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Preparing the gastronomic specialties of Gascony
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Ariane Daguin's Manhattan kitchen is rich with food and family tradition. When her 20-year-old daughter Alix is home from Cornell University where she studies hotel administration, food science, architecture, and kitchen design, they indulge in an all-day, long-established ritual of cooking Sunday dinner together.
Ariane is the CEO of D'Artagnan, a pioneer company she founded 24 years ago to encourage American farmers to organically produce foie gras and to raise the beef, pork, and poultry native to Gascony, France, where she grew up. So notable is her contribution to French culinary heritage, the French government awarded her the Légion d'honneur (France's highest honor of merit) in 2006. Nonetheless, Ariane herself often answers phone calls to D'Artagnan's headquarters.
Photography: Quentin Bacon
Alix-charming, savvy, and down-to-earth-has grown up in the world of fine food and restaurants. She first tried oysters at Union Square Cafe at age 2 and often "helped" her mother at cooking demonstrations as a young girl, quietly bartering servings of foie gras for candy.
The pair relish their time together preparing the gastronomic specialties of Gascony. Alix's lessons include not just how to bake a tart, but they are also parables for getting on with daily life and enjoying its simple pleasures. "Anything you do together makes you learn together. It is so enriching," Ariane says.
The Daguin family history includes seven generations of restaurateurs and chefs. Alix's grandfather, André Daguin, was chef/owner of the famed Hôtel de France in Auch, the capital of Gascony. "Food and family are very important in our way of life," Ariane explains. "Everything evolves from there. Any single mother raising a daughter has very strong ties to family. Alix is culturally involved in her roots."
Grandfather "Papi" teaches Alix something new every time they are together. "Last winter he taught me three different sauces," she says. "He has also taught me pride, discipline, respect, attitude, and efficiency. He expresses love through teaching things he admires. When you cook, you need all of those qualities plus a respect for yourself and your ingredients. That's important to my mom as well."
Consequently, Alix knows about a chef's authority-she has interned at Daniel, Daniel Boulud's four-star New York restaurant, and at Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris. "At Daniel, I was 17 and the only girl in the kitchen," she says. "Papi's lessons about discipline and efficiency taught me a lot."
But let's get back home, to the Manhattan kitchen and those uncomplicated pleasures. Ariane's approach to cooking is a trifle more gentle than that of grandpère. "Something wonderful starts with something simple," Ariane advises. For a nibble to enjoy while cooking, she and Alix prepare Chicken Liver Paté.
Luxuriously smooth and rich but humble in its origins, this paté "is a way to create something sophisticated with a maligned ingredient," Ariane says. "Cooking livers with wine and combining them with lots of butter elevates them to something worthy without complicating them." The velvety paté gets a zesty accent with cornichons, olives, and a sprinkle of peppercorns.
For a spring dinner, the two might prepare Duck Breast with Fava Beans-featuring a sauté of fresh fava beans and ventrèche, a cured pork belly similar to bacon. "During a short period of spring in Gascony-about 10 days-new fava beans are so tender and delicate they can be picked and eaten raw, but you have to know the moment," Ariane says.
For something easy, Croque Monsieur au Jambon de Bayonne, a grilled sandwich with the sea-salted smoked ham of the Basque region and Gruyère cheese, might be in order. A dab of mustard and a bit of truffle butter enrich this everyday fare. "The best part of the sandwich is the aroma when it comes out of the oven," insists Ariane. "This sandwich is the sum of its parts. Make sure you experience each of the ingredients."
Ariane has taught Alix to balance risk with caution and to go with her instincts, as when they prepare Gascon Cherry Clafouti, a dish that doesn't require precise measurements but will always yield wonderful results. "You have to trust yourself when you cook, allow yourself to make a mistake, knowing you can fix it, and get on with it," Alix says.
"I didn't realize how much I'm like my mom until recently," Alix notes. "Of course, I don't want to admit it. But I have that itch to create and be my own boss," she adds, echoing her mother's sentiments at nearly the same age. "D'Artagnan is like my sister in many ways. I grew up with the company. But I need to achieve something on my own before I work there-not by default, but because I have the skills to be there."
Ariane is quiet but clearly proud. "I have tried to give Alix a choice, to recognize that she has different directions. She has all the tools. But it will make me tremendously happy the day she says she wants to work at D'Artagnan."
Poule au Pot with "Gros Sel" Sauce
Rustic Poule au Pot is a boiled chicken recipe passed from mother to daughter. The chicken broth is served as its own course, a tradition called "chabrot." The last ladles of broth are slurped directly from the bowl; adults stir in some red wine before drinking. "It's an 'elbows-on-the-table' dish," says Ariane. "It inspires conviviality."
- 8 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 3-1/2- to 4-pound whole broiler-fryer chicken, trussed*
- 4 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 12 small carrots with tops
- 6 medium leeks, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 stalks celery, cut into 1-1/2 inch slices
- 1 head Savoy cabbage, cored and cut into quarters
- 1 recipe Gros Sel Sauce (see below)
- 1 1-pound loaf country French bread
In an 8- to 10-quart Dutch oven combine chicken stock, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to boiling; add chicken. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Add turnips, carrots, leeks, celery, and cabbage. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more or until chicken is done (170°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh) and vegetables are tender.
Transfer vegetables to a large serving platter using a slotted spoon; cover to keep warm. Remove chicken to another platter; cover to keep warm. Pour broth through a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Return broth to the Dutch oven (discard solids in strainer). Bring broth to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cut chicken into quarters or six portions (discard back bone); cover to keep warm.
Prepare Gros Sel Sauce. Serve chicken with bread and vegetables and Gros Sel Sauce. Serve strained broth separately. If desired, spoon a little of the broth atop each serving. Makes: 4 to 6 servings
"Gros Sel" Sauce: In a blender combine 1/4 cup of the strained, reduced broth, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar; 1 tablespoon snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley; 1 tablespoon snipped fresh tarragon, chives, and/or chervil; and 1 tablespoon coarse-grain Dijon-style mustard. Cover and blend until smooth. With the blender running, slowly add 1 cup grape seed oil or canola oil in a thin stream, blending until well combined (mixture will thicken and lighten in color as it blends). Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped. Season to taste with kosher, sea salt, or salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Makes about 2 cups.
* To truss the chicken, secure the legs, wings and front and back openings of the chicken with clean white kitchen string. If desired, tuck some of the herb sprigs under the string.
Escaoutoun, a creamy grits-like dish made with local Gascon sheep's milk cheese, tops fresh asparagus. Reserve some of the Poule au Pot broth to braise the asparagus.
Escaoutoun with Asparagus
- 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 5 tablespoons coarse white or yellow cornmeal
- 9 ounces sheep's milk cheese, such as Petit Basque, Etorki, Brin d'Amour,
- manchego, or Monterey Jack, shredded
- 1 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 recipe Asparagus (see below)
Combine 1-1/2 cups chicken broth and cornmeal in saucepan. Bring just to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed and cornmeal is tender.
Add sheep's milk cheese and mascarpone cheese to cornmeal mixture. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until cheese is melted, adding remaining 2 tablespoons broth if mixture is too dry. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve escaoutoun with Asparagus. Makes 4 servings.
Asparagus: Snap off and discard woody bases from 1 pound fresh asparagus. If desired, scrape off scales. In large skillet bring a 1-inch depth of Poule au Pot broth or water to boiling. Add asparagus. Reduce heat; simmer, covered 3 to 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender. Drain well; transfer to serving platter.
Chicken Liver Pate
- 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
- 8- to 9-ounce chicken livers (6)
- 1/3 cup sliced shallots
- 1 tablespoon duck fat or olive oil
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 to 2 tablespoons dry white wine (optional)
- 6 slices country French bread, toasted
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- Cornichons, capers, cocktail onions, and/or olives
In medium saucepan bring wine to boiling; reduce heat. Add chicken livers. Cover; simmer 5 minutes or until tender. Remove chicken livers from wine and chill, covered, 5 minutes. Discard wine.
In medium skillet cook shallot in duck fat over medium heat until golden brown, about 7 to 9 minutes; set aside.
On cutting board, finely chop chicken livers. In medium bowl combine chicken livers and butter. Mash together with fork until well-combined. If necessary, stir in small amount of additional white wine until spread is smooth. Place mixture in serving crock.
Rub each slice of toasted bread with garlic. Serve chicken liver spread with toasted bread, shallot slices, cornichons, capers, cocktail onions, and/or olives. Makes 6 servings (1 cup spread).
Pipérade is simply a mèlange of slow-cooked tomatoes, peppers, and salty ham, served with an omelet. The natural sweetness of peppers and the saltiness of ham contrast beautifully. “Contrast can make a wonderfully unexpected combination,” Ariane tells Alix.
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 Roma tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
- 3 medium green and/or red sweet peppers, cut into bite-size strips
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, sea salt, or salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces jambon de Bayonne, or other cooked ham, cut 1/4 inch thick
- 1 recipe Omelets (see below)
- Roasted garlic cloves*
In large skillet cook onion and garlic in hot oil over medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes to skillet; bring to simmer. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add sweet peppers, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until peppers are tender and liquid is evaporated.
Meanwhile, cut ham (jambon de Bayonne is available at dartagnan.com) into serving-size pieces; cook in skillet over medium-high heat about 5 minutes or until browned. Remove from skillet; drain on paper towel. Cover to keep warm.
Prepare Omelets, and serve alongside ham and sweet pepper mixture, and roasted garlic cloves. Makes 4 servings.
Omelets: Just before serving, prepare omelets. In medium bowl combine 4 eggs, 1 tablespoon water, dash salt, and dash ground black pepper. Beat with fork until combined but not frothy. Heat 8-inch nonstick skillet with flared sides over medium-high heat until skillet is hot. Add 1 teaspoon butter to skillet. When butter has melted, add one-fourth egg mixture to skillet; lower heat to medium. Immediately begin stirring eggs gently but continuously with wooden spoon or plastic spatula until mixture resembles small pieces of cooked egg surrounded by liquid egg. Stop stirring. Cook 20 to 30 seconds more or until egg is set but shiny. Remove from heat. With spatula, lift and fold omelet into desired shape. Place on serving plate. Prepare 3 more omelets with remaining egg mixture, adding 1 teaspoon of butter to skillet before cooking each omelet.
*To roast garlic cloves: Preheat oven to 425°F. Peel away dry outer layers of skin from 2 heads of garlic, leaving inner skins and cloves intact. Cut off pointed tops (about 1/4 inch), leaving bulb intact but exposing individual cloves. Place garlic heads, cut side up, in 10-ounce custard cups. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cover with foil. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until cloves feel soft when pressed. Separate cloves to serve.
Croque Monsieur Au Jambon De Bayonne
- 1 loaf baguette-style French bread
- 4 tablespoons butter or truffle butter, softened
- 8 ounces jambon de Bayonne or prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh arugula or spinach
- 4 ounces Comté or Gruyère cheese, sliced
Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut baguette in 4 equal sections. Slice each section in half horizontally. Spread butter on cut sides of bread. Top bottoms of bread with jambon de Bayonne, arugula, and half the cheese. Top with top halves of bread. Top bread with remaining cheese. Place sandwiches on baking sheet; bake 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Makes 4 servings.
Duck Breast with Fava Beans
- 2 duck magrets (14 to 16 ounces each) or 4 boneless duck breasts (7 to 8 ounces each)
- Kosher salt , sea salt, or salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ounces ventrèche, pancetta, or cooked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1-1/2 pounds fresh fava beans, peeled and cooked* or one 19-ounce can fava beans, rinsed and drained, or one 10-oz. pkg. frozen baby lima beans, cooked according to package
- 1 6.5-oz. container duck and veal demi-glace or 3/4 cup beef broth
Preheat oven to 400°F. Score duck breast skin at 1-inch intervals in diamond pattern. Preheat heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.
Season duck breast with salt and pepper and place, skin side down, in hot pan. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until skin is nicely browned and crispy.
Carefully pour off fat as it accumulates; reserve fat. Turn breasts over; cook 1 minute more. Transfer skillet to oven. Roast 8 to 10 minutes for duck magrets or 5 to 7 minutes for duck breasts or until an instant read-thermometer registers 155°F. Remove duck from skillet. Cover duck with foil; let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in skillet heat 1 tablespoon reserved fat and ventrèche over medium heat 1 to 2 minutes or until ham is browned and crispy. Add beans and demi-glace. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until slightly reduced.
Cut duck into slices. To serve, spoon beans, ventrèche, and demi-glace into bowls. Top with duck. Makes 4 servings.
*If using fresh fava beans: Place beans in large saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15 to 30 minutes to soften skins. Let stand 1 hour. Drain and peel. To cook, combine peeled beans and 4 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 45 to 50 minutes or until tender. Use cooked beans as directed in recipe.
Gascon Cherry Clafouti
- 2-1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup corn flour or yellow cornmeal
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- 2⁄3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons orange extract
- 1-1/2 cups pitted fresh dark sweet cherries or frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed and drained
- 1/3 cup orange marmalade
In medium saucepan combine milk, flour, and corn flour. Whisk over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat; cool 30 minutes.
In very large bowl stir together eggs, sugar, butter, and orange extract. Slowly whisk cooled milk mixture into egg mixture until combined. Sprinkle 1/3 of cherries evenly into greased 10-inch quiche dish. Pour batter over cherries. Top with remaining cherries.
Bake in 350ºF oven 45 to 50 minutes, or until center seems set when gently shaken. Remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 400°F.
Meanwhile, in small saucepan heat marmalade just until melted. Lightly brush top of clafouti with warmed marmalade. Return to clafouti to oven; bake about 8 minutes until edges are nicely browned. Cool on wire rack at least 20 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 8 servings.