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!


Mousse au Chocolat

Mousse au Chocolat

The tastiest, simplest, fastest & best Mousse au Chocolat.
Yes, there is a valid concern about raw eggs and this is my feeling on the subject:
At my family restaurant-hotel, where I was born & raised in the French Pyrenees, the eggs would be delivered once a week in crates of 24 dz. They were stored in a cool, but non refrigerated room, called “le garde manger”. Roots vegetables, fruits, canned goods, condiments, spices, oils & eggs where also stored there. They were really fresh and then many recipes with raw eggs found their way on the menu: Mayonnaise, Steak Tartare, Mousse au Chocolat and even on the cocktail menu with Porto Flip (weird cocktail made with port, brandy and egg yolk, plus nutmeg). So today I still make recipes with raw eggs but I always make sure of their freshness and origin,  I buy them at the farmers market and let know the farmer I will use them raw.

This recipe today, though very similar to the one we made at the “Hotel Poste & Golf”, was passed on to me by a woman I knew in Albany and she told me that it was a Pierre Franey’s recipe published in his “60 Minute Gourmet” column for the New York Times. I don’t have Franey’s New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet with me, so I can’t check if it is in it.
Speaking of Pierre Franey I met him once in 1990 in San Diego where I lived for a few years. Several celebrity chefs came to town to cook a March of Dime charity dinner. Among them was my Gascon childhood friend Ariane Daguin owner of d’Artagnan, It went to give her a hand to prep & set up her dishes. Pierre Franey was there with his wife, both very kind people, I truly enjoyed the food conversations and he remind me a lot of my grand father chef Joseph Peyrafitte. I am glad this picture survived all my moves.
Moi (Nicole Peyrafitte), Pierre Franey (1921-1996), & Ariane Daguin
Back to the mousse:

Ingredients per person:
1 ounce of very good chocolate (60 to 75% dark great quality chocolate)
1 teaspoon of water
1 egg
And yes! only 3 ingredients.

Melt water + chocolate on the stove in a bowl on a double boiler.
Once the chocolate is melted,remove it from the heat & stir it well.
While it cools down I separate the eggs.
Egg whites in a clean & dry bowl, and the yokes on another one.
Mix the yokes in with the chocolate.
Add a very small inch of salt and beat the egg whites very firm.
Fold half of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate & egg mixture.
Then very gently fold in the second half.
I made it for 5. Pour in individual glass dishes & refrigerated for 4/5 hours minimum.
Can be made the day before.

Chips (1)

Chips (1)

When I walked from 25th Street in Manhattan to Park Slope a few weeks ago, I came across this store on Greenwich Street. I have seen chips displays before at grocery stores, but never as a display window facing the street. It looked like some art installation:

Chips, chips & chips & more chips. Two big windows full of chips! I don’t
eat chips. One: I don’t snack, two: I rarely eat sandwiches or hamburgers, so
not many occasion to find them on my plate. But I actually decline them when
they are offered, unless I know they are homemade. Commercial ones are always
too salty and I don’t like their taste.
But this display brought back some nostalgic memories of my grandfather Joseph Peyrafitte (1891-1973):


Bon Papa Joseph, as we always called him, presided over the family hotel-restaurant kitchen in Luchon, French Pyrenees, all his life — except when he went to England as a French apprenti cuisinier (I am trying to find out more about this part of his life, because it was the time when Escoffier was there too! Though my grandfather is younger, I always wondered if he ever met him) and when he went for his 4 years of military service, followed by 4 years of war. So, the potato chip display brought me back in time; below is a scan of a page taken from one of his many menu notebooks (merci Pierre!). This one is dated May 31, 1965, and the P. Chip or Potato Chips are served as an accompaniment to Cailles
sur Canapé:


The Wikipedia‘s entry for potato chip informs us they were invented by George Crumb in 1853 in Saratoga. Well, I don’t want to take any credit away from Chef Crumb because I really like the story. But anyone with potatoes and enough oil could cook some! Anyhow, there is no entry in my first edition of the Dictionnaire Universel de la Cuisine (1890’s), but the Wikipedia site tells us that Alexis Soyer published a recipe in “Shilling Cookery for the People” in 1845. I did find an entry in my grandfather’s Escoffier (2nd edition, 1907):



So this is it for today. The next post will feature the making of potato chips at home. I made some tonight, but it is too late to keep doing this blogging thing! I rode my bike 14miles/22kms — see the map below — plus a pretty intense yoga class… I need to sleep!

Happy St Patrick’s day and looking forward to Saint Joseph’s day on March 19th!

Spätzle & Côtelettes

Spätzle & Côtelettes

Spätzle, Lamb Chop & Salad

Spätzle? Oui, oui… and I love them. Alright, not very French, but who’s French here? Pyrenean Gascon mountain girl comes first! So that works for the lamb…Humm! what about the Spätzle? I certainly never had them in the Pyrenees.
I acquired then via more Luxembourgish and Germanic influences. There are simple, delicious, nutritious & cheap to make.

This recipe fed me two meals:

First meal: spätzle with sautéed bacon and lots of fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Second meal: with pan fried lamb chop cut in from my local Turkish butcher.

Batter: 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup white unbleached flour –i could have used only white flour–
Salt/pepper/nutmeg/parsley/1 egg/ 1/4 cup of water or enough to dilute it to a paste, and voilà the batter is ready
My set up at the stove
How to do it: I dump small amounts of dough in boiling water
Once they come up to the surface, they are cooked! I drained and reserved them
I sauteed some onions & bacon
Returned the drained spätzle to the pan, mixed them in and also added a little water to loosen up all stuck juices at the bottom of the pan…I really didn’t want to loose these “sucs” (not suck, i will have to explain “sucs” another time, remind me if i forget or if you really want to know, send a comment!)

Served with generous fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh ground pepper

But the best was two days later:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I reheated the left over over Spätzle in the cast iron pan in which I pan fried 3 delicious lamb shops. I complemented it with my favorite –and famous– simple green salad. The video for the green salad is available at:https://www.nicolepeyrafitte.com/cooking/cookingmemorabilia.html. It’s a segment of the cooking show: “Voilà Nicole!” (Producers Joseph Mastantuono & Nicole Peyrafitte). More info on that will be available very soon at: http://voilanicole.com/

Voilà pour aujourd’hui! Please send comments.