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Salute to Canada! Chuck Hughes’ Duck Breasts with Red Wine Sauce on a bed of Duck-Fat Fried Fingerlings and Mushrooms

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         As most of my readers know, I am Canadian by birth and mighty proud of it.  I am also mighty proud that Canada racked up a total of 10 Gold Medals at the Sochi Olympics.  This would be quite a feat no matter what country achieved it.  But to put it in context, Canada, a country of 35,000,000 people came in third in the medal count after Russia with 143,000,000 and these United States with a population of 317,000,000.    It was something I wanted to celebrate. So as Andrew headed off the morning the Canadian Women’s Hockey team won Gold, I told him to prepare for a Canadian dinner. 

Montreal, Beautiful anytime but
especially in snow.

To break my ethnicity down even further, I am a Quebecois from a family with roots in the province of Quebec going back five generations.  We were Scottish immigrants, Anglos to be sure, and I hate to admit that I was the first generation of the five who actually learned French.  My mother was hopeless in the language. Once, answering the salutation “Comment allez-vous, Madame” (How are you Madam) she answered “Combien” (How much?) instead of “Tres Bien” (Very well).  My father was a quiet man which concealed his complete lack of any French language skills whatsoever.  He, at least, had an excuse:  He was born in Winnipeg.  The French-speaking Quebecers put up with this language barrier for years and years.  Then came the “Quiet Revolution” which was not so quiet and all about Frenchifying Quebec for future generations.  This had great success in sending legions of all-English-speaking Quebecers out of the province in one enormous wave.  The Bank of Montreal moved its headquarters to Toronto. My parents moved to Atlanta. In truth, I didn’t go back to Montreal for years and years.  But when I did, I could not get enough of the place. Or its food.  

The food in Quebec is as hearty as its winters are cold.  It’s French-inflected of course, and the best of it has distinctly peasant roots.  It’s more of what you would find in Brittany and Normandy than in Paris or Lyons.  That makes sense because the first settlers were from those two northern provinces.  In Quebec, people hunted and fished and the fur trade flourished, as did dishes with high fat counts—almost a necessity in the cold of winter.  Today, Quebec has re-discovered its roots and its culinary stars seem intent on keeping this wonderfully comforting food on their restaurant tables. “Au Pied du Cochon” helmed by Martin Picard and “Joe Beef” the culinary home of  David McMillan and Frederic Morin, are must stops on any serious gourmand’s trip to Montreal.  And then there’s Chuck Hughes.  Now 37, Hughes is likely the best-known Canadian chef ever.  His presence on the Food Network and his series “Chuck’s Day Off” sent his reputation rocketing.  This followed appearances on “Iron Chef” where he became the youngest Canadian Chef to win (Chef Rob Feenie of Vancouver was the first Canadian to win).  Chuck is also the only Canadian chef to beat the legendary Bobby Flay.  The ‘Secret Ingredient’?  Canadian Lobster.
Garde Manger, Warm and welcoming.

It seemed only logical to take out the four Quebec chefs’ cookbooks to prepare our Canadian dinner.  So I dutifully perused “The Art of Living according to Joe Beef, a cookbook of sorts” (Ten Speed Press 2011) and Martin Picard’s “Au Pied de Cochon” (Douglas and McIntyre 2006) and finally, Chuck Hughe’s own “Garde-Manger” (La Presse  2010).  Garde Manger is the name of Chuck’s first restaurant in Old Montreal.  Andrew and I had met the man himself at his second, “Le Bremner” and we have a lot of affection for him.  Never mind that the edition of Garde Manger was in French, if I was going to cook Quebecois, I might as well cook in the language too.  I got a huge charge out of doing so.  And while there were plenty of things I really did want to sink my teeth into, I chose “Magret de Canard, Foie Gras, Sauce au Vin Rouge”  You’ll note that there’s no Foie Gras in the finished dish.  That would have really put it over the top. So out went the Foie Gras but on to the table went this amazingly rich dish with its crisp duck, its bed of duck-fat fried potatoes and mushrooms and its somewhat incongruous but nonetheless delicious slice of triple

crème cheese.  I looked everywhere for the  Riopelle de l’ile cheese never finding it. The cheese is named after a renowned Quebecois artist, Jean-Paul Riopelle, said to be all of Canada’s most important modern artist. For each 3 lbs of cheese sold, one dollar goes to a foundation that helps the children of Isle-au-Grues get a higher education.  It is where the cheese is made and where Riopelle died in 2002 at the age of 79.  I substituted the much more easily found Saint Andre which melts into the dish giving it a rich creaminess and flash of flavor.        

The Red Wine Sauce in the original recipe was enough to stock Garde Manger, the restaurant, for weeks so I cut it back drastically and the amount here would have been quite enough for the four servings this dish serves.  I cut the rest of the recipe in half too for the two of us.  And because Chef Hughes gives you all kinds of permission to do so, I substituted Fava Beans for the Corn kernels in the original which Chuck uses in season.  My only question would be: who would eat this rich and warming a dinner in corn season?    If this looks complicated, it is not.  There’s about 30 minutes of prep and an hour of cooking time.  You get the wine sauce going, parboil the potatoes then using the duck fat from the breasts, you make a sauté of fingerlings, mushrooms and fava beans.  These form the bed for the cheese and the duck breasts which you liberally lap with the sauce. It’s true comfort food and a perfect salute to Canada and the cold.  Here is the recipe.  A votre Sante!

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