The first Valentines Day that I spent with the man I ended up married to was, not to put too fine a point on it, awkward and uncomfortable.
It was fairly early days in our relationship, and we had not said “I love you” yet. We were 19 year old cynics. And this left us with a problem: to observe Valentines would be odd, but not to observe it would somehow be even more pointedly odd.
Valentines day arrived and Jon handed over a classic red card reading “Be my Valentine”. Cleverly, no mention of the L word, yet still highly appropriate for the occasion. Good choice. I presented him with a green envelope containing a purple note card. The sentiment had taken soul searching and a thesaurus to put into words; “I appreciate you.”
Luckily, Jon burst out laughing at the expression of my lukewarm feelings and the rest is history. The fact that I could cook probably helped.
Roast duck breast with red cabbage puree
This recipe comes from a café in Paris called Brasserie des Deux Palais’. I came upon it in a wonderful book by Daniel Young, who noted that because it is situated opposite the Palais de Justice, “the café counts among its regulars some of France’s most distinguished judges, lawyers, politicians and career criminals … Due to its central and therefore neutral location between two river banks and four arrondissements, the café is a diplomatic rendezvous for estranged partners in love, business or crime.”
I have spent longer than I like to admit daydreaming about sitting at a white tablecloth-ed table, drinking lillet and watching the clientele of Brasserie des Deux Palais’ go about their lunches.
This red cabbage puree is classic French cooking – the perfect side dish for a Valentines steak dinner or alongside of piece of duck breast. A bonus, of course, is the color; the addition of crème fraiche or sour cream turns the purple cabbage vivid pink.
For the Cabbage2 tbsp butter 1 small onion 2 strips of bacon ½ red cabbage (about ½ lb) 1 small apple ¼ cup dry white wine ¼ cup chicken stock ¼ cup hot water 1 tbsp crème fraiche or sour cream Salt and pepper
- Get prepared: slice the cabbage, peel and slice the onion, core, peel and slice the apple, dice the bacon
- Heat ½ tbsp of the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they brown – about 5 minutes. It’s important that they really do become sweet, golden and translucent because they are an important flavor in the dish
- Add the bacon and cook for a few minutes until starting to crisp, then add the cabbage and stir fry for another few minutes until starting to color
- Add the apple, the water, wine and stock. Season well and simmer for 35 mins on a low heat
- Drain the cabbage and put into a processor. Add the remaining butter. Pulse to blend. Stir in the crème fraiche
The cabbage can be made in advance and kept warm or heated up gently just before serving – add the crème fraiche at the last minute
For the Duck2 duck breasts (5oz each ish) Salt and pepper Vegetable oil
- Wipe the duck with kitchen towel to dry. Take a sharp knife and slash the skin in a diagonal cross hatch – you’re trying to cut into the fat, but not to touch the meat. Season the duck well, especially salting the skin. Let the duck sit to come to room temperature
- Preheat the over to 400f and prepare – duck is going to render fat, fat = smoke. Open the window
- Warm a couple of tsp of oil in a heavy pan – ideally one that can go in the oven. Put the duck into the hot fat, skin side down. Let it cook for 5 minutes, pressing down on the meat occasionally to render out more fat
- If a lot of fat pools in the pan and starts to spit, spoon it out as you go – save it in the fridge for roast potatoes
- Turn the duck and cook for 1 minute. Flip it again, skin side down, and put it in the oven for 7 – 9 minutes depending on the size of the duck until medium rare.
- Take the duck out of the oven, wrap in foil and rest for at least 5 mins
- (heat up the cabbage)
- Slice the duck thinly on the diagonal, and serve over the bed of cabbage puree
To turn this dinner into a Valentines feast, consider making this easy pot au chocolate for dessert.