ham from the Pyrenees)
First Couse: Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème (see recipe below)
Main Course: Pistache Luchonnaise ( a white bean & lamb stew with pork rind — a specialty of the Comminges region. I will have to do a post on this dish)
Plateau de Fromage : not mentioned here but a given.
Dessert Course: Strawberries & Fresh Quark Cheese.

I served the Oeufs Cocotte for brunch and they were incredibly delicious.

But first, what is a cocotte: it is a small fireproof dish in which individual portions of food are cooked and served.

Escoffier recipe from a second edition of the book published in 1907

-Break 2 eggs per person in a bowl and reserve them for later. Escoffier skips this step but I like to do it for two reasons: 1) the eggs will reach room temperature and 2) it will be easier to remove any egg shell bits and check on the quality of the eggs before pouring them into the final dish.

-Warm up the cocotte dishes in a pan filled with water half way
-In a small pan warm up one (generous) table spoon of the heavy cream per person.
-Pour one of these table spoons of hot heavy cream into each of the warm cocotte dishes. Then add the eggs. Season to taste (Escoffier does not give quantities for seasoning. I used salt & pepper, next time I will add a little paprika), two little pieces of butter (you can see below how much I did put in).
-Cook covered in double boiler for about 4/6 minutes depending on how you like your eggs; the water shouldn’t go higher that 1/2 way up the cocotte dishes. Escoffier doesn’t tell how long it should be cooked; I did mine for about 5 minutes, they were perfect, but that is a matter of taste — I like my eggs very soft.
-Dig in with a spoon and have rye bread toast on the side. Do not butter the toasts! that would be excessive, it is decadent enough as it is! Bon Appetit!