Pressed Duck in Saint Paul
James is obsessed with food so for his recent birthday, we decided to try something he has been dying to have since he first noticed it back in February: tableside pressed duck. As a forewarning for those of you with a sensitive heart, this recipe can be gruesome. It consists of roasting a whole duck, usually moulard, carving it and pressing the carcass, liver and heart through a specially designed press.
This dish is said to have originated in the town of Duclair in Rouen. However, it was made famous at the Tour d'Argent in Paris, where it has been called "the height of elegance". The presses come in various forms (an example of which is show here courtesy of wikipedia) but most have a large plate that flattens into a canister with a spout for fluids to drain. The drained liquid is then added to a reduction of shallots, salt, butter, cognac and port wine over heat to create a delectable sauce. If you leave out the butter, this dish is even paleo (added bonus for those of us with a lot of upcoming events).
In America, there are a few changes that are made to the traditional preparation. For example, in France the duck is young, plump and preferably strangled to retain the blood (it sounds horrific ... but makes for a delightful sauce so ... c'est la vie?). We also tend to add more accoutrements to the sauce in addition to the sweet liqueurs (such as the shallots) though this varies based on where you are dining.
For his birthday celebration, we dined at Meritage in Saint Paul where we started with a course of oysters (a perfect opening to any culinary cabaret). We tried three we had not had before: hammersleys (from Puget Sound), mookie blues (from Maine) and beau soleils (from New Brunswick). Each of these oysters were amazing and a wonderful choice to start off any meal. The hammersleys are medium sized yet sweet which the mookie blues are crisper and cleaner yet still with high salinity. The beau soleil were the perfect balance between the two: crisp, light and a little briney. Some day, I really need to have an Oyster and Champagne party but the occasion has yet to arise (our first fashion show maybe?).
After our coastal adventure, we then moved to another seafood soup, the Billi-Bi. It is a creamy soup served as a small amuse bouche before a meal in the tiniest, cutest soup bowl imaginable. You also get an adorable spoon perfectly matched in sized and style to the bowl. A mussel is waiting for you at the bottom of the bowl to finish off this delightful treat. Here are a few photos of James diving in to his bowl and just look at how happy that face is? You definitely need to get this soup when you go to Meritage!
Once we finished with the introductory courses, it was on to the main event. It begins with the preparation of the duck. The executive chef wheels out a small cart with a single open flame burner and the duck press to your tableside. He then explains the process of preparing the duck and shows us the perfectly roasted and gorgeous duck before it is sent for its final preparations.
The first step is to carve the duck. All the meat is removed and send to the kitchen to be finished over the heat. Next, the legs are separated and placed aside to be confited (soaked in fat for an extended period of time ... it sounds like it would be terrible for you but it is one: too good to pass up and two: not one of the worst fats you could ingest in excess).
Once the duck is carved, it is time to prepare the sauce. As mentioned above, the base is first created over the small stove before the pressed liquid is added.
The sauce is then poured over the duck which is served plated with the two confit legs. It is an incredible dish and certainly an experience anyone who is able to should try.
With the duck, there are three sides that are served. The first is a cherry and apple tart with a simple cherry decorating the top of a caramelized apple. It is sweet and pairs well with the duck and sauce.
The other two sides are a wild rice pilaf and sauteed seasonal vegetables in a lemon and cream sauce. Both of these were also amazing and complements duck breast. I think I personally ate half of the vegetables that we were served.
The entire meal was incredible and if you have the chance, you should get over to Meritage to give it a try! If you want the pressed duck, you are going to have to call at least 72 hours in advance to make sure they can reserve it and that it is fresh but it is certainly worth the wait!