One of our greatest Gascon chefs has given us the following recipe for a traditional French festive dish for all the family to enjoy. As it’s easy to prepare it has the advantage that it can be prepared in the morning leaving you free in the evening to take care of your guests. Our chef Alain Dutournier isn’t only a man of taste but he has also has a taste for giving to others!
A menu which is "prêt à manger"...
This is how the very fiery chef from the Carré des Feuillants (two Michelin stars), just a stone’s throw from the place Vendôme, describes his Christmas menu. We asked him to think of a suitable festive dish and Dutournier, out of generosity, couldn’t resist giving us this wonderful present...
“The main thing is to have a great family dinner without having to keep an eye on the oven. Whether you use it as a main course or starter, everything in this menu can be prepared in the morning. You just have to put the poultry into the oven 2 hours before serving.”
The starter created by Dutournier could be called “oysters in oyster sauce.” The idea is to poach fine oysters from the Arcachon Bay and to dip them in a creamy oyster sauce flavoured with celery, shallots and Espelette pepper. Served cold, this starter could be accompanied with croûtons and thin strips of reheated white boudin. This is a beautiful marriage of crunchy and creamy textures on a backdrop of sea flavours. To be tasted with a fine Riesling.
According to Dutournier the main course is a hymn to his homeland of Les Landes: quality farm raised poultry, foie gras and vintage Armagnac. But the real magic of this dish lies principally in the style of cookingused, which goes back centuries. Following the principle of small clay ovens in which primitive tribes used to cook salmon or chicken, Dutournier’s method consists of creating a Salt-crust as a kind of “oven in the oven.” In this way the poultry gets cooked in its own flavours, getting gradually impregnated with flavours of Armagnac, Foie gras, and if you have the means to treat yourself this Christmas, with black truffles incorporated in the stuffing. Not only does this gentle cooking (2 hours at 160°c) makes the poultry meat extremely tender and tasty, but the salt-crust also absorbs any excess fat and leaves your oven as clean as it was before you started roasting.
Once you’ve made a spectacle for your guests by breaking the crust with a pastry rolling pin, the capon should be cut into 8 pieces and served with stuffing in a large dish to preserve its alluring appearance. To accompany this already very rich dish there is no point in preparing potatoes either sautéed or fried in goose fat. Think more along the lines of a nice winter salad embellished with oranges and a little raw beetroot, that you can season with hazelnut oil and lemon zest.
And to drink with this...? A fine, light Côte de Beaune Burgundy such as a Volnay, a Pommard or an Auxey-duresse…
Can an Armagnac be replaced by a Cognac?
“It’s like choosing between a bottle of La Tâche or Lafite, a partridge or a snipe, a spider crab or langoustines, rugby or corrida, town rats or country rats!” says Dutournier. Armagnac and the great Bas-Armagnac comes from a few villages with terrains which characterised by the sandy alluvium soils of Les Landes. They are distilled just once, but with rigorous rules and without the slightest reduction in its alcohol content. Already at the stage of a white brandy, it has notes of truffle, pear, cloves and hawthorn.
If it is stored in barrels of pink oak (grown on the property) for a minimum of 17 years, it can develop into a great brandy with a pale or topaz colour reminiscent of Sauternes and a nose of fruitwood, praline, exotic spices, hints of cocoa, nascent violet and brushwood. However all these intracies of the nose are combined with a palate that has a certain violent streak, a vigour, a good length and then a fickle side that troubles you and makes you thirsty. Armagnac is still the drink of the Musketeers, honourable people who are not afraid of a touch of violence that’s channelled wisely. "
Recipe: Capon Chicken and Foie gras in salted-crust, sweet and sour salad
For 4 guests
1 capon of approximately 2kg
1.5kg of coarse sea salt
1kg of flour
200g of foie gras terrine
100g crème fraiche
70g of full bodied chicken stock
6 egg yolks
6 egg whites
2cl old Armagnac
5g salt and ground black pepper
Radicchio, endive, frisée, young spinach, escarole, white dandelion
1 small raw beetroot, 2 oranges
Requires a foie gras device
Mix the foie gras, creme fraiche, chicken stock, egg yolks, breadcrumbs, the port, Armagnac, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a blender until you have a textured paste.
Mix the flour, the coarse salt, the egg whites and cold water. Knead and separate into 2 parts and lay them out on 2 non-stick sheets.
Salt and pepper generously inside and outside of the capon chicken, then stuff it using the foie gras device. Sew the chicken up from behind using a needle and thread.
Déposer la poularde sur une abaisse de pâte au sel, couvrir avec l’autre abaisse et les souder par pression de manière à emprisonner élégamment la volaille dans sa future croûte.
Place the chicken in the salted pastry crust , cover with a top crust and apply pressure so as to enclose the chicken nicely in its pastry crust.
Bake in preheated oven at 160°C for 2 hours.
Break the crust in front of the guests or take it apart and cut the chicken into 8 pieces, as is tradition. Serve with mixed salad, embellished with a fine julienne of raw beetroot and orange segments and flavoured with hazelnut oil and a twist of lemon.