We had the pleasure of an extended visit to Bordeaux during the 2019 harvest, exploring all the greatness of the region – the wine, the food, and especially the people. Our tour guide, Henri who runs Bordeaux Wine Travel (highly recommended), arranged an array of intriguing tastings, including some very off-the-better-path venues. Our first morning we drove up to St. Estephe to kick off the tour at Phelan Segur with a cooking class, which was one of the highlights of our tour.
At the very impressive Chateau we were ushered to the rather substantial kitchen where we met chef Jimmy, who was setting out an array of beautiful fresh produce, and we got right to work. Over the course of the next two plus hours, we were treated to lessons by Chef Jimmy on some of the specialties of the Bordeaux region.
Here we present the recipe for the main event – Duck Pithiviers. Simply put, a pithiviers is a round, enclosed pie with puff pastry. Think elegant French style pot pies. It has the appearance of a hump and is traditionally decorated with spiral lines drawn from the top outwards with the point of a knife, and scalloping the edge.
We used a high quality, and plump, Normandy duck (The duck in Rouen, France, is in fact special – enough so that there is a worldwide society of Normandy duck aficionados called l`Ordre des Canardiers). If you have a source for local fresh duck, or if you are lucky enough to have a purveyor of Duclair duck or other heritage varieties, go for it. But for this recipe you will need a whole duck.
One other note: While we made our own puff pastry during the cooking class, we would strongly suggest that you purchase a high quality version from your favorite gourmet store.
Otherwise, spend some time with this recipe – it is surely worthy of the effort!
- whole duck (4 to 5 pounds), legs and duck breasts removed (keep the carcass)
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic (pink version if you can find it), crushed
- 2 branches of thyme
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 carrot, rough chopped
- 6 mushrooms (standard button or Crimini will do), rough chopped
- 1 shallot, rough chopped
- 1/2 cup Armagnac (or cognac)
- A spring of fresh chervil
- 1 cup dry white wine (remember: cook only with wine you’d be willing to drink)
- 2 cups duck broth (high quality chicken stock will work as a reasonable substitute).
- For the sauce: 1 carrot (cubed), 1 shallot (cubed), 1 small bunch of parsley, 1 clove garlic (smashed), 1 bay leaf, 1 cup white wine, 2 cups chicken or duck broth.
- 4 sheets butter puff pastry
- 1 egg, lightly whisked with a dash of water
- Quality salt (e.g., fleur de sel, Guerande, etc.)
- Chestnut honey (optional)
- Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with one clove of garlic, a branch of thyme, one bay leaf (broken in quarters), salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Lay the breasts over this marinade for 1 hour at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
- Heat a saute pan lightly coated with olive oil on medium heat. Sear each side of the breasts on each side to just provide color. Add about 1/4 cup of water. Add the Armagnac, and allow to flame (to remove the alcohol). Put the flame on low, and allow the breasts to simmer for a few minutes (remember you want these very rare at this point – they will cook more later). Let the breasts rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
- [u]Preparing the confit: [/u]Heat oven to 300 F. Heat a saute pan that is lightly coated with olive oil on medium heat. Sear each leg until browned and some of the fat has rendered. Add the white wine, and reduce until almost dry. De-glaze with broth. Add the parsley, 1 thyme branch, one bay leaf (broken in quarters), carrot, mushrooms, shallot, one garlic clove, salt and pepper to the pan; cover the pan, and place in the oven for at least 2 hours. Allow to cool, then strip the meat from the legs, chop the aromatics, and mix it with the meat with some chopped chervil.
- [u]For the sauce: [/u]Heat a casserole pot that is lightly coated with olive oil on medium heat. Sear the carcass until browned on all sides. Add carrot, shallot, parsley, garlic, and bay leaf, and allow to sweat for a few minutes. Add the wine, and reduce by at least 1/2. Add the stock, and allow to simmer for at least 1 hour. Baste the carcass every 10 to 15 minutes which cooking. Strain the sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste. Use potato starch to thicken, if you like.
- [u]Assembling the pithiviers[/u] : Roll out the puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick. Make 12 circles of 4 inch diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush the edges of 6 circles with the egg wash. Onto this moistened circle add some duck confit, slices of the duck breast (about 2 to 3 slices), a healthy portion of duck confit again, a dash of sauce, and (optional) a slice of fois gras. Take a circle of puff pastry and place it over the top. Try to draw the puff pastry top carefully over the filling until the edges meet, then pinch the edges shut. You can work a design into the top at this point. Brush the top with the egg wash. Once you have completed all the pithiviers, place on a non-stick surface and back at 400 F for 12 minutes until brown. Drizzle with the chestnut honey (if you are using it).
- Add a healthy portion of sauce to each plate, then add each pithiviers. Serve with a light salad.