I don’t know about you but when I rent a house for my vacation, the first place I head to on arrival is the kitchen. I check out every drawer and cupboard, mentally taking stock of what’s going to be possible with the equipment that is there. Then I check the wifi 😉
For me, cooking on my holidays is not a chore as some might think it would be. I love cooking and when I am in a different country, really enjoy the challenge of finding ingredients and working in unfamiliar kitchens. It’s fun. It can also be quite an adventure. This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, that I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen (Duck breast with fresh peaches, p 230) didn’t look like it would be much of an adventure, however. Seared duck breast and peaches sautéed with thyme and garlic and served with a honey-port-balsamic sauce. Even though I knew I would be working sans several ingredients, I knew I had the main ones so figured I would be ok. Peaches are in season here in the south of France so it was a perfect dish to be making. Neil and I are holidaying with 2 vegetarians and I have had my duck quotient for the next little while (it’s not my favourite meat but I seem to have eaten it more in the last 6 weeks than I have in the last year!) so I was happy to be able to purchase one gorgeous duck breast just for Neil.
Pottering around the kitchen doing my mise en place (I was also making a ratatouille tian and a peach clafoutis at the same time, nothing like multitasking…), I placed a high-sided pan (that we had not used in this house prior to this meal) on the hotplate and heated it on medium-high. With just 10 minutes to go before the rest of the meal would be ready, I scored the duck skin/fat and placed it fat side down in the pan. Oy! The pan was a little hot…
What happened in the next 5 minutes was so fast that even I, who am usually “iPhone at the ready” at all times, did not capture this on film! The pan, not being a very heavy one, was SO much hotter than I expected. So the duck fat cooked VERY fast. And all of a sudden there was a dense cloud of smoke shrouding the tiny kitchen. I closed the door to the living room, not wishing acrid smoke smell to go all through the house, then the smoke alarm went off (it’s good to know your rental home has a smoke alarm). I grabbed the smoking pan and took it out in the middle of the street (we’re in a tiny village so I wasn’t expecting any traffic at 8pm on a Sunday night) then ran back to get tongs to remove the duck from the pan because, you know, when you only have one of the main ingredient, there are no second chances… The duck was VERY crispy but not beyond rescue. I placed the still smoking pan on our metal letter box for want of a better place to leave it until it calmed down a little and placed the duck in a different pan to finish it off.
All this time, Neil was fanning the smoke detector in an attempt to turn it off but to no avail. At this point a friendly local popped their head in the kitchen (all our ground floor rooms look out directly into the road, it’s very convivial!) to check up on us. This was the first person we’d seen since we arrived the previous day (it’s a tiny village and quite sleepy in August) so it was a little bit of a shock but a welcome one. Meanwhile, Neil had removed the battery from the smoke alarm until the smoke subsided a little as the fanning was making absolutely no difference.
Smoke cleared from the kitchen and the duck resting in the oven (and battery back in the smoke alarm), I realised I had not made my version of the sauce (lacking port and a few other ingredients, I had an idea in my head for what to do). Then I realised I probably didn’t have time to figure out something as I didn’t want the duck to be overcooked. In any case, my peaches, garlic and thyme were quite nicely caramelised by now so I figured that would be “sauce” enough.
I set to slicing the duck (actually I had Neil do this) only to realise that in my fretting about overcooking the duck, it was way undercooked (for Neil to say this, it really means it’s undercooked!). Back to the pan for a few minutes it was – better to under than over-cook, I say – it can always be rescued.
Enfin, on the plate, it didn’t look half bad, if I do say so myself. And only a hint of smoke smell 😉
Would I make this again? Yes, in fact, I would. I loved the flavour of the peaches and would love to make it with the proper sauce. And, of course, in a pan that I know on a stovetop that I know. But for a “vacation” effort, I didn’t think I did too badly…
French Fridays with Dorie participants do not publish the recipes on our blogs (though this week, you can find the recipe online here), we prefer if you purchase Around My French Table for yourselves which you can do here on Amazon or Amazon Canada. Or for free worldwide shipping, buy from The Book Depository. Go on, treat yourself then join us here!
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Follow my adventures in France this summer!