I know, you’ve had it planned for weeks. But what if you haven’t? Holidays include many serendipitous moments, when friends call unexpectedly, family plans change to include or lose one or two, a few kilos of scallops arrive on the doorstep and an unexpected celebration ensues. Or maybe you’ve simply been too busy to sit down and figure out just what you’ll cook during this warm and lovely season.
I began my holiday cooking season with a private class just a few days ago. My clients were serendipitous gifts all on their own. I’d long had a wish-list for the menu I would teach them, but the reality check comes with my early morning visit to the market. What will actually be in season, particularly this year when the temperatures are either spring like, or steppe like? We’ve just emerged from the coldest few days of the year into blue skies and such warmth that one wishes for tulips and radishes.
As I approached the market, I hoped the foie gras and duck breast producer was there. Relief. He was. I turned the corner into the main square to see Baptiste and his stand of vegetables, my eyes casing his crates for endives. There they were. We slipped away for our weekly coffee, joined by two other chefs who, like me, get started early to avoid crowds, take a moment to check in with each other to see how business is going, share ideas and, often, tricks and recipes.
We all reserved endives from Baptiste, because the supply is limited this year thanks to the unpredictable climate. Then I went in search of scallops. Oddly, there were none. Check that off the menu; I’d come up with another appetizer.
Once home I put everything where it went, made coffee that I enjoyed with fresh baguette slathered with butter and honey, then went to rectify the menu. I was sad about the scallops. They’re in full season, there had been no storms. There was a story there, but I’d have to wait to get it.
Monday morning arrived, and when I opened my door to let out Coco, there sat a large plastic bag. I peered in. It was filled with scallops in the shell. What? How? I knew. One of my best friends is a fish monger; he spends his time on the road, meeting the boats in the English Channel so he can get the freshest for his customers. Evidently he’d been on a middle of the night run, and this was my Christmas gift.
Did I reprint the menu? No. I left the scallop lesson – from shucking to cooking – a surprise. They were scrumptious, sautéed briefly in the fat left from sautéing foie gras ,which enhanced their sweet, briny, firmness.
Now, I know you may not have scallops left on your doorstep, nor fattened duck breast at your market, nor endive from a field just a few miles away. But you can find all of these things, and a sumptuous menu they make. Perfect for pre, during, post winter holidays. Oh, as for dessert…well, Tarte Tatin of course!
Winter Holiday Menu
Foie Gras with Poached Garlic
Scallops sautéed in Duck Fat
Beet and Goat Cheese Towers
*Magret with Espelette Pepper and Orange Sauce
- Two 13-ounce fattened duck breasts skin scored almost to the meat with a sharp knife, 390g
- teaspoon ½-1piment d’Espelette or a mix of cayenne pepper and paprika
- For the Orange Syrup:
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice 250ml
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter cut in four pieces, chilled
- For the Cilantro Oil:
- 1 cup cilantro leaves gently packed, 10g
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 60ml
- Fleur de sel
- 4 large or 8 small Belgian endives trimmed and cuthalf
- 1 clove garlic green germ removed, diced
- 1 bay leaf from the Laurus nobilis
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the endives, cut side down, in a large, heavy skillet. Strew the garlic over them, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the water around the endives.
Place the skillet over medium high heat, and when the water begins to steam, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the endives are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Check them after about 5 minutes and turn, then check again after a few minutes to turn again to the cut side.
When the endives are tender, remove the lid and continue cooking until the endives turn golden on the cut side, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve, or serve immediately. These are delicious hot, or at room temperature.