A Pressing Matter: Otto’s Duck à la Presse

When I became engaged, my French mother-in-law offered her heartfelt congratulations, and said with relief “I’m just so glad my son is not marrying a vegetarian!”

The French love their meat, in some cases to extremes. I, on the other hand, have my boundaries. But last night’s dinner really pushed the limits of my culinary comfort zone.

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The French recipe for Canard de Rouen à la Presse, principally crushing a cooked duck carcass in a silver press, is a bit barbaric. But as gourmand bucket-lists go, it’s a dish every foodie must see prepared and taste once in their life.

Pressed duck is the epitome of decadence, involving a complex and careful process which takes over an hour to prepare – mostly in front of the customer. And it goes without saying, that you’d better like duck, as there are three courses of it!

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The ducks are sourced from the House Burgaud in Challans who for nearly 60 years have exclusively supplied these precious ducks to the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris. Otto worked there as a young chef in 1976, where he learned to prepare this celebrated dish – one of the most spectacular in the classic French repertoire.

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As the duck is escorted away to the roasting pan, Otto gets to work on the sauce, reducing red wine, port and cognac (plus, a little pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure)!

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While the sauce simmers, we ordered an appetizer to share – the sea urchin soufflé. Sea urchins are tricky little creatures; they grow on exposed rocks and must be hand-harvested by scuba divers. The best ones dwell in rougher seas, making them very dangerous for the divers to hunt down. They have a spiked spiny shell, but inside they are delicious! Incorporating them into a soufflé with a little bit of saffron? Well, that’s just sheer shellfish virtuosity!

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Meanwhile, Otto has brought up the roasted, finely chopped duck liver and is stirring it into the red wine reduction. Once the liver has thickened the sauce, the bits are strained out and served to us on a crouton, accompanied by a shot of 15-year-old Madeira.

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The duck is roasted to rare and carried to the table where thin slices are cut from the breasts, and the legs removed. The rest of the carcass is pressed in the special screw press.

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A crowd gathered round to watch my strapping dinner date turn the press, extracting all the juices and nutrients from the bone marrow.

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The juices obtained from the press are incorporated into the reduced cognac and liver sauce, thickened with stock, and poured over the slices of breast which finish cooking in the sauce.

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Completing the duck trifecta was the final course, grilled leg of duck with wild mushrooms, mustard and breadcrumbs.

One look at this, and it was clear I would be waddling home like a duck myself.

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Just one parting glass of France’s finest before heading home…

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Otto’s was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a treat to watch, and (ooh-la-la!) flavors that leave your mouth panging with food euphoria! If you’d like to try the Canard à la Press at Otto’s, you must book in advance – leaving you with plenty of time to anticipate this magnifique meal!

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