Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Duck will be on far more menus in France than those in North America or the UK. The recipes that include duck are also far more interesting than most of those you may see at home. When visiting France be ready to enjoy their wonderful duck dishes.
The method of raising ducks and geese for their meat and fattened liver was brought to France by the Romans. The Romans also brought many other farming methods including planting fruit trees such as the apricot, cherry, plum, and peach among many others. The Romans also brought their knowledge for farm-raising snails. In France, the Romans did more than just build their usual boring straight roads, amphitheaters, baths, and temples etc. They brought ducks, geese, fruit trees, snails and more.
There is too much about ducks in French cuisine for one post and so I will leave fattened duck liver, foie gras, and wild ducks for separate posts. This post will note the most popular farm-raised ducks on French menus and a few of the most popular duck dishes.
Farm-raised ducks on French menus:
Canard à l'Orange– Roasted, farm-raised duck, cooked in an orange sauce. The sauce is traditionally made with the mildly bitter Seville oranges; to that sauce may be added a liquor or a dry white wine.
Sliced duck breast in orange sauce.
Photograph courtesy ofJay Tong
Le Magret de Canard de la Ferme de Bémont, Sauce Pinot Noir - Duck breast from ducks raised on the farm of Mr.Bemont served with a pinot noir wine based sauce. The farm noted here is just an example; however,the name of top-rated farms where ducks are raised will bring in knowledgeable local diners. Just as other products are branded so a highly rated farm known for its ducks, oysters, pigeons and more will often be named on menus.
Magret de Canard Sauvage aux Figues Fraîches –Breast of wild duck prepared with fresh figs. Wild duck will be carefully prepared and marinated for 24 hours before being cooked.The taste and texture of wild duck is very different to that of farm-raised duck. Duck breast which very popular in France and has its own post.
Salade d'Aiguillettes De Canard et Foie Poêlé – A salad of slices of duck served with lightly fried duck liver.
Confit De Canard, Sauce aux Prune – Duck confit served with plum sauce.A duck confitis made by cooking the meat in its own fat and juices.After cooking the duck will be preserved under a layer of its own natural fat in a glass or glazed pottery container. A confit would not have been invented today; everyone has refrigerators. However, the unique taste that a confit creates keeps the recipe popular. When the confit is served the fat will be removed. N.B.: In French a prune means a plum and a prune is a pruneau, pronounced prune-oh.
N.B.: Dictionary.com has the origins of the French word emincer meaning to "make into small pieces”. Many words used in the English kitchen are related to French.When William the conqueror invaded England in 1066, he and his Barons brought their cooks with them. For more about the French connection and the English kitchen click here.
Magret de Canard du Sud-Ouest, Sauce à L'orange et Kumquat, Pommes Façon Anna aux Herbes.- Duck breast from France’s South-West served with a sauce made with oranges and kumquats, accompanied by herb flavored Anna potatoes. The kumquat or Chinese orange is a very small member of the orange family and used for its intense flavor.Anna potatoes are thinly sliced potatoes baked in butter in a casserole. This dish was created by Adolphe Dugléré, a pupil of the most famous chef from the era of Haute Cuisine Antonin Carême.Adolphe Dugléré was the Chef de Cuisine at thefamous 19th century restaurant the Café Anglais where an important customer was Anna Deslions. Anna was one of Paris’s most famous courtesans. She entertained her wealthy customers in one of the upstairs rooms of the restaurant, and brought in so many customers that she had a dish named after her.
Photograph courtesy of jay d.
Salade Du Canard (Gésiers, Mesclun, Magret Fumé, Vinaigrette Au Vin Rouge).A duck salad with duck gizzards confit, a salad mesclun and smoked duck breast; all served with a red wine vinaigrette. This is about as close as you may get to a Salade Périgourdine without calling it one. It is considered a poor sign of achef abilities if his or her salad uses only one or two types of lettuce or salad greens. A salade mesclun originally indicated a green saladwith at least five different salad greens. Now a salade mesclun may indicate a mixed salad with five or more ingredients, though not all need be salad greens. Included may be France’s popular green beans, asparagus and whatever else the chef prefers.
Canard Colvert– The mallard duck.This duck is both farm-raised and a common wild duck. It is the most common wild duck in France and probably the most common wild duck in the rest of the world as well. Colvert means green collar, the identifying mark of the male duck. This is a tasty, lean duck that was once only caught in the wild. there is a great difference in taste between the wild duck and the farmed duck; I recommend the wild duck.
A pair of Mallard ducks, the canard colvert.
Photograph courtesy of ComputerHotline
Wild mallard ducks may beon the menu between the end of September and the beginning of February.In any case wild or farmed mallard ducks should not be confused with the Canard Moulard.
The mallard duck in the languages of France’s neighbors:
Canard de Challans, Label Rouge– Red Label, farm-raised ducks that come from the area around the town of Challans, in the Pay de Loire. Challans is famous for its chickens, capons, turkeys, geese, quail and ducks. Among all these, the most admired includes the Canard de Challans, the Challans duck. The Challans ducks are said to be a cross that developed from wild ducks and domesticated ducks that were brought from Holland in the 17th century; now they are part of food history and may be on your menu.All the Challans poultry holds the red label for their consistent quality. For poultry, a red label also has strict requirements on how the animals are raised. They must be free range for 95% of the time that they are being raised.No growth hormones or antibiotics may be used and neither may any animal based feed be fed to them. There are also strict limits on the number of ducks in a specific area. The rules are enforced and spot checks are made without prior warning. Red Label poultry costs 25% more than other poultry but in France the population pays the difference willingly.
Magret de Canard de Challans au Jus d'Agrumes, Clémentine Rôtie et Composition de Petits Légumes – Duck breast from the Challans duck prepared with citrus juice, roasted clementines and young vegetables.
Canards de la Dombes – Wild ducks caught in, or close, to the Dombes. TheCanards de la Dombes on a menu is usually the colvert, the wild mallard duck. Many other wild ducks may be found in the Dombes; however, if it was another duck it would be named.The Dombes is mixed agricultural land and fish farms established hundreds of years ago and home to hundreds of wild birds, including the wild mallard duck.
A pond in the Dombes.
Photograph courtesy ofGilles BONIN.
Canard Moulard –The moulard duck; a cross of the Pékin duck, the Long Island duckling, and the Muscovy or Barbary duck.This is an especially large duck. It is the duck most often used for duck foie gras, fattened duck liver.
Canard Laqué or Canard Laqué au Pékin–The French name for the Chinese dish of Peking or Beijing Duck. There are many Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in France, and many of France’s citizens with Chinese and Vietnamese ancestry arrived whenFrance sought to have a Chinese Colony similar to the British colony of Hong Kong. The French signed an agreement with the Chinese for the area called Guangzhouwan, Zhanjiang. However, the area had none of the success that Hong Kong had and was returned to China in 1946. The area is now called Zhanjiang with a population of over 10,000,000 and it is a major deep water port and center for container ships. France, however, did benefit through the Chinese immigrants' descendants whose families brought with them some excellent Cantonese cuisine.
This is not a post on Chinese cuisine in France; however, I do believe that a correctly cooked and served Peking Duck is a very tasty dish and a wonderful piece of restaurant theater. When available in a recommended restaurant it certainly should be considered.
Two plates to serve Peking Duck.
Photograph courtesy of tobze
Canard a la Pékin– Peking duck in French translates to the Peking Duck in English. .However,using that term creates confusion with the French Canard Pékin. The Canard Pékin is in North America the Long Island Duck. Long Island ducks are North Americas' most popular duck. If you are in a French-Chinese restaurant and want to order the dish of Peking or Beijing duck then you must ask for Canard Laqué.
Canard Pékin – The white Peking duck, the North American Long Island Duck; a lean and tender duck, and the most popular duck in North America. The Long Island Duck is a distant descendant of the mallard duck from China and it certainly did not originate in North America.
A pair of Peking Ducks. Long Island ducks.
Photograph courtesy of George Thomas
Long Island ducks in the languages of France’s neighbors:
Canard à la Pressé or Canard à la Rouennaise– Pressed duck; still made using its over 120-year-old recipe.
The duck used for Canard à la Pressé or Canard à la Rouennaise is the Canard de Rouen;this is a farm-raised cross with the mallard duck that together with the recipe originated in the town of Rouen. Rouen is the Prefecture, the capital of the region of Normandy. The recipe for Canard à la Rouennaise calls for a duck to be partially roasted, then its legs and breast are separated.The rest of the duck, bones and all, are then are placed in a special press that crushes the carcass to make a sauce from all the juices. The duck breasts will be served, as is usual in France, rosé, lightly cooked, while the legs will be grilled. The breast and legs will be served covered with the duck sauce. The preparation and serving of Canard à la Pressé is Restaurant Theater, much as it was when the dish was created over 120 years ago.
The duck press.
Photograph courtesy of David KK.
As far as possible I have kept away from naming restaurants and chefs; there are too many changes over the short term within restaurant kitchens. For up to date recommendations on restaurants, there are many magazines and newspaper articles available. However, this unique dish is still made and served as it was in 1890 at the Parisian restaurant La Tour d'Argent, Paris.I think that over one hundred and twenty years is about long enough to be sure they will not make sudden changes in the recipe when a new chef arrives!The dish was created when in 1890 Frederic Delair, bought the restaurant La Tour d'Argent and introduced the dish called Canard à la Rouennaise as his particular contribution. In 1911, the Terrail family purchased the restaurant after the death of Delair in 1910. They have kept much of Delair’s original menu including Canard à la Rouennaise. The grandson of the original Andre Terrail who bought the restaurant in 1911 is the owner in residence today. The restaurant's wine cellar is said to include part of the wine cellar from the original wine cellar in the legendary Café Anglais. That wine cellar was part of a wedding gift to Andre Terrail's grandparents for their wedding.The Café d’Angllais closed in 1913; who knows what fabulous wines from the 1800’s remain?
The special presses used to make Canard à la Rouennaise are sometimes seen as decoration in other restaurants. In the early twentieth century, many restaurants had copied this recipe and offered the dish accompanied by the requisite theater. Unfortunately, today, there are very few restaurants that offer this dish; it requires a team of very well trained waiters for each table, apart from the chef in the kitchen. Altogether that is not inexpensive.
Long before McDonald’s were numbering the number of hamburgers they had sold, La Tour d’Argent was delivering your half of a Rouennaise duck along with a certificate. The certificate indicates the exact number of your half-duck. If you order pressed duck in the Tour d'Argent today you will know the exact number of yours in a long line of these half-ducks served since 1890.
To protect and enhance this part of the French gastronomic heritage, along with other recipes for the Rouennaise duck, there exists L'Ordre des Canardières. Freely translated that is the “The Order of Duck Lovers”.L'Ordre is similar to other food confréries, brotherhoods and sisterhoods that promote their particular culinary preferences. The L'Ordre, today, has over 2,000 members and they come from all parts of France and all over the world.L'Ordres members all proclaim their love for recipes made with the Rouennaise duckling.At their annual dinners, they award their highest decoration, the Canardières d'Honneur, to its most outstanding members.If you wish to defend the honor of this outstanding duckling you too could be a member.
Cane – A female duck; the male is a canard.
Canette – A female duckling.
Caneton – A male duckling, less than two months old; the female duckling is a canette. French menus that offer duck do not usually distinguish between a canard, a male duck, and a cane, a female duck. Though I have met a gourmet who claimed to be able to taste the difference.