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Marisa Renwald: Make memorable autumn meal

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Updated: December 30, 2012 1:23AM



For Americans, until Thanksgiving rounds the corner in late autumn, Halloween gets all of the glory. On a day dedicated to the saccharine collection of gooey sweets and chocolatey treats, we can stuff our gullets full of candy until our teeth get gritty from the sugar.

Only in the aftermath do we think about our next celebration with food.

But for the French, a short two-day holiday follows Halloween and signals the inauguration of the forthcoming holiday season.

La Toussaint, or All Saints Day, incorporates this holy day of obligation on Nov. 1, as well as All Souls Day, which follows on Nov. 2.

French autumn recipes are indicative of the flavors of the season. Pumpkin, chestnut and other brawnier flavors orchestrate the menus of November, and it is certainly no different with the family meals during La Toussaint.

While there may not be a traditional food served during these holy days in France, it isn’t difficult to replicate a French autumn meal at home.

Crêpes with a duck confit filling takes two classic French recipes and combines them to impart a hearty, autumn meal.

Duck confit, a cured dish made from the fatty portions of duck legs and thighs, is a southern France specialty. Shredded off the bone and served hot, duck confit makes a rich and full-bodied filling for a classic French crepe and a glamorous autumn meal.

It may be all in the name, but duck confit has sort of a snooty reputation, as if it uses expensive ingredients and has some sort of difficult French methodology in preparation. In a way, it does. Curing duck meat and cooking it in its own fat can be quite time-consuming, but this variation will save some time and effort.

Pair it with Julia Child’s all-purpose crepe recipe for your own delicious All Saints Day feast and a memorable French autumn meal.

DUCK CONFIT CRÊPES

• Duck confit

4 duck legs

11/2 teaspoons salt

11/2 teaspoons pepper

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, removed from stems

5 bay leaves

1 white onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, combine the salt and pepper, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Sprinkle duck legs with mixture and place in a glass baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 24 hours.

The next morning, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove from refrigerator, scrape off thyme, bay leaves and salt and pepper, but reserve. Place duck legs in a cast iron pot and heat over medium-high heat to render fat. Add onions and stir occasionally so onions do not scorch. After about half the fat is rendered, about 20 minutes, flip the legs, return the salt and pepper, garlic, thyme and bay leaves to the pot, cover and place in oven.

Roast for 2 hours, uncover, stir and roast for an hour more, leaving duck uncovered. Remove duck legs from fat (do not discard, duck fat can be stored), and shred using a knife and a fork. Use in crepes immediately.

• Crêpes

1 cup cold water

1 cup cold milk

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups flour, scooped into the cup — not packed

4 tablespoons melted butter

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

Put the liquids, eggs and salt into the blender jar. Add the flour, then the butter. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, dislodge with a rubber scraper and blend for 2 to 3 seconds more.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

The batter should be a very light cream, just thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. If, after making your first crêpe, it seems too heavy, beat in a bit of water, a spoonful at a time. Your cooked crêpe should be about 1/16-inch thick.

Method for making crêpes: The first crêpe is a trial one to test out the consistency of your batter, the exact amount you need for the pan, and the heat.

Brush the skillet lightly with oil. Set over moderately high heat until the pan is just beginning to smoke. Immediately remove from heat and, holding handle of pan in one hand, pour with your other hand a scant 1/4-cup of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan in a thin film. (Pour any batter that does not adhere to the pan back into your bowl; judge the amount for your next crêpe accordingly.) This whole operation takes but 2 or 3 seconds.

Return the pan to heat for 60 to 80 seconds. Then jerk and toss pan sharply back and forth and up and down to loosen the crêpe. Lift its edges with a spatula and if the under side is a nice light brown, the crêpe is ready for turning. Turn the crêpe by using two spatulas or grasp the edges nearest you in your fingers and sweep it up toward you and over again into the pan in a reverse circle or toss it over by a flip of the pan.

Brown lightly for about 30 seconds on the other side. This second side is rarely more than a spotty brown, and is always kept as the underneath or non public aspect of the crêpe. As they are done, slide the crêpes onto a rack and let cool several minutes before stacking on a plate.

Grease the skillet again, heat to just smoking, and proceed with the rest of the crêpes.

Assembly: Spoon about 2 tablespoons full of duck confit onto a crepe. Spread into a circle until the filling reaches about an inch away from the edges.

Top with any of your favorite toppings — cheese, green onion, sour cream. Using your fingers, roll up the crepe and place the seam-side down on the plate.

Crepe recipe adapted from
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, 1961, 1983, 2001



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