Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What's in a Civet? - Part I

This morning the traffic was not too bad and I enjoyed a bike ride down the Quai to get some fixings. I had in mind a Civet using the beautiful cepes and plums available, but I would not be sure which kind until I reached my volailler. I detached my basket, and worked my way down, purchasing nothing, just to get a good look at everything on the market this morning.

Absoluement feerique!

My first stop with the intention to buy was at my Volailler. Aside from the Poulet de Bresse man who gets a visit from me from time to time, she is generally the only place I go to purchase my poultry. This lady makes a ton of money from me. She sells quail, pigeon, 3 kinds of chickens, 2 types of cannetons, regular duck, guinea hen, fresh magret de canard, fresh duck and goose fat by the pot, her own duck gizzard confit (well her mother prepares it), fresh gizzards, livers, and hearts, chicken wings, duck wings, necks of all the birds, various poultry and game carved and placed on brochettes for grilling, stuffed and tied rotis and galettes, rabbits - whole and parts, and in season, small wild game of every kind you can imagine.

She's a strong woman. When we buy a rabbit, she asks me if I want it carved. If she carves it (I sometimes do it myself, when I'm in the mood, dpending on what I'm doing with it), she asks me if I want the head, and when I say 'yes', she whacks it with her cleaver before including it with the rest. In a word, she understands. Every week, I purchase two kilos of whatever wings and necks she's got to make my stock, which costs me very little. Even if I spend 3 euros in a week from her, she still smiles and treats me warmly. Almost every savory dish coming out of my kitchen contains the stock in some form, and she appreciates it. From regular broth to consommé, to thick glazed reductions, the stock enriches and fills out my cuisine. I have recently discovered that the duck wings yield excellent meat for rilettes after having played their part in the broth.

Today I asked for chicken breasts on the bone for something else, which she cut from a chicken for me while I looked at her other offerings. I decided after all that a little civet de cuisses de canard for two would be just the thing to set off the flavor of the beautiful cepes, and the plums are in full season. I had copied two seperate shopping lists this morning, and made my decision for which one to follow depending on what looked best. I also purchased thyme, parsley, some tarragon just because it's been awhile, 2 stalks of celery, 3 carrots, a few more cepes because they are so gorgeous, a lemon, and 3 potatoes from the man I think sold me the good ones a couple of weeks ago.

Couenne, or pork rind for the civet.

On the way home I stopped by the butcher and got a bit of pig skin which in French is called couenne, and a thick slice of jambon cru. I can tell him I want a piece that weighs a hundred grams and he cuts it without even a blink. He then pops it on the scale. 101 grams. Will that do, madame? Perfect. Voila. Keys in hand, I took a little detour down to the cave and pulled a bottle of some co-op vin de pays on the way in.

What's in a Civet? Well, basically, it's a braise, with lots of bulbs from the onion family. The name comes from the old word for onion - cive. Often we see that the wild hare, or the lièvre has been given the place of honor in this braise, although one can certainly argue for any gibier or flavorful volaille. Recipes involving sauces enriched and developed to gourmet perfection from Paris bistrots abound. This time I will prepare a recipe that is firmly set in the countryside. Actually the onions are what gives a civet its name, so it goes to follow that a "civet de lièvre" is a wild hare & onion stew, a civet de cuisse de canard for two, being stewed duck legs & onions. I suppose you could make a civet of just about anything, given what you've got, as long as you have onions and wine, and someting that will hold up to the flavors. At the finish of this dish, I am going to take advantage of something special we have at the market right now and include several firm quetsche plums, which are cheap and plentiful at the moment.

Where did this recipe come from? Hmmm. Having basically memorized every recipe in the 1983 edition to Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France long before I ever knew I would ever have the chance to ever correspond with her, you can pretty much say that I come from the Wolfert School when it comes to cooking in that style. I followed her style based on that SW cooking book for a long time, and now it comes by instinct, having learned her methods and attention to detail. There are some books you go to for recipes, and some you read from cover to cover and ponder. Madame Wolfert's rich evokative writing and well worked recipes have given me lots to ponder over the years.

With the second edition of this book being issued last year, after I'd lived in France and been cooking French of all different styles for a good while, and having led the Spotlight Conversation with her on that topic over at eGullet, I paid extra close attention to the recipes that she added to her book this time. There is one recipe in the new edition (it's on page 261), for a Beef Daube, a beautiful generous recipe, which Paula attributes to chef Laurent Manrique, working in San Fransisco. He adapted his grandmother's favorite duck leg recipe into a beef daube. I looked at the ingredients carefully and saw the elements of a civet all through it, and thought that this is most likely what his Grandmother's recipe originated as, so I tried it that way. Delicious. That's where it began. I've reduced the garlic, added shallots, and used fresh plums instead of prunes to hone it to duck. Home and back again. I think it is a winner. I hope you do.

Civet de Canard for Two


Just about everything is pictured here.
3 Onions
2 Shallots
1/2 head of Garlic
125 grams or about a 1/4 pound of Cèpes
2 whole duck legs, cut at the joint
Carrots cut into 2cm lengths
Celery cut into 2cm lengths
Red vin du pays, a sturdy full bodied wine
Herbs: a few sprigs of thyme, 3 French bay leaves, and parsley
-- and tomorrow, the addition of:
Salt and pepper
4 Tablespoons of Duck fat
About 3 oz. or 100 grams Couenne, or pork skin
Mixed duck, chicken, and guinea hen poultry stock
125 grams or 1/4 pound more cepes
100 grams or 3 oz. Country ham or Jambon de Pays
a half dozen Quetsche plums (plus one for eating!)
100 grams duck liver, or chicken liver if you can't get any
Armagnac to enrich the sauce as a final step

Day one: set the duck to marinate, this takes about 10 minutes.
Line the bowl with sliced cèpes, to allow the flavor of the mushrooms to better permeate during the marination process.
Place the duck on top of the cepes.
Add chopped onion, 5 cloves of garlic, 2 carrots cut into chunks, a stalk of celery cut the same way, a few sprigs of thyme and 3 bay leaves.
Pour the entire bottle of wine over it.

This will marinate, refrigerated, until tomorrow. I will turn the contents with a spoon to refresh the mix tonight before I go to bed.

See you tomorrow!

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Blogger wheresmymind said...

I can't wait to read the rest of this!

5:29 PM, September 05, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

These pictures are luscious! The top one reminds me of those yummy postcards you buy in Alsace to send home with the recipe on the back...lovely light.

7:23 PM, September 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my god, I've died and gone to heaven! your blog is utterly divine.

much love,

(formerly SobaAddict70 on eG)

12:24 AM, September 06, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Stash! kisses. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

2:35 PM, September 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just finished my first civet, thank you, they all loved it.

11:59 AM, July 07, 2008  

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